Sounds of Sephardic Yom Kippur

I’m currently obsessed with this playlist.

Growing up in a sephardic shul, this was the kind of liturgy/music I was surrounded with. Though not quite — imagine no musical instruments, and about twenty old men refugees from Iran, Syria, Iraq, etc chanting instead.

Even back as a kid who was in an itchy suit, generally bored, and unhappy about being there, these songs (and I experienced them as songs) were really powerful. There was a sort of dusty, strained, longing in the voices of these men around me. Recreating, for just a few days a year, the accents, the music, the feeling of the countries they fled for their lives, in their youth.

When I was young, I heard a fair amount about my parents’ story — or rather my mother’s family. My dad was always closed-lipped about it. I know about how my grandparents fled Iran on the last ever commercial flight from Tehran to Tel Aviv. (Story here). But it was a personal story, not a larger historical-political one. What I missed was an understanding that everyone in that synagogue had a similar experience to my parents.

There was only one Sephardic shul in town. I say “Sephardic” and “Shul” kind of loosely — everyone not Ashkenazi [including persian, sephardic, mizrahi jews] was there. While “shul” generally refers to orthodox places of prayer, (“synagogue is for conservatives, temple for reform jews”), we covered everyone. Especially since for non-Ashkenazi jews, the whole “orthodox” “reform” “conservative” split is kind of alien.

I think a lot about jewish refugees from arab countries. Their old lives are gone. Very few jews are left in places like Afghanistan. The people in vibrant towns and enclaves were pogrom’d, harassed, and kicked out. And for those that ended up in places like Rochester, NY — they didn’t really fit the mold of what “jewish” tends to be assumed to mean in the US.

Anyway. This music takes me back. It makes emotional. I think you’d like it.

Start with #2: Et Sha’areh Ratson.

Thanks to The Kitchen for making this available on Soundcloud. Specifically Asher Shasho Levy

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