News and Views on Jews and Music

Paul Wieder photo 2013

Paul Wieder is putting Jewish music on your playlist! Plus updates on Jewish music festivals, reviews of Jewish music websites and blogs, and insights from Jewish music producers and promoters. Let’s make Jewish music part of your well-balanced musical diet!

News and Views on Jews and Music

Jewish music this spring

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We've already had Jewish music and acting legend Theodore Bikel here in Chicago back in February, and the spring of 2015 brings even more great Jewish music and musicians:

Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi will be honored for his 25 years of service to Anshe Emet Synagogue on Sunday, March 8. The evening- titled "Opa! L'Chaim!" in reference to the cantor's Greek and Jewish heritage- will be held at the Ravenswood Event Center.

Andy Statman is coming to City Winery on March 16. This multitalented performer is a premier klezmer clarinetist and a premier bluegrass mandolin player. I asked him about that dichotomy when I interviewed him. As percussionist Larry Eagle explained, "Andy will be playing his clarinet and the Jewish spaces in our music will be touched upon- it won't be just bluegrass-flavored music."

Mama Doni, the best Jewish children's musician out there right now, is transitioning to adult music with her Nefesh Mountain bluegrass album. She is performing at a PJ Library concert called "Passover" Palooza on March 22 at the Highland Park Community House. (Hear my interview with her here.)

Israeli clarinet and sax virtuoso Anat Cohen brings her jazzy quartet to City Winery on April 10. She is has mastered the major American standards, but also many songs from around the world.  

Neil Diamond, still truckin' at 74, is coming back to the United Center on April 14.

Also, there is an electronic musician coming on April 17 to the Concord Music Hall; no definitive evidence that he's Jewish except for his stage name, Shlohmo.

Baladino is a quintet from Israel. "Baladi" means "from the land" in Arabic and "Ladino" is the language of the Sephardi Jews. Their music likewise combines these elements. They will be coming through Chicago for the Israeli Consulate on April 27.

On May 6, the Mizrahi anniversary celebration continues with the Dr. Arnold H. Kaplan Concert 2015 at the synagogue, with "Alberto Mizrahi and Friends: A Global Melange of Music." Special guests will include several visiting cantors, plus Grammy winner Howard Levy on piano and harmonica.

Tina Karol, born Tatyana Grigoryevna Liberman, represented Ukraine in the Eurovision music contest. She brings her multi-lingual, multi-cultural show and her Katy Perry-like pipes to Evanston Auditorium on May 9.

Looking ahead to summer… Idina Menzel will sing that song from Frozen and probably a song or two from Wicked at the Pritzker Pavillion, but not until August 16. Still, tickets will go quickly, so I thought I'd go ahead and (deep breath) let you know… let you knooooow…

What’s Jewish about… country music?

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Kinky Friedman is easily the most openly Jewish of country stars; he calls his backing band The Texas Jewboys, for one thing. And he has songs like "Ride 'Em, Jewboy" (that's Willie Nelson singing it) and his signature "They Ain't Makin' Jews like Jesus Anymore." But even if the discussion about Jews in country music starts with Kinky Friedman, it doesn't end there. Or with Borat, either.

In the world of mainstream country, there is one Jewish singer who stands head and shoulders above the rest. Literally- he's 6-foot-7. His name is Roy Benson, and he's the leader of the massive band called Asleep at the Wheel. They play Western swing, which takes country songs and adds a big-band swing, or they also run it the other way, taking classic swing or pop tunes and country-fying them.

Another country-like genre is bluegrass. So much Jewish music is being made in this mode that there is a sub-genre called- you guessed it- "Jewgrass." Its pioneers are no less than mandolin virtuosi David Grisman and Andy Statman. So far they have two albums out in their Songs of Our Fathers series, in which they give the bluegrass treatment to Jewish classics.

Statman is also famous as a klezmer clarinetist, so he is likely a fan of the Klezmer Mountain Boys (a pun on the band Yonder Mountain), founded by Klezmatics clarinetist Margo Leverett. Rabbi Bruce Adler also performs Jewish bluegrass, noting that he's "been a mountain man ever since the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai."

On a local note, Noam Pikelny is a banjo player who went to the Ida Crown Jewish Academy, studied country music, ate some lox, and ended up in a band called Leftover Salmon. He was also in Punch Brothers, and was recently nominated for a Grammy for his bluegrass banjo work.

And then there is Lucky Break, whose website describes them as "a band of veteran bluegrass singers and instrumentalists who combine the stark beauty of Appalachian music with Shabbat Z'mirot." But if you prefer a more Texas-style approach to your country-music Friday night service, you can find that at a congregation near Austin, because Shabbat at Shoal Creek is exactly that.

There are some Jewish performers who like to explore country among other sounds, like children's singer Mama Doni and the Albuquerque-based Rabbi Joe Black. But Texas-dwelling Robbi Sherwin has several albums of Jewish music, most of which are country-inflected.

The expression "Jewish songwriter" is pretty much a cliché, and that stands true even in Nashville. Daniel Antopolsky's story is so interesting they are making a documentary about it.

Arnold Rosenthal bills himself as "The world's first Jewish country singer," although as we have seen some might take issue with that. And Billy Kirsch has had his songs performed by Wynonna Judd, Kenny Rogers, and Alabama.

Jewish rock musicians who have dipped their toe in the Nashville River include Bob Dylan, with his classic albums John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline. More recently, Neil Diamond visited Nashville to record Tennessee Moon, which included a country-fried remake of his standby "Kentucky Woman." And Simon and Garfunkel adopted a country sound for the track "Keep the Customer Satisfied," on their classic Bridge Over Troubled Water album.

Even Jewish actresses perform country music. Barbi Benton (born Barbara Klein) was a Hee-Haw regular. And Mare Winningham (born Mary) revealed her country pipes in the movie Georgia; she has since converted to Judaism and recorded the Jewish country album Refuge Rock Sublime

But you don't have to be Jewish to perform Jewish country music. Charlie Daniels, of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" fame, is a big Israel booster, and has performed HaTikva in concert. In Israel, where they know a thing or two about violin playing.

For a more comprehensive look at the Jewish contribution to country music, here is a longer piece clocking in at (an appropriate) 18 pages.

Jews love country music- especially bluegrass- so much, some Jewish filmmakers even directed a whole movie about it, so we'll close with Jewish actor Time Blake Nelson singing a song from that soundtrack.  Turns out, the answer to the question "O Brother, where art thou?" is "In a country-music video."

8 Lights, 8 Sounds: It’s the Chanukah Wrap-Up!

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It's Chanukah, so it's time to party like it's 1999, which is the first year I wrote a Chanukah Wrap-Up. Much of my articles on Jewish music, including these reviews, have since migrated online, but the idea is the same- these are the best Jewish CDs produced this year to give as Chanukah gifts:

 Allan Sherman: There is Nothing Like a Lox
A musical companion to the recent biography Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman. The CD recovers, as its subtitle indicates, "the lost song parodies" by the guy who came between Mickey Katz and Tom Lehrer on the one hand and Weird Al Yankovic and Andy Samberg on the other. The selections largely mock Broadway standards, from South Pacific (the title track and "Younger than Springsteen"), Music Man ("Seventy-Six Sol Cohens"), and Finian's Rainbow ("How Are Things with Uncle Morris?"). If you have all of Sherman's My Son albums and even Live!!! (Hoping You Are the Same), your collection also needs this.

Pharaoh's Daughter: Dumiyah 
(The title is Hebrew for "silence.") One of the best Jewish music acts of all time returns (finally!) with another scintillating collection. This is only their sixth album since their 1999 debut-their most recent being 2007's Haran. Musically, it harkens back to the album that put them on the map, Out of the Reeds, with its grounding in traditional Sephardi and Mizrachi melodies and Jewish scripture and poetry but also modern electronic sensibilities; their "Maoz Tzur" and "Hanerot" wink and flicker like Chanukah candles. The instrument selection tells the story- shofars and santurs (Persian dulcimers) harmonize with synthesizers and electric guitars. Basya Schechter, the ensemble's driving force and insinuating voice, seems incapable of writing or singing a wrong note. This is love at first listen.

Maya Johanna Menachem and Shay Tochner: Ain't Going Nowhere 
Nine of 14 tracks are by Bob Dylan, the rest by Leonard Cohen. Menachem, who performed at the Jewish Arts Festival this past summer, also has a CD of Irish tunes and another to some of the other 1960s folksingers. This is unexpected, since she bills herself as an Israeli artist. Or maybe we should stop worrying about borders and simply enjoy this latter-day Judy Collins and the delicate guitar accompaniment of Shay Tochner, beautifully interpreting some of the best songs by the some of the best songwriters. (Can we request a Paul Simon tribute next?) 

 The Afro-Semitic Experience: Jazz Souls on Fire
A Jewish bassist and an African-American pianist walk into a bar… On their previous outings, the duo and their ensemble have explored civil rights history, the Exodus ideal, and the power of memory, and how these have infused both the Jewish and black experiences. Here, they simply (and complexly!) jam to their favorite composers: Pharaoh Saunders, Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and others, interspersed with klezmer melodies, Jewish prayers, and gospel spirituals. The sound is joyous, even raucous, just-plain-big… and altogether- in all senses of the word- righteous.

 Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights: Good Egg
Oh, yeah, you might want to get a kid a Chanukah gift, too. Well, why should kids have to suffer with mediocre music when they can listen to great stuff like this, which exposes kids to rock, reggae, swing, and other fun sounds. Leeds really gets the world of kids, with songs like "Food Fight," "Dino on the Upper West Side," and even "Germs." "Confusing Costume" is about having role models who are not cartoon princesses, and so is "With My Dad." And "Kid's Place" dreams up a paradise with low shelves and parents who don't spell words to keep kids in the dark.  While it's not technically a Jewish album (one song even mentions-gasp!- Santa) Leeds has been a regular at Jewish events like the recent PJ Library anniversary. The title track is rife with "egg" puns like "egg-static" and "egg-cellent," but they forgot the best one to describe their album: "eggs-ilarating"!

Paul Shapiro: Shofarot Verses 
Of course the shofar is the most Jewish horn, but second place goes either to the trumpet as played by Frank London or the sax in the hands of John Zorn and Paul Shapiro. This is Shapiro's fourth CD for Tzadik (Zorn's label). "Hashivenu," the softly soulful solo that opens the CD, gives way to the Broadway-via-Second-Avenue "Get Me to the Shul on Time" and the Dick-Dale-at-the-Deli "Surfin' Salami." Then "Ashamnu" breaks down that Yom Kippur prayer with an actual shofar wailing in the background.  The rest of the album oscillates between those two poles- the ridiculously sublime and the sublimely ridiculous. Oh, and that's Marc Ribot's guitar slashing through everything.

Linda Hirschhorn: Amazed 
Hirschhorn founded the all-women's chorus called Vocolot. Her new CD, however, is a solo effort titled Amazed. In fact, she has recorded as many solo albums as ensemble ones. Here, she explores the theme of awe; the songs have words like "love," "dreaming," "mercy" and "spirit" in the titles, reflecting her lifelong interest in exploring spirituality through  music. The arrangements range from doo-wop to folk, soul, world, and Carly Simon-like pop. They are nearly all acoustic, with the notable exception of the blues number "Some Love." Hirschhorn's voice is lovely, but is also deployed with great control and expressiveness. The album overall is the work of a skillful, experienced pro who knows exactly what she wants to say and how. She is strong enough to open up and, as she puts it, "stay amazed."

The Sy Kushner Jewish Music Ensemble: Klez, Kush & Son 
They're still making new klezmer music! Sy Kushner's first performance came the same year as his bar mitzvah, in 1953. He's still playing the accordion, only now his son Aaron is playing the sax at his side. How do you keep your sound fresh after decades? Well, you combine it with other things like marches, waltzes, and Middle-Eastern drums to make songs like "Merengklez" (merengue + klezmer), "Horalgar" (hora + bulgar). For another, you find inspiration in new life experiences. And then you can just experiment; "Decaklez" is written in the 10/8 time signature and changes keys twice. Even with all of these forward-leaning elements, the music remains stately and affecting - especially the elegant "Stratford Waltz," which belongs in a movie's falling-in-love scene.

Even if you don't have time to decorate for Chanukah, between peeling potatoes and wrapping gifts, putting on some great Jewish music turns and ordinary get-together into a Festival of De-Lights. (Sorry, that catchy Joannie Leeds CD has me stuck in pun mode…) Chag Chanukah Same'ach!

FourTelling a magical, musical weekend

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For two days in December, Congregation B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim (BJBE) in Deerfield will move very close to the center of the Jewish musical universe. On those two days- December 5-6- four of the most important women in the Jewish music scene will all be artists-in-residence.

Folk singer-songwriters Julie Silver, Beth Schafer, and Peri Smilow, and Internet sensation Michelle Citrin will join on stage on Saturday, Dec. 6, at 7:30 for a concert they have titled Four Telling. But that historic performance is just the culmination of a weekend of musical magic.

It begins on Dec. 5, when Beth Schafer leads Friday night services. A cantor in her native Orlando, Schafer is also a songwriter and recording artist with seven albums of original material.

She played at center court for the Orlando Magic, and for Barack Obama during his first presidential campaign; in 2006, she won the American Idol Faithbased Competition, beating out dozens of Christian-rock bands.

The following day, Peri Smilow and Julie Silver lead Shabbat services. Both are singer-songwriters in the Debbie Friedman tradition. Smilow's debut album was released in 1992; she has performed throughout the English-speaking world, as well as in Israel and even Singapore. Her album The Freedom Music Project featured a youth choir with both black and Jewish singers, performing the music of Passover and the Civil Rights movement; it received national media attention. Her current album, Blessings, was inspired by her surviving cancer. Smilow also has a Master's degree in education from Harvard, and has spent a quarter-century working with disadvantaged children.

Julie Silver just released her ninth, celebrating her, yes, silver anniversary in Jewish music. She is from Massachusetts, but lives in southern California. Like Friedman before her, Silver has found her songs being woven into the fabric of camp, services, and Jewish life altogether. Her career highlights include her Chanukah album hitting the Billboard charts, singing a duet with Helen Hunt, performing the National Anthem at Fenway Park, and acting opposite Bette Midler. (Oh, and her partner, Mary Connelly, produces the Ellen show.)

Michelle Citrin, who will join the others onstage Saturday night, is best known for her cheeky music videos like "20 Things to Do with Matzah," "Shake Your Grogger" and the "Call Me Maybe" parody "Call Your Zeyde." She is also capable of soulful poignancy, as on such tracks as "Someday" and "If I Fall." Her songwriting skills, emotional delivery, and winking sense of humor have taken her around the world, including Israel, and onto national TV and the pages of TIME magazine, with accolades from Billboard, VH-1, and Sony. After many EPs, her debut LP is on its way.

Jewish music fans- do not miss this show, as close as you might ever get to a Jewish Lilith Fair! See you there.

For more information, contact BJBE at (847) 940-7575 or visit; for tickets, visit

'It was 20 years ago today ...'

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I started working at the Jewish United Fund in 1994, on Oct. 10, a day after my birthday. In that time, I’ve had two marriages, three kids, three pets, eight places of residence … and one place of work.

I could tell you the story of how I came to work here, or how I got my internship here when I was still in college even before officially becoming an employee. But these stories — funny as parts of them are — would only be interesting if you knew the people involved.

I could tell you about all the Jewish history I have witnessed while here — American, Israeli, European, even African. I was in our old office building – just blocks away from the Sears Tower – on 9/11. I was here when the Ethiopian Jews were rescued to Israel. I was here when the Soviet Jews were rescued to Israel, America and elsewhere. I have been here through war in Israel, and peace … and then war again.

I could tell you about all the amazing people I have met. Some were dedicated volunteers. Some were active philanthropists. Some were entertainers or politicians, and even the ones whose politics I disagreed with were completely in line with JUF’s mission of providing help and, admittedly, very personable and nice. I could name-drop enough A-listers I have heard, interviewed and shaken hands with to warrant its own article.

When I had just graduated college, John, the foreman in my dad’s custom furniture, shop asked me a question:

“I never went to college,” he said, “So what did you learn? I don’t mean stuff I could look up in a book. I mean what did you learn?”

This made me think for a second.

“I learned that some people don’t want your help,” I finally replied, “And that sometimes even if you ask, the answer is ‘No.’”

He smiled wryly. “It was worth it. I wish I had known those things at your age.”

So in the spirit of John’s question, here is what I have learned in 20 years at JUF:

I learned that the capacity for human beings to hope is limitless. I have seen, over and over in my years here, natural disasters devastating a town, here or abroad. But every time, JUF raises money and sends volunteers, and Israel sends a field hospital and recovery crew. We don’t know these people. We just know that they are people, and that we can help.

I learned that societal acceptance and economic prosperity create a positive feedback loop. The more open a society is, the better off it tends to be financially. Openness leads to possibility and opportunity, which lead to inventiveness and adventurousness in academics, the arts, the sciences, and commerce. Once it’s OK to be who you are, you can become who you want, and bring everyone along for the ride. The opposite environment — oppression, intolerance, and just-plain-bullying — creates the opposite, negative result.

I learned that people will always surprise you. You never know how people will react, what they will say, or if their beliefs are consistent or predictable. So it’s best to be honest and give people the chance to be kind. It’s also best to really listen — almost every time I have mentally finished someone else’s sentence, I’ve been wrong.

I learned that everyone pretty much agrees on what the problems facing society are; they just have different ways of trying to solve those problems. They are coming at the same issue from another angle, and until you trace their beliefs and methods back to their sources, you are never going to appreciate that. You can’t ever argue people out of their beliefs, even with evidence. What you can do is find out why they hold those views so strongly (hint: it’s usually fear) and then work to remove that fear.

I learned that while individuals can inspire, it is groups that accomplish, especially big things.

I learned that all the good intentions in the world cannot feed one hungry person, but even one dollar can.

I learned that any excuse is good enough to avoid helping, and any reason is good enough to start.

I learned that hate is usually the result of ignorance, and that culture — including cuisine, music, and other arts — is far from inessential and dismissible. Experiencing another’s culture, distinct as it may seem from one’s own, is the best tool for forming friendships across barriers. With every “Oh! We do that, too!” the barriers are revealed to be much smaller than we’d imagined.

I learned that when you believe in other people, and say so, it helps them believe in themselves.

I learned that Judaism works. Something about this set of rules and rituals and stories and songs and judges and jesters — all swirled together in an alchemy of uncertain proportions — led to the creation of the Jewish people, one of the most productive and resilient groups planet Earth has ever hosted. Even with every empire throwing all its laws and armies at us, we are still here, and they are in museums (that we are on the boards of). And not just here, but thriving and contributing to the world well beyond what the some might presume our percentage of the population capable.

The title of this post, of course, also opens the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album. That album contains the question: “Will you still need me when I’m 64?” I hope the problems that JUF addresses — poverty, persecution, passivity — are all solved by then. But in case they are not, I know that JUF will still be here, just as it has been since 1900 (and I think I know what longevity is), holding up the banner of hope.

What’s Jewish about… Opera?

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The Lyric Opera of Chicago is debuting a new work about the Holocaust this season. Titled The Passenger, it has an innovative set. An upper level of the stage is the deck of a 1960s ocean liner on which a woman, formerly a death-camp worker, thinks she recognizes another passenger as one of her victims. The stage itself, below, shows incidents at the camp, in flashback.

The link between the worlds of Jewish music and opera is a strong one. Synagogue cantors like Richard Tucker, Jan Peerce, and Joseph Schmidt (their first names are linked with cantorial performances, last names with operatic ones) often graced opera stages, aweing audiences with their sonorous tones.

Many opera composers have been Jewish, too, including: Giacomo Meyerbeer (born Jacob Liebmann Beer), Jacques Offenbach (born Jacob), Anton Rubinstein, Arnold Schoenberg, Erich Korngold,  Fromental Halevy, and Darius Milhaud; even Moses Mendelssohn tried his hand at opera.

American Jewish opera composers include George Gershwin (whose Porgy and Bess is also in the current Lyric season), Leonard Bernstein, Steve Reich… and Phillip Glass, whose Einstein on the Beach was inspired by that Jewish physicist.

As to the operas themselves, Jewish stories have long been part of the subject matter. A major source of operatic stories has been the Torah itself. The stories of Adam, Cain and Abel,

Noah (twice- once each by Halevy and Donizetti), The Tower of Babel, Abraham (by Reich), Joseph, Moses (by Rossini), and Aaron (by Schoenberg) have all been made into operas.

Many stories that take place after the Five Books of Moses have been opera-ized as well, and by some of the form's greatest artists: David and Jonathan, King Saul, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (by German-Jewish Hermann Salomon Mosenthal), Jephtha (Meyerbeer's first opera), Samson and Delilah (by Camille Saint-Saëns), The Maccabees (by Rubinstein and Mosenthal), Queen Esther (by American Jewish composer Hugo Weisgall), and stories from the books of Daniel and Jeremiah (Nabucco, by Verdi)

France's Halevy wrote what must be the opera with the most Jewish title: The Jewess. In it, a Jewish woman falls for a non-Jewish prince. It's set in the Middle Ages; no, it doesn't end well.

The Milken Jewish Archive has two volumes with excerpts from Jewish-American operas on Old World themes. The first volume has parts of The Golem (Abraham Ellstein) and The Dybbuk (David Tamkin), as well as tales of Chelm (Robert Strassberg). The second has Gimpel the Fool (David Schiff, based on I.B. Singer's story) and Weisgall's Esther. More recently, Israeli composer Shulamit Ran has composed an opera on the dybbuk tale as well.

The main characters of the famous opera Die Fledermaus are named von Eisenstein, so there is some speculation as to whether those characters are Jewish… and given their negative portrayal, if the opera is therefore anti-Semitic.

A more recent one that has been almost unanimously condemned as such is the 1991 The Death of Klinghoffer. It details the events leading to the 1985 death of wheelchair-bound Jewish American Leon Klinghoffer, thrown overboard off of his cruise ship by hijacking PLO terrorists. It debuted in 1991, and recently made the news when the Met this year cancelled its simulcast of the opera. While the author says his work “accords great dignity to the memory of Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, and it roundly condemns his brutal murder,” the victim’s daughters feel it “perverts the terrorist murder of our father and attempts to romanticize, rationalize, legitimize and explain it.” According to The New Yorker, the opera “sparked outrage in onlookers who felt that it unduly favored the Palestinian point of view.”

Klinghoffer was the work of John Adams (the still-living one), as was the 2005 Dr. Atomic, the tale of Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, the Jewish physicist who oversaw the Manhattan Project, i.e. the making of the atom bomb. (Einstein has an opera and so does Oppenheimer… so where is Feynman's?)

And who knows which other operas will be revealed to have Jewish connections;  a recent Tablet article discussed the Jewish origins of one of the most beloved and acclaimed operas of all: Don Giovanni.

What's Jewish about opera? Maybe we should just ask an expert.

When is Kid’s Day? Every day!

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We just had Mother's Day, and Father's Day is coming up. So my almost-4-year-old asked when Kid's Day was. Yeah, he likes opening gifts- I wonder where he got that?

When I get him new music, I often get him albums by artists who do not generally focus on kids' music. I have this huge list of adult-oriented artists who have released kids albums, and in looking it over- no huge surprise- I see that many of the songwriters are Jewish:

Carole King: Really Rosie
A classic. This all-time great songwriter took some of the works of Maurice Sendak- the Jewish kids' author best known for Where the Wild Things Are- and made a whole musical out of them, with a Lower East Side pre-teen diva as the narrator. The songs teach the alphabet, counting, months… and caring. Sendak later turned Peter and the Wolf into Pincus and the Pig… to teach kids about klezmer music!

Peter Himmelman: My Best Friend is a Salamander
The definition of an underappreciated songwriter. Himmelman has also released a series of great, silly-sweet kids albums: My Lemonade Stand, My Fabulous Plum, My Green Kite, and My Trampoline. Pick one- you can't go wrong.

David Grisman and Jerry Garcia: Not for Kids Only
Garcia, the late leader of the Grateful Dead, was not Jewish. But his longtime collaborator, mandolin virtuoso Grisman, is. Here, they run through a set of traditional acoustic folk songs sure to encourage sing-alongs on car rides.

Harry Connick Jr.: Songs I Heard
The title should really be Songs I Heard from Movie Musicals, because these are from Mary Poppins, Sound of Music, Wizard of Oz, Annie, and Willy Wonka-all of which had Jewish songwriters. Your kids can graduate to the When Harry Met Sally… soundtrack later.

Lisa Loeb: Catch the Moon
Loeb's high, charming voice is a natural for children's music. This is a collection of folksy perennials like "Oh! Susanna" and "Big Rock Candy Mountain," plus some tunes in Spanish and French. She followed this album with the camp-song collection Camp Lisa, which featured Steve Martin on banjo. She's even got kids' books out now.

Dan Bern: Two Feet Tall 
Bern sets aside his cynicism and brings his aw-sucks sensibility to a series of kids songs that range from the ridiculous- "Donkey to Lunch"- to the sublime- "Watchin' Over You." You can download the 38 songs for only 89 cents each… or the whole shebang for $8.00.

Leonard Bernstein: Children's Classics
What better way to introduce children to the glories of the classical canon than by letting one of the greatest conductors of all time do it for you? Clips of his Young People's Concerts are also on YouTube.

Peter Paul & Mary: Peter Paul & Mommy 
Peter Yarrow is the Jewish third of this ecumenical folksinging triumvirate. Their offerings here are traditionals, and a tune by Gilbert & Sullivan, but mostly their contemporaries Tom Paxton and Shel Silverstein. Plus three by Peter, including his signature tune, "Puff the Magic Dragon" (which is about a dragon kite, people!)

Neil Sedaka: Waking Up is Hard to Do
(Yes, his name is Sephardic for "tzedakah.") The title track is a parody of his early rock classic "Breaking Up is Hard to Do"… and some of the tunes are parodies of his other hits- "Where the Toys Are," "Lunch Will Keep Us Together." Great for a grandparental visit.

Other kids' compilations of songs by adult artists have some Jewish musicians on them as well:
For Our Children: Bob Dylan, Bette Midler
In Harmony: Carly Simon, Bette Midler again, Wendy Waldman
Simply Mad About Mouse: Billy Joel, Harry Connick Jr., Michael Bolton
Songs from the Street: Paul Simon, Madeline Kahn
Unexpected Dreams: singing actors Scarlett Johansson, Marissa Jaret Winokur, and Victor Garber 

Lastly, some great Jewish songwriters have simply written songs to their own kids:
Paul Simon: "St. Judy's Comet," "Father and Daughter"
Bob Dylan: "Lord, Protect My Child" (here performed by Susan Tedeschi)
Billy Joel: "Goodnight, My Angel"
Randy Newman: "Memo to My Son"
Peter Himmelman: "Raina"

Jewish people love music, and we love our kids, and we want our kids to love music. And Jewish musicians are no different in that!