“Borukh ate” zingt der tate—a father sings the opening words of the blessing, and kindles the light, and its soft rays fall on his pale face. With just a few words, the poet Avrom Reisen paints a picture of a slightly stooped, weary man, who somehow finds meaning and holiness in a simple act of lighting the Hanukkiah. The gentle melody, almost a lullaby, reminiscent of a folk song, yet soaring with emotion, was written by a composer Solomon Golub.
Both authors of the song were immigrants from Tsarist Russia, finding inspiration in the sounds of Yiddish language and folk music in their new home, di Amerike. When I first heard this song, almost three decades ago, I was also new to America, and, as an immigrant from the Former Soviet Union, new to much of Jewish knowledge. Yet there was something in this tune that touched me deeply, even before I understood the words. The singer was the first woman cantor I’ve ever met, Cantor Sue Roemer, z”l, who had subsequently become my teacher and mentor, and for whose choir I’ve written this arrangement.
The man lighting the candles in this song is not alone. His observer, moved by the image of the father finding something special, even essential, in the light of the candles, vows to keep the tradition going—zing zhe, tate, borukh ate—“keep singing the words of the blessing, my father,” un ikh blayb dayn kind—“and I will remain your child.” And so, we keep singing the words of our tradition, carrying on the melody from one generation to the next, from a teacher to the students of the students, finding that the sweetest blessing of all is being able to share the light.
—Cantor Natasha J. Hirschhorn