Normally, brunches aren’t sing-a-longs. But it wasn’t a typical brunch.
Audience members sang to Rabbi Ben-Zion Gold’s new CD “Touching the Memory,” a compilation of Polish-Jewish melodies, at a special Sunday brunch held at Hillel in the former director’s honor.
The songs, a mixture of religious and folk tunes, were recorded, for the most part, one night nearly 40 years ago by Jane Myers ’70, who met Gold as an undergraduate and produced his new CD. The melodies are from Gold’s childhood in Poland before the Holocaust. Born in 1923, Gold left Poland to become director of Harvard Hillel in 1958 where he served as director until 1993.
“How did you remember those songs?” Myers asked Gold during the discussion.
“I think the correct question is, ‘How could you forget?’” he answered. “It became part of me.” Gold is nearly a nonagenarian, but his good humor remains, along with his memory for melodies and lyrics.
The album’s production has been a long time coming, Myers said. “I feel like I had this treasure, and it was just schlepping along,” said Myers. She had kept an audio-cassette of Gold’s music in her basement for years after the original recording in 1976, and remembers the night that most of the recordings were done.
“Ben just sat there, with his back to the window and he sang through 11 songs, one after another. He said that night, ‘I think I was possessed’—is that right?”
“If you say so,” quipped Gold.
Myers recorded an additional 17 tracks in 2003; including the 11 earlier tracks, the CD has a total 28 songs.
This recording is important because this is the first time many of these songs have been officially documented, according to Myers, who has checked with Jewish libraries and museums across the world.
“There are not many people left alive,” said Marc A. Cohen ’85, a member of Harvard Hillel’s Board of Directors. “Those that survived are few and far between, so this sort of thing would have been just lost.”
When tracks from the new CD were played during the brunch, Gold mouthed along with his own, younger voice. When Myers played the song Gold’s father used to sing during passover, Gold continued to sing even after the track had finished. He couldn’t remember whether his father had composed the song, and if he hadn’t, Rabbi Gold said, “he may as well have.”
“You can’t tell now because his voice...well—he’s close to 90 years old,” Cohen said. “But you got a taste of it from the recording.”
Myers hopes to take this CD to talks and presentations in order to share and archive the songs in libraries in the United States, Israel and other Jewish History museums around the world.
—Staff writer Virginia R. Marshall can be reached at email@example.com.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Oct. 20
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Jane Myers ’70, who produced a CD by Rabbi Ben-Zion Gold.