Singing toward Freedom

April 19, 2024


One of my favorite things about the Passover seder is that it’s a ritual punctuated by, if not totally centered around, singing songs. We open our seder by singing through its order, “Kadesh, Urchatz…”, and sing blessings like the Kiddush and motzi, as we would during Shabbat and other holidays. We sing the Four Questions (or hum along encouragingly behind the youngest seder-goers’ recitation). So many lines drawn from the Haggadah have corresponding tunes and are sung by the whole table, like Avadim Hayyinu and Dayeinu, and more contemporary songs are often added, like Pharaoh, Pharaoh, to the tune of Louie Louie by the Kingsmen, and of course, Debbie Friedman’s classic bangerMiriam’s Song

All of this singing seems to stem from the pivotal moment in the Exodus narrative, when the Israelites spontaneously burst into song at the shores of the sea, celebrating their liberation from slavery in Egypt. According to Jewish musician and Rising Song Institute founder and director, Joey Weisenberg, “Singing is the ultimate expression of freedom, an essential rejoicing at the end of a cycle of suffering. Music is a recognition of the miracles of life.” This sentiment rings so true, and while I do believe that song and music is one of the purest and most powerful expressions of joy and gratitude, it is also not the whole picture. I also believe that music is also an extraordinarily powerful tool for the moments when we have not reached the end of the journey, but are still very much on the way there. Music can be a vehicle of hope and aspiration when we are still deep in the waiting for and striving toward liberation that is yet to come… 

With this notion in mind, I want to introduce you to a particular song that we have added to this year’s second night Passover seder at TOS: Acheinu. While the tune we’ll sing was composed by Canadian Jewish musician, Abie Rotenberg in 1990, this traditional Jewish prayer for the freedom of captives first appears in the 9th-century prayerbook known as Seder Rav Amram Gaon, and then in the 12th century Machzor Vitry, both of which serve as templates for the siddurim (prayer books) we use today. Different communities have used Acheinu differently over time, and in recent history, many communities incorporate it into the Torah service. In particular, since October 7th, Acheinu has served as an anthem of hope for the liberation and safe return of the hostages taken at the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war. We hope you will take a listen to this version Josh Cohen and I recorded, and join us in singing at our community Passover seder. 

Passover is a time to celebrate the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, and this year, we also acknowledge and feel palpably that collective liberation is still a long way off… But in raising our voices and singing together, one of my intentions for this years’ seder is to express our hope and stubborn belief that freedom will yet come – for us, for our Israeli siblings held captive, for our Palestinian cousins suffering from the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, and for anyone, anywhere who has yet to taste freedom.


Rabbi Jenn Queen