Elul, the month leading up to the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, began August 31 and is usually used as a time of repentance and self reflection.
It is also fitting that this is the time of year for the Torah reading of Noah and the great flood, as this story deals with salvation. The legendary episode of the dove that was sent to scout for dry land as the flood receded, and returned with an olive branch, is commemorated on the 17th and 23rd of Elul on the Jewish calendar (September 16 and 22 on the Gregorian calendar).
This event is portrayed by composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco in a segment named The Flood in the Genesis Suite, a musical event where narration, an orchestra and a chorus combine to depict 11 chapters of the Book of Genesis. (Other composers and stories include Alexandre Tansman’s musical depiction of Adam and Eve and Darius Milhaud’s of Cain and Abel).
It is also customary to blow the shofar each day of this month to represent a returning to your true self. For those who don’t have their own shofar (or perhaps for those who do and would like to play along with the recordings), the Milken Archive recommends Hugo Weisgall’s T'kiatot (a symphonic work that derives its structure and content from the Rosh Hashana liturgy) and Herman Berlinski’s Shofar Service, which remains a mainstay of High Holy Days services today.
Also featured during Elul is a two-part podcast/radio program titled A Season for Forgiveness. This program, which was broadcast on NPR affiliates in 2004, features an entire Orthodox S’liḥot service from beginning to end interspersed with commentary by Rabbi Ishmar Schorsch and Neil W. Levin. Cantor Benzion Miller leads the service, accompanied by Cantor Ira Bigeleisen and the all-male Schola Hebraeica choir. Listen in.
For more Jewish music, both for the High Holy Days and for everyday listening, explore the Milken Archive of Jewish Music. And for more jewels of wisdom, consider the Archive-sponsored Jewels of Elul, which emails words of wisdom from celebrities, politicians and more every day during the month of Elul. Each Friday, the Milken Archive offers a free download of High Holy Days music on the Jewels of Elul site.
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