Rock ‘n Row

I was raised on great music. I knew all the words to “Chantilly Lace” and “American Pie” before I could recite the pledge of allegiance. Our bed time standards included “Sweet Baby James,” “Bobby Mcgee”and “There’s Whiskey in the Jar.”

No Twinkle-Twinkle nonsense for us… we were taught to respect and honor the great Rebbes and Rebbetzins of rock, folk, bluegrass and soul like Reb Dylan and Rebbetzin Raitt for example. I have always taken my music rather religiously.

I think it’s fair to say that I am a music snob.

And, while we can “banana-fana-fo-fana” it like the best of them, in terms of musical influences, my kids knew who Carlos Santana was long before they ever heard of Dudu Fisher. Because with all due respect to Dudu, once you’ve heard the guitar on “Samba Pa Ti,” even a five year old is like: “Game Over.”

So, imagine my surprise, when I got all choked up at a volunteer youth Chanukah performance at my 96 year-old grandmother’s social-day-club in Beit Shemesh.  The show began with the usual Chaunkah suspects… Sivivon,sov-sov-sov… Chanukah-Chanukah… etc.

And of course it was sweet and beautiful because the kids that performed (both grade school and high school students) were young and fresh and full of nerves; dressed in Converse and denim. Of course the older folks got into the groove and clapped along– because, let’s be honest, a bunch of kids showed up with the sole purpose of bringing cheer; sadly, a rare occurrence in far too many of their lives.

So, the scene in general was emotionally charged, but, to my snobby ears, it would be a stretch to say that the music itself was moving.

That is with one exception …

A four part, key board round of “Row, row, row your boat.”

I know.

Just ride this with me for a minute…

The song was introduced and one of the volunteers sitting next to a frail bodied and kind-eyed man in sweat pants and wind breaker perked up. The volunteer said, “Oh, that’s a perfect song for Sam here.Sam was a sailor.” She squeezed his arm and gave him a wily wink as if to say “I’ve got your back Sam, I know who you were before the years piled up.”

The performance unfolded…

Row, row, row your boat.

Gently down the stream.

Merrily – merrily – merrily – merrily

Life is but a dream.

I got the chills almost immediately (my visceral truth indicator). I looked around the room to see if anyone else was feeling what I was, and I noticed that all the folks that were “with it” enough to hear and engage with the performance were nodding their heads and tapping their Dr. Scholl’s with an “ain’t it though?” kind of knowing on their faces. The truth of the words and the purity of sound that these kids were creating was palpable, and it changed the whole energy of the room. It was just like Bob Marley said: “When music hits you, you feel no pain.”

This song hit me. And I wasn’t the only one.

I don’t think the kids that were performing understood the depth and truth that they were sharing, I mean, it’s a nursery song about a boatright? And rowing? But for those in the audience who had indeed rowed through their lives, many perhaps not as gently as they would have hoped, and for those who had worked, and sweat, and bled and endured and prayed daily for over nine decades so that their children and grandchildren could have a shot at “merrily,” the song fell as sweet and true as a blessing. It made me think, that maybe life is but a dream…

I am grateful to have been there to bear witness to a powerful moment in music history. It was a “One great rock show can change the whole world,” kind of performance.

I daresay we could use a lot more of that kind of song in our world today.

I’m willing to take a deeper look at my knee-jerk musical-snobbery. Who knows what simple truths are waiting to be told in old school lullabies or maybe even -gasp – today’s Top 40.  I may just dust off some “Itsy Bitsy Spiders” of my own and see what treasures await…

About the Author
Sarah Zadok is a Jewish educator and lecturer, and a freelance writer. See more of her work at She lives in the Golan Heights with her husband and five children. Her life’s playlist includes Shlomo Katz, Mumford and Sons and Janis Joplin (she finds no conflict in that).