Just in time for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Hasidic composer Yossi Green has released a video for his song set to the words of Av HaRachamim—a memorial prayer recited in synagogue every Shabbat morning. The prayer was written in the late 11th century to commemorate the Jewish communities destroyed by Christian crusaders, and has been transformed by Green into a musical memory of the Holocaust, with a powerful music video filmed at Auschwitz and paired with actual photo and video footage from the Holocaust.
The video features Tsudik Greenwald, the chief cantor of the Central Synagogue in Frankfurt, Germany, and quite adorably, his young son. Together, Green explained, the two singers are meant to be a “reincarnation of the voices that can sing no more and a continuation of the voices who sing today and in the future.”
Troubled by what he sees as great ambivalence toward the Holocaust among 20 and 30-year-olds, Green said he felt responsible to revitalize Holocaust remembrance. By contextualizing this martyrdom prayer in Auschwitz, which Green describes as “the scene of the greatest tragedy of all time,” he hopes that young listeners will feel connected to a history that is rapidly becoming forgotten.
When I asked Green if he thought his new tune would catch on in synagogues around the world, he said proudly, “I am one hundred percent certain it will.” That’s because in addition to creating a moving, mournful tune, Green purposely composed the verses to be sung easily by both trained singers and the average congregant.
If the song does catch on, as Green hopes, Av HaRachamim might become a weekly memorial to the Holocaust. “Remember,” Green said solemnly, “history does repeat itself.”