Until a few decades ago, attendance at chapel was mandatory for all cadets at West Point. The Jewish cadets and officers used to meet in chapels for other denominations, or other buildings around the post. The Jewish Chapel was completed in the early 1980s, after chapel was no longer mandatory, but still highly encouraged. It provided a sanctuary unrivalled at West Point. The food alone was sufficient to encourage participation from beyond “The Tribe.”
The Jewish Chaplain and Rabbi my freshman year was Major Kenneth Leinwand. His services were warm and inviting. The strongest memory I have of his services were that he played guitar. I had been very into music all through high school, and I missed it; Playing “On Brave Old Army Team” in the Pep band was not quite enough to fill the void. Despite my ambivalent feelings about religion, I felt quite comfortable.
Music and Judaism have always been linked in my experience. At West Point, this bond was strengthened by four years of singing in the Jewish Chapel Choir. The songs we sang, even the ones that were new to me, carried the Harmonic Minor sound that seems to resonate at a genetic level.
One of the songs we sang that was new to me was “Bashanah Haba’ah.” In Hebrew, the modifiers tend to follows the words that they modify, so “In the year that comes” can also be translated as “The Coming Year.” Each year, at Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) this song is constantly running through my head. I sing it aloud so much that my boys sing it now, too.
We sang the first verse in Hebrew and the refrain, and then a verse in English that is not related to the original Hebrew. Below is my translation. I’ve made some changes to account for the differences in language, but have attempted to capture the original meaning.
Bashanah Haba'ah (Words by Ehud Manor Music by Nurit Hirsh Translation by Adam Young) In the upcoming year we'll sit upon our porch-swing while the birds migrate back from the south As our kids, home from school play ball out in the meadows and play tag in yard round the house (refrain) You will see You will see Just how good it will be in the year in the upcoming year You will see You will see Just how good it will be in the year in the upcoming year Grapes of red on the vine Will ripen by the evening In our mouths they will burst chilled and sweet Breezes blow warm and soft Fresh air from off the water Cleaning out the old news from the street (refrain) In the upcoming year We'll open up our fingers and we'll catch golden light in our hands And a heron of white will spread her wings like sunrise and illuminate all peoples and lands (refrain)