A Jewish-Infused Playlist for New Year’s Eve

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A historic Jewish New Year’s postcard.    From The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, University of California, Berkeley (magnes.berkeley.edu)

By Adam Reinherz

At this point, you’ve navigated 2020 and discovered new ways to observe the Jewish holidays through 10 months of the pandemic.

Whether you reconfigured your den to resemble a sanctuary for Kol Nidrei, spent hours scraping hardened honey from your screen after a “sweet” multigenerational digital Rosh Hashanah, or jerry-rigged a tablet holder from two books, a T-shirt, three twist ties and an old copy of the Jewish Exponent so family members could enjoy an optimal viewing angle of you kindling your menorah on Zoom, you marked 2020 through hard work. Now that the secular New Year is upon us, it’s time to celebrate.


You’re probably counting down to midnight from the same spot you spent much of 2020: at home. That’s great. Whether you’re ringing in 2021 from your living room, dining room or kitchen — forget about a virtual ball drop, no need for simulation — you’re going to party. All you need is a cell phone, tablet or musical streaming device.

“Auld Lang Syne in Yiddish,” Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus
It goes without saying that “Auld Lang Syne” is the holiday’s defining tune. It also goes without saying that this year is markedly different from those past. What better way to honor tradition and acknowledge the unusualness of it all than “Di Tsaytn Fun a Mol”?

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?,” Rod Stewart feat. Ella Fitzgerald and Chris Botti
Having already knocked off the iconic holiday song, time to cue up “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” Written by Frank Loesser, an Academy Award-winning landsman responsible for the music and lyrics to “Guys and Dolls” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” the song is especially good when covered by Rod Stewart. Why Rod Stewart? Why not? Pre-pandemic, the septuagenarian rocked 20,000 fans in Tel Aviv. Post-pandemic, here’s hoping he does it again.

“Happy New Year,” ABBA
If you have a karaoke machine, now’s the time to use it. Apart from a sweeping chorus you’ll be singing the next three weeks, this song probably has the best video accompaniment to boot. Search “ABBA Happy New Year 1980.” Until the camera pans out around the two-minute mark, you too may believe that Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid are celebrating the fourth night of Chanukah.

“My Dear Acquaintance,” or “New Year,” Regina Spektor
For those who like to Spektify, either one of these ditties from proud Jewish mom Regina Spektor works. Born in Moscow and educated in American Jewish day schools, Spektor is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and HIAS supporter.

“New Year’s Day,” Pentatonix
Before founding member Avi Kaplan left the a cappella group in 2017, Pentatonix recorded this catchy number. As a transitional piece between slower numbers on the Chronicle’s playlist and faster tempos to come, “New Year’s Day” hits a fitting chord. In a COVID-19 world, certain lyrics ring true: “Tomorrow morning when we wake/ This town will be a different place/ And the past will wash away like coffee stains.”

“New Year’s Day,” Bon Jovi
Jon Bon Jovi isn’t Jewish. His keyboardist, and fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, David Bryan is a member of the tribe. Bon Jovi’s “New Year’s Day” is fantastic both because it invites what will certainly be awful dancing from many and also because the New Year’s Day” 2016 video weirdly looks like social distancing restrictions were in place. It’s probably safe to assume that all that livin’ on a prayer granted the band some type of foresight.

“Raise Your Glass,” Pink
Like a bizarrely large braided challah, you’ll probably find this chart-topping single at most b’nai mitzvah parties. That’s for good reason. Released in 2010 by Doylestown native Alecia Beth Moore, aka Pink, “Raise Your Glass” celebrates underdogs while championing those who don’t always fit in (see: most memories of adolescence).

“One More Time,” Daft Punk
Lest one think this song recalls the monotony of quarantining, “One More Time” is about continuing to dance and celebrate without end. Hence, if you have a strobe light, plug it in. For those who don’t, your cell phone will do. While gyrating to blinking flashes, keep in mind some relevant Daft Punk history: Daniel Vangarde, the Jewish father of Thomas Bangalter (one half of French duo Daft Punk), has worked to ensure WWII-era French Jewish musicians receive compensation they were denied under Vichy rule.

“Sabotage,” Beastie Boys
Naysayers may argue this song has nothing to do with New Year’s. Au contraire. This epic tune has everything to do with 2020 and the path to 2021. Looking back on the past year, there’s a lot to lower your spirits. Don’t fall prey to the “mirage” — you have to stay optimistic. It’s like what three hideously mustachioed Jewish police officers told us almost 25 years ago: “’Cause what you see, you might not get/ And we can bet, so don’t you get souped yet.”

“Tfila,” Ofra Haza
Forty years before Gal Gadot, Israel had a different Wonder Woman: Ofra Haza, a Grammy Award-winning artist who catapulted to fame after placing second in the 1983 Eurovision Song Contest. Haza may have recorded more popular numbers, but “Tfila,” which translates to “prayer,” is a must-play New Year’s ballad. Both because of its synth-pop beat and memorable lyrics, you’re going to want to put this one on loop.

Ten is a good Jewish number, but 13 also works. Here are three more honorable mentions:

Barbara Streisand nd Donna Summer “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” Photo by A. Currell is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

“No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer
If you thought 2020 was going to be great but ended up being totally duped, this song is for you (as long as you’re willing to imagine that Babs and the Queen of Disco were referencing a bad year and not a bad boyfriend).

“Opposites Attract,” Paula Abdul
Remember what was life like before the pandemic? Now try remembering what life was like decades before the pandemic. Let us help you: It was a time when a suspender-clad cartoon cat bopped step for step with Syrian Jewish descendant Paula Abdul.

“This Is What it Feels Like,” Armin Van Buuren feat. Trevor Guthrie
This song is a roller coaster in the best way. It starts off really slowly, pulls you in with sorrowful lyrics — “Nobody here knocking at my door/ The sound of silence I can’t take anymore/ Nobody ringing my telephone now/ Oh how I miss such a beautiful sound” — then jolts your body with an electronic beat that will keep you moving until the snow melts. l
Adam Reinherz is a staff writer with Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

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