Music has a way of creating a soundtrack of our lives. We play music to create appropriate moods for ourselves, whether for a workout, a party, quiet time, or to psych-up before a big exam or event. Tunes and songs from our past can actually stir powerful emotions and whisk us back in time.
Let us go back to 1990 when one of the most iconic Jewish songs in recent memory was created, crafted and recorded. Abie Rotenberg, a young songwriter who had already gained recognition and acclaim for his musical and lyrical contributions to Journeys, Dveykus and the Marvelous Midos Machine series, penned the song Acheinu for a project known as Lev V’Nefesh. Although most attribute the song to Dveykus, it appeared on the first of two Lev V’Nefesh albums, created together with the incomparable Jewish music producer, Sheya Mendlowitz, z”l.
Released during the height of the First Intifada, Rotenberg was in a mood, a state of mind, that led to the composition of this modern classic. Shortly after the outbreak of the Gulf War, while Scud missiles were targeting Yerushalayim, Tel Aviv and Bnei Brak, and the threat of chemical weapons from Iraq forced Israelis to obtain and wear gas masks, Acheinu took off worldwide as an anthem of courage and hope.
The original recording of the song opens with a 45-second, deeply melodic introduction, followed by the heartfelt voice of Abie Rotenberg. “Acheinu kol beis Yisroel…” Our brothers, the entire house of Israel, who are in distress and captivity…may Hashem have mercy upon them and remove them from distress to relief, from darkness to light, from oppression to redemption, now, speedily, and soon.” Rousing violins join Rotenberg and build to a soul stirring crescendo. Two additional soloists, Rivie Schwebel of Dveykus fame and Mendy Werdyger appear prominently in the song as well. Werdyger shared, “I feel very emotional to be part of this song that is so meaningful right now. It brings out peoples’ kavana to a much higher level of compassion for acheinu Bnei Yisroel.”
Shlomo Carlebach’s Am Yisrael Chai has become our upbeat anthem following the Simchat Torah War, inspiring the soldiers of the IDF, finding its way into new songs, and being sung at pro-Israel rallies. Alongside Am Yisrael Chai, and accompanying the sadder and more emotional after-moments of the October 7 massacre and the daily unfortunate news in Israel, Acheinu has been appearing prominently at funerals, Shiva houses, rallies and daily tefillot in communities around the world.
At the recent funeral of 21-year-old soldier Binyamin Meir Airley, z”l Hy”d, his mother Jen Averbuch Airley led the crowd in a tearful Acheinu on the way to bury her son. The crowd broke out in song, joining Binyamin on his final journey. Everyone knew the tune and the words.
The Chorev Ulpana in Yerushalayim recently gathered a thousand students and alumni to sing the Mi Sheberach for the soldiers of the IDF. Four minutes into the song a beautifully harmonized one-minute rendition of Acheinu is appropriately injected into the tefillah.
At the November 14 March for Israel, in Washington D.C., seven members of a cappella supergroup The Maccabeats harmonized Acheinu in unison with close to 300,000 participants from across the world, probably needlessly displaying the lyrics on the jumbo screen.
In his podcast immediately following the massacre, conservative political commentator and nationally syndicated radio host, Ben Shapiro, spontaneously sang an emotional solo of Acheinu for his millions of listeners.
So how does Abie Rotenberg, the composer of this now Jewish music classic, feel about what has become of his song? In a recent phone call, Rotenberg shared that in 2014, shortly after Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel, Israeli students aged 16 and 19, were kidnapped, he witnessed the singing of Acheinu at the Kotel by 10,000 people. “Seeing Acheinu being sung as a tefillah, not just a song, was very moving and striking for me,” reflected Rotenberg. “It brought tears to my eyes.”
About the role the song is playing now, Rotenberg adds, “I hope and pray that soon the song will be a footnote in history. When Mashiach comes, we will be on the top of the world. In the meantime, if it gives people comfort to focus on the words, [I am pleased].” Rotenberg recently penned an almost epilogue to the song: “There once was a song called Acheinu, We’d sing it when we were in pain, Baruch Hashem for Mashiach, Now no one recalls the refrain.” What songs inspire Rotenberg during these difficult times? V’hee She’amda, Kol Ha’Olam Kulo, and Eyal Golan’s Mi She’Maamin, he said.
Like Im Ehskachech sung at weddings, Acheinu is our anthem in hard times. Whenever we need Hashem to help, it’s good to have a song such as this to turn to. We have been in pain since October 7, often there are no more tears to cry. But music can help us deal with trying times.
Jewish music singer Aryeh Kunstler noted, “Acheinu is a song for all time. A reminder that no matter who we are and from where we come, no matter how religious we are, we are together, standing together. No other song unifies us like it. “
Let us hope and pray that we remain united, because only together we will win. And let us allow Acheinu to be part of our soundtrack these days. Thank you, Abie Rotenberg, for crafting this song so we can have it when we need it.