Mark Kligman, Professor of Musicology and Ethnomusicology,
UCLA Mickey Katz Endowed Chair in Jewish Music, UCLA Herb
Albert School of Music wrote this:
Samuel E. Goldfarb’s early Jewish musical activities came at a time when European Jewish practices were acquiring more American tastes. Around the same time other composers/synagogue musicians such as Max Wohlberg and A.W. Binder wrote melodies to blessings that quickly caught on after the music was published and taught at New York seminaries. In some cases the European liturgical melodies were kept, such as the nusach (melodic formula
of prayer) for Shabbat that was retained in many congregations as well as
many of the prayers and special melodies for the High Holidays and Three
American Reform composers such as Alois Kaiser, Max Spicker and
Edward Stark had written new music for the synagogue that was intended to
sound like 19th-century Romantic music for organ, choir and cantor. Some
lauded the artistic style as an important development in Jewish liturgical
music, since this was in vogue in Europe, while others found a lack of
identifiable Jewish sounds. Meanwhile, music for home use, blessing for the
candles and songs about the holidays, was created anew—which is where
Samuel E. Goldfarb’s work comes in.
The 1920s was an active time for popular music in America. Tin Pan
Alley songwriters were honing their craft for clever lyrics and snappy tunes.
Efforts by the songwriters (many of whom were Jewish) to define an
American culture, combined with the desire of synagogue leaders during the
interwar period to focus on synagogue life as a key experience for American
Jews. Charismatic rabbis led congregations, created vibrant synagogue
services and educational activities to attract and engage Jews to continue to
practice Jewish rituals.
Seen in this light “I Have a Little Dreidl” was the right song at the right
time. So too with many of Goldfarb’s home ritual-based songs which are
included in this album. Clever lyrics and singable melodies were just right for
a growing Jewish community. I grew up in Los Angeles during the 1960s to
1970s singing many of these melodies never knowing where they came
from. Samuel E. Goldfarb’s contribution as a pioneering American Jewish
songwriter is important to recognize. There were no prior models for this
music. His prodigious efforts, along with those of his brother Israel,
established a foundation that has clearly continued. Through singing his
songs American Jews were able to learn and express their Jewish heritage.