Music: A Healing Tool

Maddie Siegel, a senior studying human development and family sciences at the University of Georgia spent the summer of 2020 interning with the Blue Dove Foundation. Maddie is passionate about using creative outlets such as music and arts as a tool for mental health advocacy and mental wellness.



As a teenager, I really struggled with my mental health. I tried hard to find things to keep me happy in the midst of the stress I was feeling from school and the social anxiety and isolation I was experiencing from my friends at school.

My involvement in a Jewish youth program, BBYO, led me to find something that actually brought me joy—Jewish music. I could tell that Jewish music was my calling. I loved the sense of community that was established every time I was in a setting with Jewish music, whether it be a song session at camp, a Havdalah service, a Kabbalat Shabbat, etc. I grew passionate about songleading in high school through BBYO, and I have continued it through college. This is special to me, because I get to share music with other teens and groups, and allow them to create the communal connections I did.

I believe music has the power to heal us, and I wanted to dive further into this. 

I’m not very religious, and I don’t speak or read much Hebrew, so how am I supposed to enjoy Jewish music? The beautiful thing about Jewish music is there is such a broad spectrum of music that can be considered Jewish. There are what I call the “Jewish secular” tunes, such as “One Day,” by Matisyahu; “Wagon Wheel,” by Old Crow Medicine Show; or even “Lean on Me,” by Bill Withers. These are the songs I often find myself singing in Jewish settings, such as camps, song sessions, etc.

There are also the actual religious songs. These can be the prayers we recite at synagogue, but they also can be pieces of Jewish text, taken and rearranged into a melody. Oftentimes these melodies may contain English sections as well. The prayer “Oseh Shalom,” for example, has many tunes, and while you may be familiar with a traditional melody from your congregation, many artists have taken that same bit of text and put their own spin on it to make it meaningful to them. There is no right or wrong, and that’s what is beautiful. Any piece of text can be interpreted, turned into a melody and applied to certain moods or experiences. 

So why Jewish music? Music is a universal language. Anyone and everyone can enjoy some sort of music. There is something special about Jewish music, knowing it’s something the community can enjoy and share with each other. I attend Jewish music conferences, such as Hava Nashira, where I join hundreds of Jewish musicians from across the globe to sing, learn, share and inspire. I hear their music and the stories behind the music they write. We share these stories to help each other continue to grow and utilize Jewish music as a tool for community, spirituality, education and well-being. The Jewish music community has brought me some of the most unforgettable experiences of my life as well as some of the most important people and mentors. 

You might be thinking, I’m not a musician. You don’t have to be a musician to resonate with what I’m sharing. The simple pleasure of listening to beautiful pieces of music and understanding the stories behind them is enough to heal the soul. 

There is plenty of research that supports the idea that music is healing for the soul. Instead of feeding you the facts you can find yourself, I decided to share some personal stories. I reached out to several peers within my music communities and asked, “How has Jewish music helped your mental well-being?” I hope their stories allow you to understand the power music has to heal us. 

“The more music I do, the happier I am. I get a sense of fulfillment in creating something. Music is also a way to emotionally connect and to share hearts while we are unable to see each other in person. Commenting on music is a way to be encouraging. Having comments on your music is a way to be encouraged. Co-writing is also a good way to build connection” 

“I’ve been a professional violinist for a number of years, and of course this summer I had many exciting plans cancelled, most disappointing of which are music festivals I would usually be performing at. However, I’m very fortunate to have a musical community that has remained collaborative, even in times of isolation. With the gift of technology, I’ve been able to put together and be a part of virtual concerts, videos, songwriting projects and master classes that have helped continue my musical growth as well as strengthen the bonds of the musicians and others I get to work with. Despite social distancing, there is deep connection being facilitated by music and the power of technology.” 

“Virtual Kabbalat Shabbat services consistently lift my spirit in quarantine. Hearing only a couple people’s voices on a Zoom call at a time is not the same as a normal setting, but welcoming the joyous presence of Shabbat through songs gives me something to look forward to every week.” 

“I really relate to music being a therapy for me lately. I don’t have a long story, but since being sent home I’ve rediscovered my love for music, and it’s been a great therapeutic tool for me to get through being away from all my friends. I’ve picked up my guitar after about a year of not playing, and it’s brought me so much joy. I don’t know what would have come of my mental health if I didn’t have my guitar and ukulele through quarantine.”

“In general, music is good for a mood boost. For Jewish songs specifically, [Israeli singer] Netta creates amazing power anthems. I battle some tough days of anxieties and sadness when I need something to connect with or distract myself with (or something great to go along with a nap). Music is usually good for me. When I can’t figure out the feelings or how to communicate my words, music is particularly relevant to help me connect.”

“Music has been a part of my life since before I was born. My mother is a musician, her mother was a musician, her father was a musician, and her grandparents and great-grandparents were musicians. I joined my first choir in second grade, unaware this would be a life-altering decision that would change me for the better. Around the same time, my parents and I began attending family therapy together to finally discuss their decision to divorce when I was three and how it was impacting me now. I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and had difficulty expressing my emotions in a healthy way. But twice a week in the music room, I was able to let it all go. I didn’t have to worry about my relationships with anyone, only the music. And since then, music has provided me with the opportunity to escape for as long as I need or vocalize what is troubling me.” 

“Music has always been an escape for me. But I mean I think it’s safe to say none of us has ever really dealt with any of what we’re experiencing now. And Judaism has always been a constant for me. It’s always been a place where I felt safe. So Jewish music has been especially comforting to me right now.”

So you’ve read my reflection, and you’ve heard their stories. Your next thought is, Well where do I start? What songs? What artists? Where do I even find this music? No worries, I’ve handled all that for you. 

I have compiled a list of several Jewish (and “secular Jewish”) songs, from several of my favorite musicians, that I turn to when I need a boost. These songs have reminded me of happier times and provided me with a sense of comfort. However, the Jewish music is endless. While these are some of my personal favorites, they just scratch the surface of the hundreds of thousands of songs and artists out there. If you hear a song you like, be sure to check out the artist on Spotify or their website to continue to support them.

39 Songs for Jewish Healing, Peace, Joy and Comfort (In no particular order) 

  1. “Mi Shebeirach” Debbie Friedman (z”l)
    1. This prayer, often recited in congregations, is a prayer for healing. Typically, it is sung as a community to allow members to share prayers for each other. 
  2. Heal Us Now” – Leon Sher 
  3. “Oseh Shalom” – various artists
    1. You have probably heard some version of this prayer for peace at synagogue or in another Jewish setting. I have discovered several melodies using this same text, all of which can be applied to different settings and moods. Here are three of my favorites: 
      1. “Oseh Shalom” – Zach Singer 
      2. “Oseh Shalom” Nava Tehila
      3. “Oseh Shalom” Elana Jagoda 
  4. “I Am Light” India Arie 
    1. Although this isn’t necessarily a “Jewish” song, it is one I have heard in multiple Jewish settings, such as Havdallahs, and the lyrics are too beautiful to not share. 
  5. “Peace Will Come” –  Dan Nichols (originally by Tom Paxton)
    1. Dan Nichols is one of my favorite artists. His music has the power to heal and bring joy to every situation. You will find his name multiple times on this list, and I highly recommend exploring his music beyond the songs I have shared here. 
  6. “If Not Now, Tell Me When”Carrie Newcomer 
    1. This song has always brought me peace, but it feels relevant now more than ever as we continue to fight for social justice and equality. It’s never too late to change the things that don’t make you happy. If not now, when?
  7. “Nothing More” – Dan Nichols 
  8. “We Are From the Garden” – Dan Nichols
  9. “Beyond” – Dan Nichols 
  10.  “Lean On Me” – Bill Withers 
    1. No, this is not a “Jewish song.” However, this is a song I’ve found myself singing several times at camp or at a BBYO function. There is never a bad time to listen to this song and be reminded you are not alone. 
  11. “Hinei Mah Tov” – various artists
    1. Like “Oseh Shalom,” you’ve probably heard some version of this prayer. It celebrates the power of coming together in unity, so I wanted to share just a few of my favorite melodies.
      1. “Hinei”Rick Recht 
      2. “How Good” Ellen Allard
      3. “Hinei Mah Tov”Elana Arian
      4. “Ee Oh”Mikey Pauker 
  12. “Chazak” – various artists
    1. “Chazak ve’ematz” essentially means “be strong and have courage.”
      1. “Chazak” – Dan Nichols
      2. “Stand Up (Chazak Ve’ematz)” Alan Goodis
  13. “One Voice” – The Wailin’ Jennys
    1. Again, not technically a “Jewish” song but a beautiful song that reminds us of the power of supporting each other. 
  14. “Heart of Mine” Marsha Attie 
  15. “One and Only”Josh Nelson Project 
  16. Or Zarua” – Rick Recht
    1. The phrase “or zarua” talks about finding the light in each of us. 
  17. “One Day” – Matisyahu
    1. I’m sure this is a song many of you are familiar with, but it would not have been a proper list without including it. 
  18. “B’tzelem Elohim” – Dan Nichols
    1. “B’tzelem elohim” loosely translates to made in the image of God. This feel-good song always makes me want to dance or jump for joy. 
  19. “Hava Nashira” – various artists
    1. “Hava nashira” roughly translates to “let us sing together.” This song celebrates the power of music in a lighthearted melody that always brings me joy. 
      1. “Hava Nashira” – Josh Nelson Project
      2. “Hava Nashira” Rob Aronson
  20. “Mi Chamocha” various artists
    1. Mi Chamocha, a celebratory song, is another piece of text you have likely heard in some form or another in synagogue. Here are just a few of my favorite interpretations.
      1. “Mi Chamocha”Eric & Happie
        • Eric and Happie are actually two of the people who got me started on my music journey and introduced me to the power of Jewish music as a tool for healing. Be sure to check out their music, linked above, as well as their individual music (Happie Hoffman) (Eric Hunker).
      2. “Mi Chamocha” – Dan Nichols 
      3. “Mi Chamocha” – Debbie Friedman 
      4. “Mi Chamocha” – Josh Nelson Project 
  21. “Ya’aloz Sadai” – Nava Tehila 
    1. A joyful melody taken from a piece of text that celebrates joy!
  22. “Song for the Divine Mother of the Universe”Ben Lee
  23. “Hallelujah” – Leonard Cohen
  24. “May I Suggest” – Dan Nichols 
  25. “Let There Be Love”Noah Aronson
  26. “When I’m Gone” – Phil Ochs 
  27. “Circle Game” – Joni Mitchell
  28. One Foot in Front of the Other” – Dan Nichols 
  29. “A Better Way” Chana Rothman 
  30. “Hashkiveinu” is a prayer for peace through the night, often sung as a lullaby.
    1. “Hashkiveinu” – Dan Nichols
    2. “Hashkiveinu” Craig Taubman 
    3. “Hashkiveinu”Mah Tovu 
  31.  “I Have a Voice” – Elana Arian 
  32. “Gesher Tzar M’od” – Elana Arian
    1. Rough translation: “The world is a narrow bridge, but the most important part is to not fear.” 
  33. “Shalom Rav” Jeff Klepper
    1. Another beautiful song for peace.
  34. “YiHye Tov (Things Will Get Better)” – David Broza 
  35. “Today Is the Best Day” – Jay Rapoport 
    1. “I wrote this song about resilience and it’s gotten me through some tough moments.” – Jay
  36.  “Ufaratzta” – Noam Katz 
    1. This is essentially a song about overcoming challenges and breaking through barriers. 
  37.  “Salaam” – Mosh Ben-Ari 
    1. “Salaam” is the Arabic word for peace.
  38.  “Asher Yatzar” – Dan Nichols 
    1. This is about being grateful for the little things in our daily lives. 
  39. “Hope and Healing” tzedakah CD – Sue Horowitz 

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