Yesterday, an already shaken world learned that our foundations had shifted even more than we knew. Legendary singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen died at age 82. Before the news even came out, a new, gorgeous tribute to him and his legacy was made public: a Yiddish rendition of Cohen’s beloved love song “Hallelujah.”
Translated and sung by the Detroit-born “punk klezmer” musician Daniel Kahn, the piece is even more haunting than the original. In Yiddish, it cannot help but feel like a sort of musical kaddish, a lament, to the lost world of European Jewry — and now, to Cohen himself.
Since variations in meter and rhyme would make for an awkward word-for-word translation, Kahn calls his process “tradaptation.” Honoring that poetic difference, the studio recording produced by the Forward features English subtitles of Kahn’s Yiddish version of the song.
Cohen, who grew up in Montreal, the grandson of “probably the most significant Jew in Canada,” had just released his 14th studio album, You Want it Darker. A student of kabbalah, Cohen asked the cantor from his childhood synagogue to sing the backup vocals for the title song on this deeply Jewish album. The refrain goes: “Hineni Hineni / I’m ready my Lord.”
We hope against hope that Mr. Cohen had the pleasure of hearing this elegy before he left us.
November 11, 2016