The Story of Eli, Eli

Eli, Eli

The Short Story

The Hebrew poem “Eli, Eli” was written by Hannah Szenes in 1942, and was set to music by David Zehavi in 1945.  I sang it with the Brattleboro Music Center Children’s Choir in 1991, and arranged it for piano/SATB in 2010.

The Longer Story

When I was a local public school music teacher in the 1980’s it struck me that there were always one or two or three children in each class who stood out with their beautiful in-tune singing. How wonderful, I thought, if I could gather them all into one singing group.  Also, I was interested in creating an enriching singing experience for Mary Alice’s and my two young boys Sam and Stefan.

So, in 1987, I started the Brattleboro Music Center (BMC) Children’s Choir for ages 8 – 12.  I made personal phone calls to families of children who loved to sing, and made a particular effort to make sure the group included a good balance of boys and girls. Our son Sam was only six then, a beautiful singer, and I snuck him in.  Stefan, age three, joined a few years later.

Jackie Gould was the mother of one of my young BMC Children’s Choir singers, Sarah.  Jackie was an active member and singing leader in our Brattleboro Area Jewish Community.  Jackie and I developed a tradition where every September she called me up and I would answer and say “Hi Jackie,” and then hang up.  Then Jackie called again, I would not answer, and she sang a song from the Jewish tradition into my answering machine that I would then teach to my Children’s Choir.  Over the years Jackie sang into my answering machine, and I  taught the Children’s Choir singers:


Oh Chanuka“,


Who Can Retell” (originally Mi Y’malel) and Peter Yarrow’s

Light One Candle“.

(Note, these three recordings are Mary Alice and me with our son Sam when he was eight, from our out-of-print cassette tape album “This Longest Night”.)
Then one September Jackie sang “Eli, Eli” into my answering machine, and the BMC Children’s Choir sang it (unison, to my piano accompaniment) in our Winter Concert (which we did in collaboration with Susan Dedell’s BMC Community Chorus).
Hannah Szenes, who wrote the poem “Eli, Eli”, was born in 1921 in Hungary. She was a poet and a playwright.  In 1943 she became a Special Operations Executive (SOE) paratrooper. She was one of 37 Jewish parachutists of Mandate Palestine parachuted by the British Army into Yugoslavia during the Second World War to assist in the rescue of Hungarian Jews about to be deported to the German death camp at Auschwitz. Szenes was arrested at the Hungarian border, then imprisoned and tortured, but refused to reveal details of her mission. She was eventually tried and executed by firing squad. She is regarded as a national hero in Israel, where her poetry is widely known. Israeli composer David Zehavi set Hanna Szenes’ “Eli, Eli” to music in 1945. You can read more about Hannah Szenes extraordinary life here:
and here:
I wrote my piano/SATB arrangement of “Eli, Eli” for the Guilford Community Church Choir around 2010.  Andy Davis and I included it in our “By the People, For the People, a Celebration of Song and Community” concert held at Brattleboro’s Latchis Theater in November 2017.  Our daughter-in-law, Zara Bode, sang the solo, Patty Meyer accompanied on piano, and our longtime friend Ron Kelley composed and played the saxophone solo: Eli, Eli at the Latchis. A few months later I made a studio recording of the arrangement with Ron on sax again, but this time with me on piano and Sophie Michaux singing the solo: Eli, Eli at Guilford Sound.
Eli, Eli
by Hannah Szenes
Eli, Eli, shelo y’gamer le’olam
Hachol ve’hayam,
Rish rush shel hamayim
Berak hasha mayim
Tifilat haadam
Hachol ve’hayam
Rish rush shel hamayin
Berak hasha mayim
Tifilat haadam.
O Lord, my God,
I pray that these things never end;
The sand and the sea,
The rush of the waters,
The crash of the heavens,
The prayer of the earth
The sand and the sea,
The rush of the waters,
The crash of the heavens,
The prayer of the earth.