🕯 R’ Yisroel Yaakov (Jeffrey) Craimer – 18th of Elul

September 7, 2023

לע”נ ר’ ישראל יעקב ב”ר איסר דוד ז”ל

This week’s post was being prepared as an Oldie of the Week before it would unfortunately need to become a piece written in memory of the song’s composer. It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing of musician, choir leader and beloved baal tefillah, R’ Yisroel Yaakov (Jeffrey) Craimer, z’l who was niftar this past Monday, the 18th of Elul.

He was a gifted songwriter who lived and breathed the awesome days of Elul and the Yomim Nora’im all year round. Beginning Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh Elul – and perhaps even before then – his home would be enveloped by the palpable mood of the season. There, you could find him sitting at his table, turning his machzor’s well-worn pages with a trembling hand, humming its hallowed tunes with tears streaming down his cheeks.

The late R’ Yisrael Yaakov – known to many as Jeffrey – moved with his parents to a house on Leigh Street in Manchester, UK around the time of his Bar Mitzvah, where he would providentially be neighbors of the legendary baal tefillah of the Machzikei Hadass community, R’ Herschel Goldstein z’l, from whom he learned nusach ha’tefillah. Having been born to musical parents, Jeffrey was already naturally drawn to the power of neginah, but with Chazzan Goldstein’s expert guidance, he was now poised to make music a part of who he was forevermore.

After years of studying at the famous Gateshead Yeshiva under Rav Leib Gurwitz zt’l and Rav Leib Lopian zt’l, Jeffrey got married and moved to London where he began to develop his craft. After quickly making a name for himself in the musical field, he was asked to lead the orchestral production for the London Siyum HaShas.

Following that event, in which he performed in front of the thousands in attendance, and after many other large events in which he was responsible for the production behind the scenes, Jeffrey was asked by Yigal Calek to help him with the latter’s London Pirchim children’s choir, aka: The London School of Jewish Song. Together they formed the Yad Bezemer label and proceeded to produce the groundbreaking recordings that we have all come to know and love.

Most of the composing was done by Calek, but Craimer was responsible for a few hit songs on those first couple of albums, such as “Hamavdil” and “Bamorom.” His compositions are youthful and earnest, sincere but not overly intense, suited to the young voices of a boys’ choir.

In 1971, when the plight of Soviet Jewry peaked, activists approached Yigal Calek to produce a music record in conjunction with the demonstrations outside the Soviet Embassy. An evening of music and speeches was arranged in a London concert hall, and a commemorative record produced by Yad Bezemer containing four total songs was made. That night, “Children of Silence” – a Suzie Rein tune with Craimer’s powerful English lyrics – was sung by Yigal and the choir for a sympathetic and equally impassioned crowd.

Another gem on the event’s mini album was Craimer’s composition for “Ezkerah,” set by Calek to the words one of the most emotional Selichos of Ne’ilah. Sung on the record by Chazzan Pesach Segal, this heartrending piece has become a highlight of Ne’ilah in shuls all over Europe.

Yet, one of his most memorable melodies is the distinctive Be’ein Meilitz Yosher sung by the London School of Jewish Song on their Borchi Nafshi record in 1971. Indeed, a Yom Kippur classic to no one’s surprise, as it is on Yom Kippur and its preceding Days of Awe that Jeffrey Craimer’s music comes into its own in the most meaningful form – an outpouring of prayer.

בְּאֵין מֵלִיץ יֹשֶׁר מוּל מַגִּיד פֶּשַׁע, תַּגִּיד לְיַעֲקֹב דְּבַר חֹק וּמִשְׁפָּט וְצַדְּקֵנוּ בַּמִּשְׁפָּט הַמֶּלֶךְ הַמִּשְׁפָּט
עוֹד יִזְכָּר לָנוּ אַהֲבַת אֵיתָן אֲדוֹנֵינוּ וּבַבֵּן הַנֶּעֱקַד יַשְׁבִּית מְדַיְּנֵנוּ וּבִזְכוּת הַתָּם יוֹצִיא אָיוֹם לְצֶדֶק דִּינֵנוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ הַיּוֹם לַאֲדוֹנֵינוּ

When there is no defending counsel for us in the highest of Courts, we can only appeal to the Judge for help: “Remember, Hashem, the love of our fathers, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov and in their merit may our case be justified on this most holy of days.” This hauntingly beautiful melody aptly reflects the earnestness of the words – beginning with despair and supplication and ending with a mood of hope and purity.

May this tune’s cherished composer act as a true Meilitz Yosher, an ambassador of righteousness – a faithful advocate on behalf of his family and all of Klal Yisroel.

Yehi Zichro Baruch.

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