Bernstein’s Kaddish and Religion

I chose to discuss Leonard Bernstein’s religious beliefs and his work, “Kaddish”. His father was rabbinical and he was always very impressionable in terms of this.

Leonard Bernstein composed “Kaddish” in 1963. His religious values were always public just like his political views. He spent time in Israel and even worked with the Israel Philharmonic in 1948. His father, Samuel, was an orthodox Eastern European Jew, but was apart of a conservative temple. Bernstein participated in services at this temple and the choir and organ are said to be important pieces to the start of his musical career. A quote from 1990 says “I used to weep just listening to the choir, cantor, and organ thundering out”.

He apparently heard his first piece of classical music at this temple as well. It is clear already, that his father’s religious values had a great effect on Bernstein’s childhood and his path to music. People came from all over on Friday nights to listen to the music played, so Bernstein was not the only one affected by the sound. “Bernstein’s third symphony, “Kaddish,” was completed in 1963 and focuses on the Jewish mourners’ prayer in Aramaic and Hebrew that affirms God with no mention of death.


He premiered this piece shortly after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In it, Bernstein argues with God through powerful music and strong narration” (Rudin 2018). The piece has a full choir, a boy’s choir, a soprano soloist, and a narrator. Watching this online doesn’t do it justice, but it is creates an emotion and almost anxiety similar to the response you typically get when listening to “Age of Anxiety”.


Leonard Bernstein and My Family

As a junior on campus, I have heard his name countless times, and celebrated him. I realized that I did not know enough about such a character and endeavored to learn more. In order to gain a more personal idea of Leonard Bernstein, I decided to reach out to my aunt, Roz Castle, and dad, Barry Resnik, two very musical people, and find out what they remember of him.

LR: What do you know of Leonard Bernstein?

RC: Conductor, did my favorite west side story, nice Jewish boy from new York, always had these epic concerts and epic orchestrations. I remember seeing him on tv and I was just glued to the set. I saw him at Lincoln center, very Broadway

LR: What do you remember from when you were growing up and did his music have an effect on you?

RC: They went to a Saturday matinee a lot. Was a very huge Streisand fan so any of that musicals and movies got me. My parents always had the stereo going and we would hear him play. He could make something so small be so incredible. Musicals were huge at the time of growing up which was the mid 60s, before rock and roll. A lot of Jewish influence at the time and was very big in her house. You don’t sing to Leonard Bernstein, you sing to whoever’s singing, but you hear his orchestrations in your head.

West Side Story poster

LR: Did you ever listen to his music?

RC: West side story is the big one but I remember some of his album covers in my parents collections. I don’t remember much else because I wanted to hear the female artists, but he would make the voices that I loved become electric. It was what he did, not him specifically. He brought the ingredients together, but without him these things would never have come to be the way they did.

LR: What do you think keeps his music alive for so long?

RC: Great music is just great music. Time doesn’t mean anything to music.

Leonard Bernstein album cover- A Total Embrace: The Conductor

I loved her response to my last question and I still love it! It is so true. Bernstein made great music for everyone, no matter the class, to listen to.