8 Versions of ‘Chad Gadya’ for Every Night of Passover

Jack Black, God is My Co-Pilot and Chava Alberstein have all recorded versions of the classic holiday song about a goat.

“One little goat, one little goat, that father bought for two zuzim.”

These words run through my head around this time of year. I hear the words intoned almost like a Greek chorus, the way my family used to recite the song “One Little Goat” without a melody in English translation on Passover.

What were zuzim? Why were we singing about all of these animals… and then Death and God show up? The song has a “Circle of Life” quality to it and, as a child, reminded me of “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.”

“One Little Goat,” or “Chad Gadya” is a “cumulative song.” Probably written sometime in the 1500s, it’s around 200 years older than the world’s most famous cumulative song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” What makes a song cumulative is having a simple refrain with verses that add lyrics cumulatively rather than a verse that just changes lyrics.

Seder standard “Echad Mi Yodea” is also a cumulative song. “Ke komiash duenya” is a delightful Ladino cumulative song about food included in many Passover seders.

The following is a list of eight of my favorite versions of “Chad Gadya” that I could find. Some I found in preparing this list, others I’ve been blessed to come across naturally in my years of dorkery on this Earth.

If you like any of this, I implore you to buy these artists’ music, especially the lesser-known ones. In a major blow to musicians worldwide, Spotify recently demonetized all songs that don’t reach a 1000-view threshold. This includes a good amount of music from the artists below, so consider purchasing music from these artists directly so they can be compensated fairly for their artistry.

Night 1: Angelo Branduardi, “Alla Fiera Dell’Est”

I know what you’re thinking. Miri — this is in Italian! Yes, indeed, friend. This was actually the first melodic version of the “Chad Gadya” I ever knew. Angelo Branduardi is one of Italy’s most celebrated folk musicians in recent memory. A great pedagogical tool, his beautiful, ominous translation of the song, retitled “Alla fiera dell’est” or “At the eastern market,” I learned while studying Italian as a child. Funnily, I thought the similarities to “One Little Goat” were pure coincidence for probably a decade.

Night 2: God Is My Co-Pilot, “Mir Shlufn Nisht” 

This is probably my personal favorite rendition of “Chad Gadya,” by a little-known queercore group from New York called God is My Co-Pilot. They are a singular group which one might just assume were a part of New York’s answer to riot grrrl, but they’re so much more. I’ve seen them called “No Wave,” “queer Jewish dada,” “avant-punk” and more. They are boundary pushing and play music in a way I can only describe as incredibly liberated. They were adjacent to the ‘90s avant-garde music movement in New York called “Radical Jewish Culture,” and just take a second and look at this album cover and try to remain un-obsessed. I dare you!

Night 3: Jack Black, “Hanukkah+”

Maybe I’m not living up to my “music critic” snobbery yikhes with this pick, but any lover of music and media cannot deny that Jack Black is one of the world’s greatest performers in any medium. Whether you love him, hate him or think “Nacho Libre” is high cringe, the man puts his whole Jack Blussy into just about everything he does. The Passover bonus track on this Hanukkah compilation album is no different.

Night 4: Voice of the Turtle, “A Different Night”

This isn’t the first time I’ve highlighted Voice of the Turtle. The Sephardic music group have helped revitalize barrelfuls of music over multiple decades. In their Passover album titled “A Different Night,” they obviously had to include “Chad Gadya!” But they have more than one recording of the tune, which has different melodies depending on where you are. So how many did they record? Two? Four?… There are eleven. Drawing on different languages and traditions, Voice of the Turtle brings their typical virtuosic care and elegance to these recordings. 

Unfortunately, “A Different Night” is not available for streaming online.

Night 5: Socalled, “The Socalled Seder – A Hip-Hop Haggadah”

Socalled is the “Godfather of Klezmer Hip-Hop,” with a career mixing, remixing, producing and spinning Jewish music into the future. Socalled is certainly the forefather of the burgeoning “Kleztronica” movement and has a vast and eclectic oeuvre of masterfully-woven musical tapestries. His rendition titled “The Miriam Drum Song” has an upbeat lighter-than-air feel to it reminiscent of electro-swing — one of the freshest interpretations I’ve ever heard.

Night 6: Rafiki Jazz, “Saraba Sufiyana”

Following the trend of global roots music crossovers, the group Rafiki Jazz is all about building bridges. The group is composed of roots musicians from different corners of the globe and in this rendition of “Chad Gadya,” they featured Israeli performer Avital Raz who self-professes that she has been “making people uncomfortable since 1996.” Maybe throwing this claim into question, her rendition is gorgeous and is sonically layered with many different textures and timbres. 

Night 7: Craig Taubman, “The Passover Lounge (Instrumental Jew Age Music)”

Craig Taubman has been making uplifting, fun, whimsical Jewish music for decades. With ample experience making childrens’ music and even being courted to make an album for Disney, he has a knack for making Jewish liturgical music fun. His “Chad Gadya” is set to one of my favorite kitschy genres: the dulcet dreamy tones of lounge music. Listen, enjoy and let the music take you away to a fantastical ‘60s hotel lobby in Williamsburg.

Night 8: Chava Alberstein, “London”

Chava Alberstein is one of Israel’s greatest singers. A folk musician with a legendary, storied career, Alberstein has released around 60 albums and her 1989 album “London” and the track “Chad Gadya” in particular drew controversy and censorship, being widely criticized and banned on public radio and TV in Israel.

Alberstein’s “Chad Gadya” flips the story’s cyclical “circle of life” feel on its head. Alberstein was protesting war and the continuing cycle of violence in the Middle East. Rather than welcoming in Passover, Alberstein can’t reconcile celebrating the cycle of life, rebirth and the liberation of a people while she felt the reality of the vicious cycle playing out in the society around her.

Why are you singing ‘Chad Gadya?’ Spring hasn’t arrived and Passover isn’t here.
What is different for you and how have you changed? I have truly changed this year.
Every night, each and every night I asked only four difficult questions. Tonight I have another question.
How long will the cycle of violence continue?

Postlude

Why is this song different from all other songs? It shows that no matter the simplicity of our actions, the humbleness of our existence, we can be an important part of something larger. Just like this simple song has resonated worldwide and stood the test of time, so can the effects of your simple actions of goodwill. One little goat, one little goat…

Miri Verona

Miri Verona is a journalist and the founder and editor of Oyer, a publication dedicated to Jewish music. Her work has appeared in The Forward, JTA, Times of Israel and Jerusalem Post. She is also a klezbian with her band, The Klezmommies, and mutters to herself in Italian.

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