A Guide to Vampire Weekend’s Most Jewish Songs and Lyrics

In every album, including the new "Only God Was Above Us," Ezra Koenig has infused Judaism, Jewish history and culture into the band's music.

In the early 2010s, if I wasn’t at school or band practice, and if I wasn’t eating, sleeping or doing homeworks, odds are I was on Tumblr obsessing over Vampire Weekend. A poetic, preppy and moody teen, I felt like Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij, CT and Chris Baio were making music specifically for me. (My connection to the band was further soldified through the tenuous degree of separation that Baio’s uncle was my family eye doctor.) I often replayed “Campus” and “Oxford Comma” on my orange iPod nano, already knowing I wanted to major in English at a small liberal arts college, and listened to “Diplomat’s Son” when I wanted to ponder my burgeoning queer identity.

But what might have drawn me in the most to Vampire Weekend was the way Jewish frontman Ezra Koenig infused Judaism, Jewish history and culture into the music. In honor of the band’s newest album “Only God Was Above Us,” let’s take a look at Vampire Weekend’s most Jewish songs and lyrics. Spoiler alert: there are a lot! (And while they’re not included on this list, honorable mentions go to “Sunflower” and “This Life” for having extremely Jewish music videos.) They are ordered by year they came out and track number.

Let’s get into it.


“Contra,” 2010

Lyrics of interest: “You’d remember drinking horchata / You’d still enjoy it with your foot on Masada.”

This first track on Vampire Weekend’s sophomore album seems to be about finding and losing love. In Jewish history, Masada is an ancient rock fortification where 960 Jewish rebels died by suicide rather than surrender to Roman forces in 73 C.E. This reference to Masada echos the pain the narrator feels at the end of a relationship and perhaps their reluctance to let it go.


“Modern Vampires of the City,” 2013

Lyrics of interest: The whole song

As the title suggests, “Unbelievers” is a witty shot at religious ideology — particularly Christian dogma. “We know the fire awaits unbelievers / All of the sinners the same / Girl, you and I will die unbelievers / Bound to the tracks of the train,” Ezra sings, conjuring the verse from the Christian bible, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

With that, and other lyrics like, “But who’s gonna say a little grace for me?,” Koenig seemingly rejects Christianity and also offers that the establishment wouldn’t want him anyway. Though the narrator of the song isn’t necessarily Koenig himself, because the rejection of Christianity in “Unbelievers” comes from his mouth, the song does feel inately Jewish.

Everlasting Arms

“Modern Vampires of the City,” 2013

Lyrics of interest: The whole song

“Everlasting Arms” is a conversation between the narrator (likely Koenig) and God. There are Christian and Buddhist references in the song, like “I hummed the Dies Irae as you played the Hallelujah” (the former) and “You’d be frightened by the open hand, frightened by the hand” (the latter). However, the term everlasting arms is first found in the Torah, in Deuteronomy 33:27, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

Finger Back

“Modern Vampires of the City,” 2013

Lyrics of interest: “Sing ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ / You know, the one at 103rd and Broadway? / ‘Cause this Orthodox girl fell in love / With the guy at the falafel shop / And why not? Should she have averted her eyes / And just stared at the laminated poster of the Dome of the Rock?”

Using the notable phrase from the end of the Passover seder, Koenig conjures the image of an actual falafel shop called Jerusalem at 103rd and Broadway in New York City. Then, in the bridge, he sings, “And then blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood / And then blood, blood, blood / And then blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood / And then blood, blood, blood, blood, blood.” The repetition and pre-existing Passover reference in the song immediately makes one think of the listing of the 10 plagues of Egypt at the seder. However, it can also be interpreted as a reference to the conflict over the Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount. 

Worship You

“Modern Vampires of the City,” 2013

Lyrics of interest: The whole song

Once again, the narrator (again, likely Koenig) is having a conversation with God. In it, he scolds God for being so particular about the way God wants to be worshipped. At the same time, the narrator makes an ironic statement about Jerusalem, singing, “City with the safety of a never-ending blessing on it” and asks, “We worshipped You, Your red right hand / Won’t we see you once again? / In foreign soil, in foreign land / Who will guide us through the end?” Essentially, Ezra is asking when Moshiach will come and references the diasporic Jewish community.

Ya Hey

“Modern Vampires of the City,” 2013

Lyrics of interest: The whole song

“Ya Hey” is the most explicitly Jewish song Vampire Weekend has written, and maybe ever will write. The title is a sneaky reference to God’s name in Hebrew, and the lyrics convey yet another conversation between Koenig and God. (Do we see a pattern here?) In the chorus, Koenig directly references the story of Moses and the burning bush. He sings, “Through the fire and through the flames / You won’t even say your name / Through the fire and through the flames / You won’t even say your name / Only ‘I am that I am.‘” Other Jewy lyrics includes, “Oh, sweet thing / Zion doesn’t love You / And Babylon don’t love You / But You love everything” and “My soul swooned / As I faintly heard the sound / Of You spinning “Israelites” / Into “19th Nervous Breakdown.

Harmony Hall

“Father of the Bride,” 2019

Lyrics of interest: “Beneath these velvet gloves I hide / The shameful, crooked hands of a moneylender / ’Cause I still remember.

“The track explores the cycles of gaining and losing power — in [Koenig’s] words, the people ‘outside the palace’ becoming the people ‘inside the palace,’ my colleague Gabe Friedman wrote for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2019.

He went on, “The moneylender line is a clear reference to Jews, who were once global outcasts and were forced into working in finance, being restricted from other industries. But they eventually established a state for themselves, and now, in Koenig’s eyes, are partly ‘the powerful ones… in the driver’s seat.'”

“When I think about that phrase, the moneylender, it just makes me think about the past and shame, and how sometimes people in power, regardless of what their background is, or their ethnicity, even though they have more power than they used to, because of trauma or shame sometimes make decisions that are based in fear,” Koenig said on the Song Exploder podcast in 2019. “In some ways that’s one of the drivers of these kind of vicious cycles that we have as people.”

In the same interview, Koenig said that the song isn’t particularly about being Jewish, but, as an American Jew, he’ll always have American Jewish history in the back of his mind.


“Father of the Bride,” 2019

Lyrics of interest: “Judeo-Christianity / I’d never heard the words / Enemies for centuries / Until there was a third”

The overarching theme of “Sympathy” is an exploration of how enemies find common bonds in their mutual dislike of another. This particular line points to how, in the eyes of the narrator, Jews and Christians became more sympathetic towards each other when Islam became another Abrahamic religion.

Jerusalem, New York, Berlin

“Father of the Bride,” 2019

Lyrics of interest: The whole song

“Obviously, for a Jewish person, those are three particularly significant cities, but I think for anybody, those are world-historical cities that have affected many people’s lives and make you think about money, power, violence, civilization — the big questions,” Koenig shared in a 2019 interview. He went on, “When I first wrote [‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’], I was thinking about the struggle of identity. What does it mean when you identify with something bigger than yourself? As big as an ethnic group? Or religion? Or even as small as a family?”

More specifically, the song laments how the prophecy of Jews returning to the Holy Land hasn’t brought world peace. Koenig croons, O, wicked world / Just think what could have been / Jerusalem, New York, Berlin.” And later goes on, pointing to the Balfour Declaration, which marked Britain’s support for a Jewish state, “A hundred years or more / It feels like such a dream / An endless conversation / Since 1917 / Now the battery is too hot / It’s burning up in its tray.

Ice Cream Piano

“Only God Was Above Us,” 2024

Lyrics of interest: “The boy’s Romanian, third generation Transylvanian / I see the vampires walkin’, don’t be gripped by fear, you aren’t next / We’re all the sons and daughters of vampires who drained the Old World’s necks

These lines seem to reference Koenig’s own Romanian and Hungarian Jewish immigrant background, as well as a short film he made called “Vampire Weekend,” which is where the band gets its name. Earlier on in this song about the irreconcilable conflicts of our world, Koenig sings, “Fuck around and find out, the angry child recites this evеry day.” This doesn’t seem like an intentional, oblique reference to the four children of the Passover seder who recite their questions. But nevertheless, I think for Jews, the idea of an evil/angry child reciting something will always bring up Passover.


“Only God Was Above Us,” 2024

Lyrics of interest: “The temple’s gone, but still a single column stands today.”

“Classical” examines how victor’s get to write history and, on a larger scale, how the narrative of history is always changing. So, could this line be a reference to the Temple in Jerusalem and the Western Wall? Or perhaps the Temple and the Arch of Titus, which depicts the Romans sacking Jerusalem? Maybe!

Prep School Gangsters

“Only God Was Above Us,” 2024

Lyrics of interest: Somewhere in your family tree / There was someone just like me” 

“Prep School Gangsters” focuses on a narrator who is other in an ultra-WASPy prep school setting. While this could refer to anyone who is working class, BIPOC, queer, Muslim or Jewish, as always, Koenig’s Jewishness invokes the latter. Thus “Somewhere in your family tree / There was someone just like me” is a reminder to the prep school gangsters that they’re probably not as WASPy or preppy as a they think. They might have a Jewish or BIPOC relative somewhere in their ancestry.

Later on, the narrator says and Koenig sings, “Call it business, call it war / Cutting class through revolvin’ doors / Yours was bеtter, mine was worse / ‘Til it took on thе fifth-gen curse.” These words call out the prep school gangsters for their class and identity-based warfare and gives them a biblical warning. “Fifth-gen curse” could very well be a reference to the generational curse in Exodus 20:5, “Yet [God] does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”


“Only God Was Above Us,” 2024

Lyrics of interest: “Your uncle Henry lived in Moscow / Your aunt Ludmilla lived there too / Irina grew up in Wisconsin / I’m leaving at the rising of the moon.”

This song is a rumination on time, propoganda, the concept of home and diaspora. In the lyrics above, Koenig references a Romanian-Jewish reporter named Henry Shapiro, who was a reporter in Moscow in the ’50s. In the next line, he mentions Henry’s wife Ludmilla, a collector of Soviet kitsch and later, their daughter Irina. In an interview with Radio X, Koenig recently explained that Shapiro was his great uncle and that his grandmother always told proud stories about her brother to him.


“Only God Was Above Us,” 2024

Lyrics of interest: “I hope you let it go / I hope you let it go / My enemy’s invincible / I’ve had to let it go

The message of “Hope” is simple: There will always be negative forces in our world and they can’t always be defeated. Sometimes, you just have to let it go. Interestingly, over the course of this nearly eight minute song, the chorus slightly shifts. While “I hope you let it go” remains, the narrator (Koenig) begins by saying “Your enemy’s invincible” then changes to “The enemy,” then changes again to “Our enemy” and finally lands on “My enemy.” It’s a moment of self-reflection which seems to point to God as Koenig’s enemy. Just look at the number of songs he’s written which directly address and toil with the concept of divinity, as well as the title of this album: “Only God Was Above Us.”

Evelyn Frick

Evelyn Frick (she/they) is a writer and associate editor at Hey Alma. She graduated from Vassar College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. In her spare time, she's a comedian and contributor for Reductress and The Onion.

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