Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stories Under The Mitzvah Tree + Giveaway!

 Music has the unique ability to trigger powerful recollections. A piece of familiar music provides an instant soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head. It calls back memories of a particular person or certain place and you might all of the sudden see the person's face in your mind's eye. I think about this soundtrack when I chose a cd for my children to listen to while they play. 
The selection of Jewish music and dvds has grown quite considerably since I was a child and there is no shortage of options but perhaps its for that reason I find myself reaching for the music that reminds me of my childhood. The music that brings me back to a time when Bubbeh Sarah was alive and spent her winters in our backyard watching us play in the treehouse attached to the wooden swingset.  To a time when Zeidy Fellig's visit would have us running to the door for a rectangle fruit candy and a warm smile. The memories are fleeting, fading slowly over the years, pushed further and further back in the recesses of my mind by the new ones we are creating in our own home these days. 

What music will bring them back here?
My first real childhood flashback was produced by Shalom, Shalom Aleph, an album I picked off the shelf because it claimed to be "the classic Aleph Bais tape you grew up with". The first notes of the piano turned me into my five year old self again. It's simple; repetitive and monotonous, but it's a peek hole into my past, providing me with not much else than a feeling I can only identify as home. 

Recently another album from my past inspired me to make a long over-due visit to the the woman who wrote them. 
Still vibrant and dynamic, Morah Blanca is a musical pioneer; the first person to write and record Jewish music specifically for children with the record "Stories Under The Mitzvah Tree" released in 1973.  Morah Blanka is a legend in her time and I am proud to have a unique connection to her. To me Morah Blanka is 'Tante Blanka', the only sister of my Zeidy Fellig o'h, and my great aunt. Yesterday she opened her home, heart and photo albums for me. And told me her story.

In 1938, Blanka was all of ten years old when her mother sent her with the Kindertransport, a rescue mission that took place 9 months before the outbreak of the Second World War. Blanka recounted boarding the train happily, completely oblivious to the circumstances. She remembers how her mother smiled and laughed with her, not wanting her only daughter to leave her arms in tears. 
Morah Blanka's mother, my great grandmother Bubby Itty

Blanka was placed in a foster home in England where she was rasied as a gentile, alone and without any contact with her family. In 1946, the chief Rabbi of England arranged a religious woman from Montreal to retrieve her. After 9 years(!!) living with strangers, she was reunited with her two older brothers Yosef and Nussen.
Nussen, Blanka and Yosef reunited in Montreal
My grandfather Yosef (to many known as Joe as my grandmother called him) was married at this time, raising his young children in Montreal. Uncle Nussen arranged that Blanka room and board with a frum family in Williamsburg in hope they would find her a Shidduch. At 20 years old, Blanka again was on her own. She recalls a memory where she sat eating soup in the living room of her new landlords, and as she eats, her soup bowl continues to fill with her tears. So many years later she remembers the loneliness so vividly, it brought her to tears to talk about it. 
She marries a quiet Litvisher boy soon after and moved to Lakewood where she spent the first few years of her marriage. Soon after her husband meets the Skverer Rebbe and they settle in New Square where she and her husband raise 7 children, all Skverer Chasidim, who live there until this day. 
Morah Blanka (right) with Rebbetzin Dr. Gruenfeld who brought her back to Montreal from England. She was  in charge of the Jewish Secondary School in London and the one responsible for all the  jewish children who were evauated to shefford from London during the war. She had a tremendous influence on Morah Blanka and guided her into the life  she leads today.  
Tanteh Blanka describes how excited she was to have a home all of her own. She takes painting lessons so she can paint pictures to decorate her house instead of buying them. Her love of children is manifested when she becomes a preschool teacher, a career she has cultivated and nurtured for over 50 years. (Not a person in Monsey hasn't passed through her classroom!) As a young teacher of Jewish children (Yeshivah of Spring Valley in Monsey) Blanka notices a tremendous need for Jewish children's music. (Can you even imagine a time when there were absolutely no recordings of any Jewish children's music at all?).

Sitting in her parlor, she describes how the words to the songs come down straight from Shamayim, and in frantic inspiration she begins to write the songs for what becomes "The Mitzvah Tree", "I Hear A Mitzvah", "Free To Do Mitzvos" ,"Stories Under The Mitzvah Tree", and "The Mitzvah Tree Triplets Make A Kiddush Hashem". Her cassettes produce the classic songs that hundreds of thousands of Jewish children learn every year, songs like "Hashem Gave Us A Present" and "Latkele, Latkele".
Her stories are narrated and recorded by young children and she remembers each one by name. Many are still in touch with her today.

Tanteh Blanka impressed so much on me in the few short hours we spent with her. "I love the Eibishter!" she proclaimed more than once. "My goal in life is to get closer to Hashem!". She sang me the songs she is still writing and teaching to her preschool students and showed me a picture of the bulletin board they had put up in school this month. Warm, positive, excited and generous are just some of the words that came to my mind as spoke.
It was powerful.
Congratulations Natalie Turetsky and Very Thankful Mother who won Miriyam Yerushalmi's beautiful book set. Please email me your contact info to

Today this story comes with a special giveaway that has a direct connection to Morah Blanka and myself. As I mentioned above, Morah Blanka had only two brothers, my grandfather Joe and Uncle Nussen, both infamous for their Gemilus Chasadim and larger than life personalities. Uncle Nussen is the father of another very talented woman, another famous Morah that we all know and love as Morah Music.
From right, my grandparents Joseph and Miriam, Blanka, and Suri's parents Nussen and Shoshana.
Suri Levilev is my father's first cousin and a close friend of mine. Her five Music and Movement albums are incorporated in school curriculums and play on repeat in my house since my little one is a tiny baby. One random commenter on this post will receive the entire Music and Movement set plus Morah Blanka's only album on CD "The Mitzvah Tree's Simchas Yom Tov".
All you gotta do is follow this blog (by clicking Join This Site on the top right) and leave a comment. What do you remember about the music of your childhood?


  1. i also had morah blanca tapes in my house :) her stuff is the best!! other tapes that bring back good memories are 'midos machine', 'bike, bike torah rider' and uncle moishy...

  2. I LOVE the Mitzvah Tree tapes. I actually used to have the records! Some of today's children's tapes are great, but there's something special about the simple music and stories of back then.

  3. I had these on record when i was a kid. its funny but i find myself buying remakes of the old kids tapes faster then I buy the new CDs. I just bought "Tovi the Taxi" and my kids loved it. I am constantly singing oldies to my kids. the other day they asked me how i know so many silly songs!

  4. i grew up with mitzvah tree, 613 torah avenue and marvelous midos machine. i keep buying the cd's of these tapes and my kids love them, they are timeless!

  5. when i was 3-4 (since im still in my childhood :)) I watched Uncle Moishy the whole time!

  6. I absolutely love and grew up with all the mitzvah tree tapes. My children are still small but I would Love to purchase them again for my kids. I hope they still sell them in the stores?
    I signed up to your blog and would love the morah music tapes as well!

  7. Hi Chana'le,
    I also recommend Morah music. I end up dancing to her music all the time. That's beautiful that ur related to her... You really have music in your genes. I recently took out Dov Dov cd from the library. My kids were amazed that I still remember the words. I also enjoy Dudu Fisher (his kid videos). I say "I enjoy" because if I don't enjoy the music I have a hard time letting it play in my house.

  8. The music of my childhood was actually avraham fried. My fam became frum wen I was in second grade and my parents friends that also became frum highly recommended him! I laugh just thinking abt it, hearing avraham fried- "baruch haboi ayay baruch haboi melech hamashiach"... Now my baby listens to Uncle Moishy and I'm learning it along with her LOL

    Yaelle J

  9. I grew up with these tapes and Uncle Moishy. Kivi and Tuki was also a real hit. 613 Torah Ave, Shmuel kunda's tapes... I wish we had Morah Music as a kid, she's great. I use it for mummy and me program and for my kids.

  10. i just wanted to say that i loved this post. very fascinating to learn about people's story!


  11. I loved Uncle Moishy, 613 Torah Avenue, The Marvelous Middos Machine, and YOU. Yes, since I'm a teenager, I was really young when you came out with you first CD, so I listened to it all the time! And nothings changed now, I STILL listen to you all the time!! You're an excellent singer!

  12. i love kids music :) I was just thinking how Morah Music should make an uncle moishe style music video

  13. I grew up listening to Classical music, Raffi, Bob McGrath from Sesame Street and Paula and Carole from the Magic Garden. My parents are music teachers, and we always listened to music in our home. Now I have two adorable kids - ages one and a half and 4 months. I am also a musician, and I know how important it is for children to listen and move to music. Our favorite CDs are Tantz un Klop and Zing un Shpring. I did not grow up in a religious home, so I am not familiar with the music and movement Cds and Morah Blanka. My children have their own music players in their rooms. They love music, and I want them to listen to more Jewish music. If we win this contest, we will listen to these CDs a lot! By the way, I am also a big fan of your music. I listened to it with headphones during the birth of my daughter! My daughter, who is one and a half, is already singing "Twinkle" with make up words, but the melody is clear! I can't wait to expose her to more Jewish children's music!

  14. Shaindel Strasburg-We watch Middos Machine on youtube. Love!
    Mystery Woman-Tanteh Blanka wouldnt part with her record, I tried!
    Dena-My kids are always surprised how many songs I know that they just learned!
    Sara-timeless is a GREAT word.
    Chava-we have every Uncle Moishy, who doesnt?
    Anonymous #1- We watch Dudu in Ivrit, my kids LOVE the Purim video
    Anonymus #2 (yaelle)- Did you ever hear AF's Yiddishe gems?
    Devorah-Mommy and me! Awesome, MM is great for that!
    Sina-Thank you!
    Sara-That you!!
    Raizel-I agree.
    MusicMom-I don't know those cds, but it is wonderful that you share your love of Jewish music with your children. There are so many beautiful cds today,the choices are vast! I am happy you are a fan of mine, thanks for sharing that!

  15. I loved this post! I grew up listening to every jewish cd mentioned above. Many were on records then. I loved all the Mitzvah Tree records/tapes and I wish that they would re release them on cd. Did your aunt mention anything about that?
    Shalom Shalom Aleph was written, created by my aunt Sue Arnold or Morah Sarah to her students at Bais Yaakov in Toronto. My 3 year old knows his Aleph Beis (sound and all) so well because of that cd. I called up my aunt one day just to thank her for her cd!
    I buy all the cds that I loved as a kid for my son- Shmuel Kunda's, 613 Torah Ave, Middos Machine (we love the videos too!) and we have Morah Music as well!
    Thanks for an awesome post and blog!

  16. Leora, she is working on getting the mitzvah tree in cd. Please send my regards to your aunt Sue! Super cute thanks for sharing that!

  17. Looks like if my 2yo son is asked this question 20 years form now, he just might say Taking Over My Heart...
    Watching your music video has become a bribe that really works. Lately, he tells my husband and I, "you takin in my heart!" (pronounced hart, though the r is barely audible with his Australian accent)

  18. By the way Chanale, I don't know if you remember- but I was your counselor with Baily Kaplan in Camp Emunah about 20 years ago (Leora Arnold from LA)! It's a small world...

  19. Hey! You were my fifth grade English teacher!

  20. Mitzva Tree. Just the words invoke powerful memories. Until just a few years ago, I was still replacing cassette players in our house for old classics like those.
    I had no idea there was a cd. Now if someone would digitize the rest of them....

  21. I'm looking for this CD -- Also, there was another record that was part of the same collection, no? I'm trying to get both for my children. Thank you.

  22. How can I get ahold of the mitvah tree tapes today?? I grew up on them and absolutely love them!!

  23. @ Pinny Heskiel
    @ Chanalesings


    I would really like to get hold of the Mitzvah Tree tapes, especially the "blue one" which had stories from "around the Year" eg Fuzzy and Buzzy making honey for the Rosh Hashanah table.

    I managed to buy "The Mitzvah Tree Triplets" tape online but couldnt find any of the other ones.

    Anyone have any idea how i can get hold of the Around the Year one for my Kinderlach?

    Thanks so much

    Moshe Chaim

  24. any way to get the lyrics to the Mitzvah Tree tape?