Song: “Shabbos Queen”
Composer: Mrs. Yocheved Reich
Albums: Yanky and Shabbos (1982); Benny Friedman — Bnei Heichala (2013)
Candles stand at attention on a silver tray. A child hovers nearby, absorbed, and watches his mother translate her love for him into prayer.
“I used to think my mother was the Shabbos Queen…” The opening words to the children’s classic “Shabbos Queen” were inspired by veteran songwriter Yocheved Reich’s early memories of her own mother bentshing licht. “To me, my mother personified the spiritual serenity of Shabbos, which descended upon our home,” says Mrs. Reich.
The song, which maintains a child’s perspective, opens with this timeless image, and continues with youthful but profound understanding. “I know that she’s not asking Him for diamonds / My noble mother doesn’t ask for gold / She’s asking Him to help me follow all the Torah’s ways / And to let her eyes behold, that joy as she grows old.”
Enveloped by love and security — and as if in answer to his mother’s prayers — the child in the song goes on to resolve to do his best to be a good Jew, and place more “diamonds” into the “crown” his mother wears on Friday nights. The chorus, “When I grow up… / I will walk by the light of a thousand Friday nights / And the tefillos of my mother who always had her candles lit,” evokes the reassurance that the prayers of our past will guarantee the future.
First recorded on the tape Yanky and Shabbos (1982), the song “Shabbos Queen” has more recently been sung by Benny Friedman on his Bnei Heichala Shabbos CD, and by Chanale Fellig, singing for female audiences, on her album Believer.
Writing the songs for the two Yanky tapes (Yanky and Pesach, featuring the still-popular song “All the Nations,” had appeared a few years earlier) lead Mrs. Reich to join the 613 Torah Avenue team. Her narrative and lyrics spotlighted the adventurous character Chaim, as he wended his way down the street where Torah comes alive.
Her next professional step, in addition to many songs for high school plays and camps, was writing lyrics for the Miami Boys Choir and for Avraham Fried — and both Besiyata Dishmaya and Forever One became iconic hits. More important to Mrs. Reich, they uplifted thousands, hitting home with powerful Jewish messages of chizuk and togetherness in English (“Never are we alone…”). “It’s a zechus to have a share in these songs’ inspiration,” she says.
The composer and lyricist warms to the subject of her own early education, which encouraged self-expression as a way to use one’s individual talents in service of Hashem. “Our revered principal in Yeshiva of Brooklyn, Rabbi Menachem Manis Mandel ztz”l, would fondly describe YOB as our ‘home away from home’ where we could develop to our utmost and flourish. If you could pick out a few notes on the melodica, you were encouraged to try out for the YOB band, where you could develop musically and grow. Fulfillment in music fueled our fulfillment in Yiddishkeit. This was the ’70s. Outside, music was in turmoil, but inside school, our music was an expression of ruchniyus and individuality. The combination was dynamic. The long-lasting benefits to self-esteem and wellbeing are inestimable.”
Today, as a music teacher in Bnos Orchos Chaim in Lakewood and as music director of Hillel Yeshiva’s Early Learning Center in Deal, New Jersey, Mrs. Reich continues to promote this tradition with conviction. “We inspire our students to achieve closeness to Hashem through every medium available, music being one of the most powerful. Developing our Heavenly gifts and sharing them with others as we praise, beseech, and thank Hashem brings Him nachas. This should be a primary objective. It’s what we have to do for our kids.”
A friend told Mrs. Reich that for years she had been singing “Shabbos Queen” as a lullaby to her not-yet observant little sister. Her hopes were fulfilled. Her sister is today a “Shabbos queen” herself and raising her family in a Torah-infused home.