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Know Who Came Before: Shira Kobren on Music and Remembrance With Central Synagogue

September 8, 2022 | General News | Worship and High Holidays

We’re thrilled to share the world premiere of Shira Kobren’s wonderful new single, “Know Who Came Before.” Featuring additional vocals by Rabbi Angela Buchdahl and Cantor Dan Mutlu – and filmed on-site in our Sanctuary with Central members of all ages honoring loved ones who have passed – we recently sat down with Shira to ask about the inspiration behind the song, finding joy in remembering family members who are no longer with us, the song's connection to the Central Synagogue community, and more.

CENTRAL SYNAGOGUE: What inspired you to write "Know Who Came Before?"

SHIRA KOBREN: Part of my job at Central Synagogue includes creating and leading our Early Childhood High Holy Day Services with Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal. Traditionally we have skipped over Yizkor in our Early Childhood Yom Kippur Service, but last year as we were preparing, Rabbi Rosenthal mentioned that she wished there was a song for Yizkor that would make that piece of the service more relatable for kids. After last year’s High Holy Days, I had some time to give Rabbi Rosenthal’s idea some thought, and I came up with the concept of “Know Who Came Before.” I wanted the song to get to the root of why it was important for families to remember their loved ones who have passed away, rather than dwelling on the idea of loss.

CENTRAL: Whose picture are you holding in the video?

SHIRA: I am holding a photo of myself as a child and my grandfather, Dr. Obadiah Cohen z”l (or “Zeyda Vadie” as I called him), who passed away in August 2020. I was very close with my grandfather; when I was a child, he and my Bubbie lived only a few minutes from me and we saw them several times a week. My Zeyda Vadie greatly impacted my life and I feel like his influence is a one of the main reasons I found my way into the work I do here at Central.

Judaism was so seamlessly woven into Zeyda's identity, and he demonstrated to all of his children and grandchildren how fun an accessible Judaism could be. The Shabbat dinners he led weekly (during which he never missed an opportunity to share an abridged version of the week's Torah portion) became part of the fabric of our week, and he made all of our holiday celebrations and holiday preparation something to look forward to. When I was a teen, he even came over to my house weekly to help me with Judaic studies homework, often guiding me through a more thorough and engaging study of texts than my teachers would. As an adult, I find that, just like with Zeyda, my identity is heavily influenced by my connection to Judaism. Having been taught by my Zeyda's example, I now feel a responsibility to pass along to others the joy, sense of connection, and the feeling of being anchored to Judaism.
CENTRAL: How did Rabbi Angela Buchdahl and Cantor Dan Mutlu become involved?

SHIRA: Although I wrote "Know Who Came Before" with Central Synagogue’s Children’s Services in mind, after I finished writing it, I realized that the song was pretty universal and relatable for people of all ages. I sent a recording of myself singing and playing the song on my guitar to both Rabbi Buchdahl and Cantor Mutlu, asking them if they had any use for it in adult services and telling them that I was thinking about recording it. They both answered that they loved the song, thought it would be a great idea to record, and that they would love to be involved in the project. 

CENTRAL: Where did the idea to feature members of Central Synagogue come from? 

SHIRA: In dreaming up the video, it was important to me that we include members of all ages in the filming — in the video you can see some of our youngest Nursery School students as well as some congregants in their 80s several other members in between — because I wanted to illustrate that everyone’s lives have somehow been influenced by the family members who came before them.

CENTRAL: Where else can people hear the song?

SHIRA: We will be playing “Know Who Came Before” as part of Central Synagogue’s Early Childhood and Family High Holiday Services this year. The song will also be released on all streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, etc) on September 20. If you would like to be notified the moment the song is available to stream, you can click here to pre-save it.

CENTRAL: What do you hope people feel/think about when they hear the song?

SHIRA: I hope that this song helps people to connect to the memories of loved ones they have lost with a sense of fondness and gratitude.  It can be difficult to think about people that we really miss, but it is important to remember that those people's influence, guidance and love have shaped us all.  It is also important to share their stories with our children and generations to come.

Thank you, Shira! We know the video and song will spark uplifting moments of remembrance in all who hear it.

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