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ONG: “CHAMOL”│COMPOSER: RABBI AKIVA HOMNICK│ALBUMS: L’MAAN ACHAI — CAMP BNEI TORAH, ONE DAY AT A TIME — SHLOIMIE DACHS│YEAR: 1981

Tishrei sounds waft through cooling air: shofar blasts and hummed tunes of Rosh Hashanah prayers. Rabbi Akiva Homnick, an educator who today lives with his family in Jerusalem, recalls the creation of “Chamol” — his own contribution to the awe-inspiring tefillos of the Days of Awe.

“Thirty-five years ago I was learning at Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi’s yeshivah, Ateres Yisrael, and spent a few summers at Machane Bnei Torah — a camp for bochurim from all the yeshivos. One of the highlights of camp was a song contest where original compositions were performed and then voted upon by all the campers. I had composed a song that came in third place and a friend of mine from yeshivah had composed a beautiful niggun with an Elul theme which came in first place, so it was a kind of kinas sofrim that made me try to compose ‘Chamol.’ It was Erev Rosh Chodesh Elul, 1981, and I sat in my room, took out my guitar, and decided to write a niggun for those words.”

“Chamol” was first performed the following summer at Machane Bnei Torah in Migdal Haemek, where it secured first place in the annual contest. When the campers returned to their respective yeshivos for Elul, the song went with them, and spread rapidly through the yeshivah world. Today, it is sung in thousands of shuls. Even communities who prefer a strongly traditional nusach with no singing seem to have made an exception for this initially gentle tune, which rises into an eloquent musical plea — “tukdash Adon…” — for mercy and sanctification of Hashem’s Name.

“I don’t think ‘Chamol’ is very sophisticated musically,” Rabbi Homnick reflects, “but it does justice to the words and captures their essence. Truthfully, the song has seen unusual siyata d’Shmaya. I mean, it’s a very nice song, but I have definitely composed nicer ones that are not nearly as famous.”

Initially recorded nearly ten years later on a relatively unknown tape put out by the camp (sung by Aryeh Glazer with soloist Ruli Ezrachi), “Chamol” has since been recorded over 20 times, most famously by Shloimie Dachs.

Rabbi Homnick recently read an interview with Israeli singer David D’Or who sang “Chamol” before an audience of over 10,000 people at a concert inJapan. “He described the emotions there as being very intense,” Homnick says. “But I think there is nothing more emotional than every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when it is sung in major yeshivos and shuls throughout the world.”

Many people have told Rabbi Homnick that they walked down the aisle to his “Chamol” because it’s their favorite niggun; others tell him it never fails to enhance their Yamim Noraim.

Following in the tradition of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, who all used their musical gifts to inspire others as baalei tefillah, Rabbi Homnick himself leads the davening at Minyan Avreichim, Rav Yitzchok Berkowitz’s shul in Jerusalem’s Sanhedria Murchevet neighborhood. Inspired by composers like Shlomo Carlebach and Bentzion Shenker and the early Pirchei choirs while he was growing up, some of Rabbi Homnick’s other well-known compositions include “Shalom Aleichem” and “Merachok,” sung by Mendy Werdyger (on Ani Holech BeSimcha), “Hareini Mezamen” by Abie Rotenberg and Shlomo Simcha, and Yeedle Werdyger’s “Al Zeh Haya,” “Beni Beni,” and “Ilan” (on Yeedle IV and Lev Echad).

“I once received a wedding invitation from a bochur whom I had never met,” Rabbi Homnick recalls. “He wrote a dedication on it, telling me that he owes his spiritual growth to this niggun.”