Life & Culture

Six of the best versions of 'Avinu Malkeinu', from Barbara Streisand to Mogwai

Numerous artists have been inspired by the prayer's haunting melody to create their own recordings


INDIO, CA - APRIL 12: Mogwai performs onstage during day 2 of the 2014 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 12, 2014 in Indio, California. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Coachella)

With Rosh Hashanah fast approaching, observant Jews will turn their attention to the “Avinu Malkeinu”, one of the most significant prayers to be recited over the ten days of repentance, which begin on the High Holy Day.

The prayer, which translates as “Our Father, Our King”, asks God to grant worshippers forgiveness, compassion, protection, and to help put an end to war, famine, hate and oppression.

Its haunting melody has an emotional heft that complements the words of the prayer, and has inspired a host of artists to create their own versions.

From Barbara Streisand’s emotional rendition to prog-rock band Phish’s funky reworking, here are six of the best interpretations.


Shulem Lemmer became the first singer from the Chasidic community to be signed to a major record label in 2018.

The Belz Chasid from Brooklyn had released a YouTube video featuring himself singing “Chad Gadya” a cappella, which the CEO of Decca Gold, Graham Parker, just happened to stumble upon as he searched the platform for a Passover song to play to his children.

Parker was blown away, and an unlikely star of classical crossover was born.

The tenor’s version of “Avinu Malkeinu” is among the most affecting: pure, pious, and beautifully arranged.

Lush romantic orchestration, featuring ripples of piano and harp provide the backing for Shulem’s soaring vocals. 

Barbara Streisand

Barbara Streisand’s 1997 rendition is one of the most popular and has racked up ten million views on YouTube, and 1.1 million streams on Spotify.

The veteran Jewish singer performed it for the first time live in 2013, in honour of late Israeli president Shimon Peres, who had requested it to celebrate his 90th birthday in Jerusalem.

Streisand’s poignant orchestral version features an atmospheric traditional choir, sweeping strings, harp, and her powerful soulful vocals. 

Hans Zimmer and Erik Contzius

From the soundtrack of The Survivor, the 2021 film from Jewish writer-director-producer Barry Levinson that follows the real-life story of Harry Haft (Ben Foster), an Auschwitz survivor who was forced by the Nazis to box other prisoners to stay alive, Hans Zimmer’s arrangement encompasses both deep horror and redemption.

Washington-based cantor Erik Contzius, who was ordained at Jerusalem’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, has a richly expressive baritone voice and Zimmer’s orchestration is packed with cinematic drama.

A menacing, thrumming bass makes way for mournful cello before allowing the light to creep in with shivering and arpeggiating strings. At just over two minutes long, it’s short but hauntingly beautiful.

Yiddish Twist Orchestra

The highly acclaimed Yiddish Twist Orchestra, led by Willie Bergman, comprises eight accomplished session musicians who have individually played with the likes of Eric Clapton, Elton John, Paul Weller and Jools Holland.

Their instrumental version is unlike any other, while retaining faithfulness to the original composition: it takes a languid, jazzy vibe, with characterful trumpet, clarinet, organ and guitar. 


Two members of the celebrated US prog-rock band Phish - bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jonathan Fishman - are Jewish, and the band have been known to play Hebrew songs live including “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” and ““Avinu Malkeinu”.

So popular are they with their Jewish fans that a book, This Is Your Song Too: Phish and Contemporary Jewish Identity, is set for release in November.

In their “Avinu Malkeinu”, Phish take the prayer’s sombre and haunting theme and transform it through a jaunty and funky rhythmic lens while retaining its minor-key melody.


Before Mogwai released “My Father, My King” as a single in 2001, the Scottish post-rock band would close their live shows with this mysterious number. It was a huge hit with their fans.

The definitive recorded version wasn’t chart-eligible because it clocked in at just over 20 minutes.

The band are not Jewish, but had been shown the music by producer Arthur Baker, and made it truly their own: an intense instrumental that builds in pace and dynamics, from the spare hypnotic drone of the melody to layered instrumentation and frenzied guitar distortion.

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