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Levi, the Leviathan

About ten years ago, at a Jews in the Woods gathering nearby the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Maryland, I offered my first shiur on biblical mythology and on the Leviathan and the Behemoth. (I subsequently wrote up some of what I talked about in several posts back here and here and here on the Omphalos, the blog formerly titled “the Leviathan and the Behemoth.”)

Someone came up to me afterward, asking whether I was familiar with this song that she had heard growing up in her Reform Jewish circles and summer camps — “Levi, the Leviathan.” I got so excited! A song about the Leviathan! With a surprise connection to the biblical name Levi! I was fascinated but alas, I couldn’t find any more information about the song.

Earlier this year, I was searching for a trio of 1970s era children’s psychology animated shorts for TV starring Puff the Magic Dragon, and after finding them on DVD,  began to wonder again about what ever happened to “Levi, the Leviathan.” I did some Internet sleuthing and behold, a Jewish summer camp had put together an informal song book complete with lyrics and guitar tabs and there it was, numbered song 152, “Levi, the Leviathan” by Rabbi Larry Milder of Congregation Beth Emek, Pleasanton, California. Here it goes:

152. LEVI THE LEVIATHAN
by Larry Milder

VERSE 1
One fine day while sailing on the sea,
Three Israeli fishermen on the Sea of Galilee,
Hauled in their nets, and much to their surprise,
Out popped a giant head with two enormous shining eyes,

CHORUS
Levi, Levi the Leviathan, swimming in the Sea of Galilee,
Levi wonders where his friends all went,
Ever since the day they left, sad is he

VERSE 2
“Where oh where can my companions be?
I’ve been searching high and low since fifteen hundred B.C.E.
Have you seen my friend the behemoth?
I must have told him a hundred times, don’t take your life preserver off!”

VERSE 3
“Ever since the year we had the flood,
All of the creatures I used to know have gone and sunk into the mud,
It grieves me so, I feel a pang of guilt,
When every now and then I see a claw sticking up from under the silt.”

VERSE 4
“Here I swim, an orphan of the sea,
So why don’t you take your nets away and let me paddle peacefully?”
Up splashed his tail, and washed the boat ashore,
And three Israeli fishermen will sail the Galilee no more

ENDING
Levi, Levi the Leviathan swimming in the Sea of Galilee.

Hoping Rabbi Milder might have a recording to share, I looked him up and wrote to him for more information:

Hello Rabbi Milder, I’m a Jewish mythology fanatic and was thrilled to learn at a retreat a decade ago that there was a Leviathan song. Alas, no one knew the words to it but this evening after shabbat I decided to look again and found that someone had uploaded the lyrics and the chords and attributed the song to you. I still don’t know what it sounds like but now that I’m reading the lyrics I feel a strong Puff the Magic Dragon vibe from it.

I wanted to ask you how this song came about. I’d like to share it with more people so I’m also wondering if there’s a recording and whether you might grant me permission to distribute it under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license through an open-source Jewish liturgy project I direct, the Open Siddur.

I was overjoyed when I discovered his reply the next day in my inbox:

I wrote Levi the Leviathan during my time studying at HUC in Israel. I should have been studying, that is. Got some good songs out of it, though.

Yes, it does have a kind of Puff the Magic Dragon vibe, albeit with a touch of irony. It is nothing more than a flight of fancy. I figured that if Loch Ness had a monster, so should the Kinneret.

I released the song on a 1985 cassette call “Rats, Leviathans & Other Tails.” It was my first recording. (I am currently recording album #5. Not exactly pumping them out.)

I never released the song on CD, and to date, I have not made the recording available for download. However, every now and then someone asks, and your inquiry is just the motivation I need to work through the technical challenges of making it available. Once I get that resolved, I’ll have the recording available through oysongs.com, where much of my other music is available.

The sheet music, however, is included in Shireinu, the anthology of contemporary Jewish music published by the Reform movement. Check with the American Conference of Cantors, as I believe they are currently selling that book.

You are welcome to reprint the lyrics. The lyrics you have are correct. I would ask that you not reprint the chords, however. It helps me sell music to have those accessible through printed music.

The attribution should be:
©1985 Laurence Elis Milder

I am really honored that you got in touch with me. Best of luck with this magnificent project.

 

With gratitude and apologies to Rabbi Miller, here’s my adaptation of his song tweaked better to reflect the myth of the separation of the two primordial lovers representing the upper and lower waters, found in Midrash Konen.

 

LEVI THE LEVIATHAN
verses adapted from the original song by Larry Milder

VERSE 1

One fine day while sailing through the myst,
Three fishermen caught in a storms fist,
Hauled in their nets, and much to their surprise,
Out popped a ginormous head with two eldritch glowing eyes,

CHORUS

Levi, Levi the Leviathan, swimming a distant sea,
Levi wonders where her friend once went,
Does he miss her like she does him?
Must she wait till the end of time to see him again

VERSE 2
“Where oh where can my friend be?
I’ve been searching high and low since the first Jubilee
Have you seen my friend Behemot?
I must have told him a hundred times, keep hold of me!”

VERSE 3
“Ever since the second day,
All these new creatures emerged from the mud,
But it grieves me so, I feel so sad,
When every now and then, I’m reminded of my best bud.”

VERSE 4
“Here I swim, the queen of the sea,
So why don’t you take your nets away and let me live peacefully?”
Up splashed her tail, and washed the boat ashore,
And three fishermen will sail the sea no more

ENDING

Levi, Levi the Leviathan swimming a distant sea.
Levi, Levi the Leviathan swimming the Furthest Sea.

About Aharon N. Varady


Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes . He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words.

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