Last week, in the heart of New York City’s glittering holiday season, the Bnai Zion concert at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall provided inspiration and a resonant message: “What we’re all creating/it’s like a symphony, just keep listening/And pretty soon you’ll figure out your part/Everyone plays a piece and there are melodies/ In each one of us, oh, it’s glorious.”
These lyrics are from Stephanie Mabey’s “Glorious,” one of the emotional high points of our nearly sold-out event dedicated to Jewish Unity and the work that the Bnai Zion Foundation has done over its 110-year history to strengthen the bonds between America and Israel. The concert also served as a salute to Israel’s 70th Anniversary.
“Glorious” was part of an inspiring and diverse program that featured three choirs from NYC’s Ramaz Upper School and Community as well as the Israel’s Ma’ale Adumim Youth Orchestra. This contemporary pop song was performed alongside more classic pieces such as Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #5 in E Minor Op. 64, Candide and the Symphonic Dances from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story as well as a selection of modern Hebrew and liturgical songs.
As often is the case, this celebratory event in New York City took place amid news of devastating terror attacks in Israel.
The choice of a Jewish Unity Concert was deliberate because of the transcendent power of music. Music supersedes spoken word; it is truly the universal language. It reminds us of the greatness of the human spirit, of all that is possible. The program inspired us to recall what unites us and our shared mission as human beings, Americans and Jews: to make this world a better place.
Moreover, it provides comfort and strength in the face of tragedy.
Bnai Zion’s national board president, Stephen J. Savitsky noted that the concert took place just three days after the conclusion of Hanukkah. “The timing of this concert could not be more appropriate because the mission of the Bnai Zion Foundation has been to ignite hope, sparking new creativity and shining light into the neglected corners of Israeli society,” he said. “One way we do this is by supporting cultural institutions and seeding creative initiatives such as museums, libraries and schools of music.”
Indeed, the Ma’ale Adumim Youth Symphony, under the direction of Benjamin Shapira, is located at the George Schaeffer School of Music, one of Bnai Zion’s special projects.
The participation of the Ramaz Upper School and community was also a deliberate choice as Ramaz has always “occupied the epicenter of contemporary Jewish life, engaging with our tradition while embracing the challenges and opportunities of a changing society. It has reached to the right and left…in this spirit of friendship and collaboration,” said Jan Kiderman, a Bnai Zion board member who produced Wednesday night’s Jewish Unity Concert.
“As a parent of three Ramaz graduates, I could not be more proud,” he added. “At this moment when our community is woefully divided, Ramaz can – and must – continue to play the essential role of bridging divides and forging partnerships. When so much threatens to separate us, religiously and ideologically, our musical heritage is often the Big Tent beneath which we can gather in friendship.”
Kiderman pursued the collaboration between the Ramaz Upper School, Chamber and Kol Ram Community Choirs and the Ma’ale Adumim Youth Orchestra and he urges more creative and collaborative partnerships such as this. “We cannot allow the unstable political landscape to destabilize our community. Bnai Zion and Ramaz has always been at the forefront of progressive dialogue, whether on domestic issues or in support of creating a more inclusive and vibrant Israel.”
The mission of creating a stable society is at the heart of Bnai Zion. For over a century, the foundation has identified and funded capital projects in Israel focused on its most vulnerable citizens…committed to social inclusion, health, and culture. It has completed more than 100 humanitarian projects that have contributed to the physical, mental, and social well-being of the people of Israel, with social inclusion at the heart of its efforts.
As audience members filtered out of Zankel Hall, the words of Albert Einstein, evoked by emcee Andy Adler, sportscaster at WPIX in New York, resonated. “Einstein once said that the thing that unifies Jewish people is, above all, the ideal of social justice and tolerance between all people,” she said. “Within this unity there is strength.”