From the best Sunday of the year to the biggest Shabbat

On this first full day of Spring, 2018, I look out my window and get a snow globe view of the UWS of Manhattan.  The most recent Nor’easter is shutting down yet another day on the East Coast. Luckily, last week while HaZamirniks from our 38 chapters were preparing for last Sunday’s Gala Festival Concert in David Geffen Hall in Lincoln Center, only brisk winds blew as 400 Jewish teens from 31 cities in the US and 7 in Israel came together to form a most magnificent chorus.  Celebrating 25 years of informal Jewish education par excellence, HaZamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir, joined by an Alumni chorus of 80 voices, gave a performance which filled every inch of the hall with the sacred sounds of Jewish text, tenor and tone. From the first chord to the final breath, this year’s concert honoring HaZamir’s Director Vivian Lazar, was glorious. The Sunday of the HaZamir Gala Concert is for me the best Sunday of the year.

Last year, on the best Sunday of the year, I was honored by the Zamir Choral Foundation for my role in growing the HaZamir Israel program. I became involved with the Cleveland/Beit Shean Partnership in 1995.  I was the Vice Chair for People to People programs from 1997 – 2000 then the Cleveland Chair of the Partnership from 2000-2004. As a result of my Partnership experiences in Beit Shean and the surrounding Emek HaMayanot Region, I was able to introduce the Zamir Choral Foundation to the Cleveland/Beit Shean Partnership 2Gether team. Together, we created HaZamir Beit Shean on the Partnership platform, which has a direct programmatic connection with HaZamir Cleveland by virtue of the shared choral repertoire. Other communities have followed our lead, allowing 80 Israeli teens from development towns, kibbutzim, affluent suburbs and the major cities to connect with each other, while connecting with American Jewish youth from around the US.

While still on the Steering Committee of the Partnership, I have narrowed my focus to ensuring that our HaZamir program is alive and well. Yet, as a board member of the Zamir Choral Foundation, I have expanded my focus, taking my passion for this musical mifgash and telling the HaZamir story wherever I can.  So it was that I found myself this past Monday morning at the second day of a 2 day conference put on by the Partnership 2Gether unit of the Jewish Agency for Israel.  Despite my exhaustion following HaZamir week, I mass transited my way to the Doubletree Hilton Hotel at Newark Airport. There I immersed myself in the subject matter of the conference, which had to do with most of the Israel-Diaspora challenges I have been working on since my days as an active member of the Conservative movement’s youth group, United Synagogue Youth.  I sat at round tables discussing the difficult issues between Americans and Israelis and how to find effective programs to accomplish the mutual goals of the Partnership. I had to be careful to weigh my words, knowing that the wisdom gleaned from years of experience needed to be shared in ways that would be received.  If I wanted people to hear about the magic of HaZamir, I had to make sure that I listened for the right time to share the story and to then share the text with the right tenor and tone.

As a people-to-people person, it was easy for me to meet the right people from the right communities. What a joy it was to share the Playbill from Lincoln Center, proudly turning to the page which began our part of the program book. The excitement of the lay leadership from Cincinnati and Netanya, as well as the interest of the Albany community made the day trip worthwhile, despite my post-Festival exhaustion . While it felt very odd to not be connected to any specific partnership community, it felt quite right to be wearing my Zamir Choral Foundation hat and literally singing the praises of HaZamir as one of the most effective youth partnership programs available, as well as being the best Jewish/Zionist Youth Group I have ever encountered.  As a former USYer, as well as a parent of USYers and NCSYers, in other words, someone familiar with youth groups, I can say with that there is no youth movement like the Jewish musical youth movement known as HaZamir.

At the HaZamir Festival, I saw that HaZamir Boca Raton made available a large card of support for the Marjorie Stoneman Douglass community for HaZamirniks to sign.  I nodded with a sad sigh, glad to see that the major domestic political issue for the high school generation found its way into the HaZamir space.  A few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to begin my big birthday celebration by going to Washington, DC and walking with the students as they March for their Lives. After making our travel plans, I saw that USY is organizing to be present in force at the March in ways that our consistent with Conservative Shabbat observance.  I immediately knew  that I wanted to march with “my” youth movement and was glad to lend financial support to USY to support the participation of USYers in this sacred act of democracy. When I realized that we would be marching on Shabbat HaGadol, the last Shabbat before we begin Pesach, our Festival of Freedom, I celebrated the synchronicity of American Jews exercising  our First Amendment rights, the freedom to assemble in our nation’s capital, the freedom to express our opposition to the current state of affairs with regards to gun rights, on the biggest Shabbat of the year.  Undoubtably, this gathering in Washington, DC and all the other gatherings that will occur around the country, will be big as the emerging generation raises it collective voice.  I am sure there will be much singing as we, the adults and the students, march together to demand that life be valued over unlimited gun rights.

My week began with the best Sunday of the year, the Sunday when HaZamir proclaims to the world that the Jewish future has a very beautiful sound to those who are listening. My week will end with the biggest Shabbat of the year being celebrated in a way that proclaims to the world that those core Jewish values that are taught so musically to our HaZamirniks are the same values that are leading Jewish activists of all ages to proclaim to our government that common sense gun legislation is a sound idea.  I pray that the sounds of protest will be heard by those in Washington and beyond who have the power to protect the next generation from senseless gun violence.  And I know that many of those sounds of protest will be in the form of Jewish song, using our sacred text to convey the tenor and tone of this moment in American history. And rather than snowflakes, I hope the day is bathed in the beauty of the iconic cherry blossoms, suggesting that despite the 4th Nor’easter in the month of March, the 15th of Nissan is just around the corner.

About the Author
Francine M. Gordon is an artist/activist who maintains homes in New York and Cleveland. From November 2010 through November 2016, through The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project, she produced over 10 Concerts of Concern in the US and Israel. Since establishing her New York residence, Ms. Gordon has become a member of the New York Federation’s Israeli Judaism committee which focuses on exactly the same issues as SRSS. In addition, she has become a proud member of the Zamir Chorale which allows her to express her Zionism through song.
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