What Music Can Do…

In addition to my work as a pulpit rabbi in Forest Hills, I wear a number of different communal hats, none more proudly than that of a vice-president of the Zamir Choral Foundation.

Most people know of the Zamir Chorale, which has been in existence since the 1960’s; I myself sang with Zamir during my college and graduate school days. Since then, what was an intercollegiate Zionist choral group singing Jewish choral music has evolved into a foundation that spawns multiple expressions of that same musical and ideological commitment. In addition to the Zamir Chorale, there is now an annual (wildly successful) North American Jewish Choral Festival that brings hundreds of singers together every summer, the regular commissioning of new music from the very best Jewish composers both here and in Israel, frequent “choral missions” to Israel, and, of course, concerts and recording projects.

But for my money, worthy though all these projects are, the jewel in the crown of the Zamir Choral Foundation is Hazamir– a network of high school choruses that brings Jewish teens of all (and no) denominational stripes together around their love of Jewish music and passion for Israel. Once a year, all the Hazamir groups from around the country- and the Israeli Hazamir!- gather together for a joint concert. If you want to believe in the Jewish future, that concert is a place that you want to me. It is a multi-tissue event.

Recently, my very dear friend Matthew Lazar, the founder and director of the Zamir Choral Foundation, traveled to Israel and spent time rehearsing the Israeli Hazamir group. His wonderful wife Vivian, who has, in her own right, given countless hours to the cause of Hazamir, was with him. During those rehearsals, alumni of Israel’s Hazamir who had participated in last year’s joint concert here in the States stopped by to check in with them. Most of them were seniors in high school last year, which means that they are now in the Israeli army, having joined just in time to participate in Operation Oferet Yetzuka in Gaza. Some introduction to Tzahal…

One of these alumni- a young man named Nadav- told Matthew and Vivian an amazing and moving story that- if I might say so- sings to the glory of Hazamir, and its remarkable success.

While he was fighting in Gaza under circumstances that were too difficult for him to talk about, Nadav said that what kept running through his head was David Berger’s Tefilah – a stirring and beautiful setting of the official prayer for the state of Israel that has become an unofficial anthem of the international Jewish choral movement. No concert is complete without that song being sung as an encore. Nadav learned it, and sang it, last year.

What Nadav said was that his trip to America last year, and his experience with the other Hazamir teens, had made him realize that Israel is not alone, and that there really are Americans who feel Israel deeply in their souls, and support her. That knowledge sustained him in battle- and that realization came to him only after meeting American teens in Hazamir and singing its repertoire that so celebrates Israel.

The story alone brings tears to my eyes, but having sung Tefilah countless times, I can appreciate it even more. That’s what Hazamir is about at its best- the remarkable fusion of great music, passion for Israel, and social networking that expands horizons. Nadav’s story is a great Jewish success… and a testament to the power of music.

Hazamir will be in concert here in Manhattan on Sunday evening March 22, at Congregation Rodeph Shalom. You can learn more about them, and the Zamir Choral Foundation, at www.zamirfdn.org. If you’re looking for inspiration in difficult times, that concert is a great, great place to be.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.