The Joy of Song : Cantor Glassman’s Eblast

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the North American Jewish Choral Festival in Tarrytown, NY. It is a workshop-oriented festival in which attendees sign up with a particular ensemble of different musical levels and rehearse new and old works from the very expansive world of Jewish music. At the end of five days, each ensemble performs the four to five pieces they have worked on during the week for all the festival participants. Mati Lazar, a protégé of the famous conductor Leonard Bernstein, began the Zamir Chorale over three decades ago and this year marked the 34th year of the North American Jewish Choral Festival which he also founded along with his wife Vivian. I chose to sing in Mati Lazar’s ensemble, which is the most challenging of the ensembles.

When I look back to my teen years, Jewish summer camp is where I fell in love with Jewish music and began singing in choirs. The music is, without a doubt, what hooked me in to my Jewish identity, my connection to the State of Israel, and a feeling of belonging to something greater than myself. Even at nine years old, after my counselors discovered that I could sing and compose harmonies, I can recall being lifted onto a chair in the main dining room during lunch to lead the entire camp in the singing of beloved Hebrew melodies and popular Jewish songs and prayer settings. This left quite an impression as you can imagine!

On the first night of the Jewish Choral Festival in Tarrytown, I heard the HaZamir International Youth Teen Choir perform. I was, to say the least, blown away. I was also brought back to those moments in my early life when I sang Jewish songs with my peers at summer camp. HaZamir’s high level of singing and their professionalism was plain to see and a joy to hear at that concert in Tarrytown. There are HaZamir Chapters all over the country and in Israel. In fact there is one right here in Westchester. HaZamir Westchester rehearses at Temple Israel Center in White Plains on Sundays and the coordinator is Nancy Weinberger- This group of teens are incredibly talented and so proud to be a part of HaZamir. As I see it, it’s more than a choir – it’s a movement. The teens are from a broad range of cultural and religious backgrounds and they often sing on some of the world’s greatest stages including at Lincoln Center in New York.

As stated on their website – “HaZamir teens study Jewish text and history, grow as leaders, cultivate a deep connection to Israel and the Jewish community and create enduring friendships that transcend geographic, political, social and denominational differences. Together the singers of HaZamir create harmonious unity and long-lasting connections to one another and to Judaism, through excellence in music.”

One of the most challenging choral pieces I have ever sung was a newly commissioned work by Cantor Gerald Cohen called “Lo Alecha Ham’lacha Ligmor” (“You are not required to finish the work”). My choir, under the direction of Mati Lazar, performed this work on the last day of the festival. It was an incredible experience to sing this piece with some 100 singers – especially with the composer present. An extraordinary piece in Hebrew and English which starts out slowly and builds to a powerful crescendo, it was performed earlier in the year by the HaZamir International Jewish Teen Choir. As you will see from the attached video, the HaZamir Youth Choir managed to sing this very challenging piece with all its complexity in the most compelling and impressive fashion. They clearly rose to the occasion and showed their talents and their commitment to learning and presenting this piece to the best of their ability and to the highest artistic standard.

I hope these words will inspire the young, talented singers in our congregation to consider joining HaZamir Westchester. When they do, they are sure to enter a magical world of new friendships, deeper Jewish connection and enjoy the very best of Jewish choral music being sung in the world today.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about HaZamir or the North American Jewish Choral Festival.

In song,
Cantor Rita Glassman

Lo Alecha Ham’lacha Ligmor – Music by Cantor Gerald Cohen, composed for the first responders/healthcare workers during the pandemic.

“Rabbi Tarfon taught – It is not for you to finish the work, and (at the same time) you are not free to abandon it.”
Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) Ch.2:16

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