Against the backdrop of a dramatic and very public spat between the governments of Israel and America, increasing unhappiness here in the States about still further efforts in Israel to delegitimize non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism, and a YouTube video showing Haredi men literally throwing chairs over the partition at the Kotel aimed at the Women of the Wall who were preparing to pray, something wonderful happened here in New York this past Sunday.
As part of its annual winter gathering, over two hundred Jewish teenagers from the United States, Canada and Israel- all members of Hazamir, the International Jewish High School Chorus under the sponsorship of the Zamir Choral Foundation- gave a spectacular performance at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan.
The concert, as best as I can tell, got no headlines in the Anglo-Jewish press. These kinds of events rarely do, because they don’t sell as well as stories about Jews behaving badly. And, truth be told, they don’t impact as many people, or threaten the present or future of the Jewish people.
But I can’t help but feel, as I did after their concert last year, that the Jewish world would indeed be a happier and healthier place if events such as Hazamir’s annual winter concert did impact more people, and help them understand how the universal language of music- and the particularly delightful medium of quality Jewish choral music- can point the way to a more harmonious Jewish community (pun fully intended).
Hazamir’s winter festival brings together teen-aged Jewish choral singers of all religious stripes: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, atheist, agnostic, secular Israeli… you name it, they’re represented in Hazamir’s international membership. Somehow, against all odds, they manage to spend a beautiful Shabbat together without stirring up the kind of pseudo-spiritual religious self-righteousness that we adults tend to produce under similar circumstances. No one sits in judgment of the other, and none are made to feel "less than" for being something other than any one member’s version of the "right way" to express his/her Jewishness.
It’s all about the music. It’s about making beautiful sounds, blending voices together so that no one person’s voice stands out unless it’s intended as a solo. But solos are the exception. Choral singing is an ensemble exercise. It’s all about the blend, and the belief that the total sound of the ensemble is dependent on the seamless meshing of different voices.
Meshing our different Jewish voices into a seamless, harmonious sound is a skill that we in the adult Jewish community have yet to master, whether here or in Israel. We would do wise to let the children lead us. They seem to get it. Matthew Lazar, the founder and director of the Zamir Choral Foundation, certainly gets it. His idea of the "musical minyan" might well serve as the paradigm for a healthier Jewish community.
It’s all about the music…