The members of the glee club on the hit television series “Glee” rarely venture outside their high school music classroom. But this summer the Union for Reform Judaism is searching for the best and brightest Jewish performers to take their own choral act on the road to Europe and Israel.
Auditions for “JewGlee,” a teen summer program run by the North American Federation of Jewish Youth (NFTY), are kicking off next month as URJ scours the country for 30 of the best, most enthusiastic teens for its pilot program.
“This is a unique teenager we’re looking for,” said Cantor Alane Katzew, the director of music programming at URJ. “Often the kids that we’re looking for really have a passion for music,” she said, “and they may spend their summers doing intensive practice in musical theater and musical performance, and not find their way to Israel or their roots.”
With this trip, said Katzew, they can combine the best of both worlds — rapping songs by Matisyahu, chanting traditional Jewish liturgy and singing original music about growing up as an American Jewish teen. And they’ll cut a wide swath across Europe by performing in Berlin, Budapest, Krakow and Prague, before ending their trip in Israel.
The five-week, five-country tour was inspired in part by the smash success of “Glee.” The singing and dancing musical club portrayed in the Fox series is credited with a surge of interest in choral singing.
After a friend recommended the show to her, “I subsequently become hooked,” said Katzew. “You recognize yourself in those kids: the one who hung out in the music room during lunch hour, or spent time doing an extracurricular Broadway show.”
And after brainstorming the idea for the program with other choir directors, they set a path for the singing, dancing, traveling group across Europe and Israel, where they can witness the birthplace of Reform Judaism in Berlin, participate in the 20th Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow and go behind the scenes of the hit Israeli show “Kochav Nolad” (A Star is Born).
Auditions for the program will kick off at the NFTY Convention in Dallas next month, followed by dates in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. JewGlee hopefuls will have to sing and dance their way on to the summer tour.
And Katzew is hoping that the 30 lucky participants will take away more than memories and snapshots from their five-week tour. A recent survey conducted by the Zamir Choral Foundation found that participants in a Jewish choir are significantly more involved and engaged in Jewish communal life.
“We talk about how is it that we can help kids attach to their Jewish identity,” said Katzew. “The evidence points to the fact that being engaged in singing Jewish music at this particular juncture in life is likely to be life changing.”