Instead of sending kids and young adults to Israel or trying to figure out how to make Judaism “relevant” to them, maybe all Jewish organizations need to do to secure the future is to get everyone singing from the same page.
That would seem to be the message of a new survey of Jewish choral singers, billed as the first ever, conducted by the Zamir Choral Foundation.
“Hundreds of people breathing together and singing together, it’s an amazing experience,” says Matthew Lazar, the foundation’s founder and director. “I do believe it’s a solution [to the question of Jewish continuity], which is one of the reasons I created HaZamir, our teen choir.”
Indeed, judging by the survey responses from over 2,000 Jewish singers, professionals and supporters, musical institutions like HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir are an unusually successful entrée into the Jewish world for young people. Of the HaZamir teens surveyed, 97 percent are affiliated with a synagogue.
The most surprising figures from the choral survey come from a comparison with comparable questions from the 2000-1 National Jewish Population Survey.
While 25 percent of NJPS respondents “volunteer under Jewish auspices,” the figure rose to 73 percent among those who answered the choir survey. Similarly, only 41 percent of those answering the NJPS survey are active Jewish givers, a figure that is dwarfed by the 73 percent of those participating in the Zamir Foundation project.
“I was amazed at the gaps in those categories,” Lazar says. “But it confirms what I’ve known anecdotally.”
The Jewish choral experience reaches its participants in two fundamental ways, Lazar says.
“The music gives them the emotional interest and catharsis, while the other side of the brain is engaged with the intellectual content of the text,” he explains. “You’re getting stimulation from both sides of the brain, and it’s happening in the context of community.”
Lazar adds, “It’s no accident that when people want to model community, they somehow always end up calling a choir. If you believe in k’lal yisroel, the musical expression of k’lal yisroel is the choir.”