On Sunday, after a weekend of rigorous rehearsals, Shabbat activities and networking with the more than 350 fellow singers from around the country and Israel, HaZamir and its cadre of teenage singers will make its debut at Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center in New York.
HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir, will premiere a new work, “L’Dor VaDor, Generation to Generation,” commissioned for the choral group and composed by Cantor Gerald Cohen.
Among the 350 vocalists will be 28 Marylanders from HaZamir’s Baltimore chapter. The students hail from 12 schools in Baltimore, suburban Washington, D.C., Frederick and Olney. The group includes three eighth-graders.
“The students come from everywhere,” said Erika Pardes Schon, the Baltimore chapter’s conductor. “It’s a competitive audition, and it’s a high bar.”
There are 26 American chapters of HaZamir, with a 27th chapter soon forming in Washington, D.C. There are also five Israeli chapters, with a sixth to be launched next year.
The students need to have the talent but after that, the commitment to two-hour rehearsals every Sunday night.
For some, that’s no big deal.
“I love singing,” said Daniel Goldman, a junior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and a teen leader in the Baltimore chapter. “Singing is my life, you ask my siblings. They hate it because I do it all the time.”
Another undeniable component of HaZamir is the friendships forged through national festivals.
“I’m talking to kids in Israel every single day,” he said. “I need to interact with these people, who come from a totally different background, whether they be from Israel or Cleveland. Everyone has a different experience.”
Israel’s newest chapter, in Ashkelon, will be performing in New York, then spending time in Baltimore. That chapter was launched in partnership with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership.
While Goldman has made friends all over through HaZamir, he acknowledged the choral group’s deeper purpose of fostering Jewish identity.
Fellow singer Abram Foster, a senior at Park School, said the Jewishness of the music gives it much deeper meaning for him.
“Really, we’re teaching Jewish values through music. We’re building Jewish identity through music.”
“Music in Hebrew has such spiritual connotations and has such depth and is enriched by the incredibly rich musical history of Judaism,” he said.
Schon agrees, adding that for some kids, HaZamir doesn’t just foster their Jewish connection, it is their Jewish connection.
“We teach Judaism through music. We discuss the source of the text, ethics of Mishnah, study sources with our teens so they understand the value of the music in the Jewish narrative, in Jewish history,” she said. “Really, we’re teaching Jewish values through music. We’re building Jewish identity through music.”
Goldman said strengthening his Jewish identity through HaZamir will help him in college, where he may face some opposition to his beliefs, especially regarding Israel.
“By using our voices, not only do we create our voice of song, a voice that’s nice to listen to, but we create our voices of change, voices that combat social conformity and advocate for social change in the world,” he said. “I’m going to college in a few years and I’m going to face a lot of opposition. In HaZamir, I’ve found that voice.”
And that’s the goal, Schon said, to turn singers into leaders.
“Each chapter is able to elect and appoint its own teen leader. We have two,” she said. “These teenagers are taught leadership skills. They have summer and winter retreats for the teen leaders where they are trained to lead Jewishly.”
HaZamir Baltimore performs at the Gordon Center on March 24, Beth Tfiloh for a Yom HaShoa commemoration on April 19 and the Myerberg Senior Center on May 3.