The Arty Semite

Yiddish Pop Star Claire Barry Dies at 94

By Michael Kaminer

Claire Barry, with her sister, Merna, on the cover of their 1961 album ‘Side by Side.’

Claire Barry, who crossed over from the world of Yiddish entertainment to global pop stardom as half of The Barry Sisters, died Monday in Aventura, Florida. She was 94.

At the height of their popularity in the 1950s and ‘60s, Claire and her sister Merna conquered television as regulars on the Ed Sullivan and Jack Paar shows.

Claire Barry’s last performance for an audience was in 2009. “I was there,” Corey Breier, a close friend of Barry’s and the longtime president of the Yiddish Artists and Friends Actors Club, told the Forward from his home in Aventura. “She was being honored by the Footlighters’ Club, which is Florida’s version of Friar’s club. She sang ‘My Yiddishe Mama.’ There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was the last time she sang publicly.”

Born in the Bronx to Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Kiev, Clara and Minnie Bagelman first performed as the Bagelman Sisters on a New York children’s Yiddish radio program in the 1930s.

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Why David Broza Still Has Hope for Peace

By Curt Schleier

Courtesy David Broza

David Broza is likely Israel’s most famous singer-songwriter. With a throaty Leonard Cohen sound and earthy Bruce Springsteen lyrics, Broza has recorded platinum albums and toured the world to great acclaim.

He is also among the nation’s most recognized peace advocates, a fact that fueled his most recent activities — an album, “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” (S-Curve Records), and an accompanying documentary of the same name.

The film recently aired at the Other Israel Film Festival in New York, and at the ABC Foundation Conference in Miami. It is essentially a making-of-the-album film, but also focuses on Broza’s efforts to use music to bridge the gap between Israelis and Arabs.

The concept was simple. Broza rented time at the Sabreen studio in East Jerusalem, a center of the Palestinian music scene. He gave himself eight days and eight nights to record 13 tracks heavy on a peace motif. On each he is complemented by a number of Israeli and Palestinian musicians and singers, including Mira Awad. To add a bit of American flavor he brought in Steve Greenberg and Steve Earle to produce.

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Top 4 Christian Works By Jewish Composers

By Michael Kaminer

Everyone knows that the most popular American Christmas songs were written by Jews. But like Leonard Bernstein’s “MASS,” (see my piece on the recent Queens performance here) there’s a long tradition of Jewish musicians involved in Christian-inspired music — and even a few non-Jewish composers who’ve written for the Hebrews. Here are four of the most interesting:

1. Felix Mendelssohn wrote Christian music like Symphony No. 5 “Reformation,” St. Paul Oratorio along with other chamber and vocal pieces.

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Bernstein's 'MASS' Gets Rare Performance at Queens College

By Michael Kaminer

Getty Images

In 1971, the first time Maurice Peress conducted Leonard Bernstein’s “MASS,” the monumental piece echoed the life and death of John F. Kennedy, the social upheaval of the 1960s, and the morass of Vietnam.

Spectators today might see “MASS” in a very different light — as a tragic commentary on U.S. involvement in the Middle East, according to Peress. “The geography’s different, but it’s the same issues, the same arguments of what destructive power can do,” he told the Forward.

For the first time in nearly two decades, audiences will get the chance to make those connections themselves. Bernstein’s monumental “musical pageant” will get a rare full staging at Queens College’s Kupferberg Center for the Arts on November 1 and 2.

More than 200 performers, a rock band, marching band, and full pit orchestra will convene for the performance, which Bernstein loosely based on rituals of the Roman Catholic Mass. Folk, blues, rock, gospel, jazz, and even a marching band make appearances, along with Mahlerian meditations for orchestra, Hebrew prayer, chamber music, Arabic dances, and — why not — a Chilean folk ballad.

What’s different now from the historic 1971 premiere of “MASS,” which Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had commissioned for the inauguration of Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center?

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Jay Black's 7 Favorite Songs

By Curt Schleier

Jay Black has been singing professionally for 51 of his almost 76 years. That “almost” comes out November 2. He’ll be celebrating that birthday with a pair of concerts, one at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, N.J., and the other at NYCB Theatre at Westbury on Long Island. We chatted with him about the stories behind a few of his favorite songs:

1. Where Is the Village?

Mention Jay’s Yiddish song and he immediately launches into the lyrics of “Where is the Village” (“Vu iz dos Geseleh?”). “’After the war, I returned to my village. My mother, mu father, my sister, my brother, my sweetheart, were all gone.’ It’s one of my favorites, because after I do it, the audience stands for five minutes.”

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Brothers in Minimalism Came Together at BAM

By A.J. Goldmann

Photo: Alex Rivas/Twitter

Hiney ma tov u’ma-na’im shevet achim gam yachad.” “How good and how pleasant it is when brothers sit together.” That campfire classic came to mind as I sat in the Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this month for the second of three concerts featuring Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

The two pioneering composers were appearing onstage together for the first time in nearly 40 years as part of “Nonesuch Records at BAM,” a series marking the 50th anniversary of the influential label, which ran from September 9 to 28. Nonesuch, whose founding mandate was to produce “fine records at the same price as a trade paperback,” has nurtured and promoted an extraordinarily wide and genre-crossing range of composers and musicians, from George Crumb to the Gipsy Kings, John Zorn to Wilco.

Both Reich and Glass studied composition at Juilliard and honed their musical styles in the downtown New York arts scene of the 1960s. In that symbiotic atmosphere their music, often performed in lofts and clubs, developed along similar paths. The result was what is now known as “minimalism,” a term coined by the composer — and fellow minimalist — Michael Nyman, although neither composer embraces the designation.

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12 Underappreciated Leonard Cohen Songs

By Ezra Glinter

Leonard Cohen is not a very prolific artist. In a 47-year music career he has made just 13 studio albums, along with a passel of live releases. (Compare that with Bob Dylan’s 35, or Neil Young’s 39 solo records.) But despite the relatively small size of Cohen’s catalog, it still has a lot of underappreciated gems. Here are 12 songs that seem to me to be unjustly overlooked, in honor of Cohen’s 80th year. Happy birthday, Leonard!

1. “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy,” 1969

I’ve always preferred Cohen’s first album, “Songs of Leonard Cohen,” to his second, “Songs From a Room,” partly because I’ve never been a huge fan of “Bird on a Wire,” the most famous track from the second album. But the 1969 release does have this sad and beautiful tune, one of several Cohen songs to address the subject of suicide. In this performance, from the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, he explains some of the background as well.

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How Isabel Rose Went From Acting to Writing to Music

By Curt Schleier

The first song on Isabel Rose’s new CD is “Lot of Livin’ To Do,” an especially appropriate choice. She has already packed a lot of living into her, uh, years on planet Earth.

“I don’t want to distract people,” Rose said about her age. In a phone interview with the Forward, she added, “I prefer they not focus on whether I look good for my age. That is too much of a preoccupation, too much of a distraction from a person’s work.”

As it happens, Rose has an extremely lengthy and varied body of work for a person of any age. She acted at the Williamstown Theater Festival, landing a main stage production just weeks out of school; she’s written a best-selling novel (“The J.A.P. Chronicles”) that she subsequently turned into an off-Broadway one-woman musical; she wrote the screenplay and starred in an independent film (“Anything But Love”); and, now, her new album of standards, “Trouble in Paradise,” which drops September 16.

Rose spoke to the Forward about her family — she’s the scion of the wealthy, influential and charitable New York real estate clan — about Friday night Jewish song fests, and what she wants to do when she grows up.

Curt Schleier: I read somewhere that your family prefers a low profile and wasn’t thrilled with your career choice.

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Yiddish Supergroup Pays Homage to Nathan 'Prince' Nazaroff

By Jon Kalish

Photo: Fumie Suzuki

So, there in a gazebo on the boardwalk in Coney Island are The Brothers Nazaroff, taking refuge from the steamy afternoon sun. It is 92 degrees and horribly humid outside as the five Nazaroffs start playing and singing. A Hungarian documentary crew is shooting with two cameras as the brothers sing “Lucky Jew,” so I have to be on my toes to stay out of the camera shots. My t-shirt is drenched with sweat but I realize that as awful as it is being outside in the heat and humidity, watching these spirited Yiddish musicians play their raucous repertoire does indeed make me a lucky Jew.

Billed as a “Yiddish supergroup,” The Brothers Nazaroff is a tribute band to an obscure Russian immigrant in New York known as Nathan “Prince” Nazaroff. The man is known mostly by hardcore Yiddish music lovers. He is called an outsider, though he did record an album for Moe Asch’s Folkways label in 1954 and Nazaroff promoted himself as an established entertainer. None of The Brothers Nazaroff are actually brothers or Nazaroffs. Danik Nazaroff, Pasha Nazaroff, Meyshke Nazaroff, Zaelic Nazaroff and Yankl Nazaroff are in fact Daniel Kahn of Painted Bird fame, genuine Russian Psoy Korolenko, Michael Alpert of Brave Old World, Bob Cohen of the Budapest-based Di Naye Kapelye and Jake Shulman-Ment, widely regard as one of the best working klezmer fiddlers on the planet.

Thanks to Cohen’s connections in the Hungarian arts scene, a well-funded documentary on the Nazaroff project was begun. Various Nazaroffs were flown to New York for the film, which will also shoot in Paris and Berlin, where 35 year-old Daniel Kahn is based.

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Leonard Bernstein Sculpture Unveiled at Tanglewood

By JTA

(JTA) — A bronze sculpture of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), one of the last century’s towering musical figures, was unveiled last week at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO).

Boston Symphony Orchestra/Twitter

The sculpture, by artist Penelope Jencks, is the second in a series planned depicting Tanglewood’s most iconic music figures, according to a statement issued by by the BSO. The first sculpture, also by Jencks, is of Aaron Copland, Bernstein’s teacher and mentor, who in 1940 recommended the young Bernstein for Serge Koussevitzky’s conducting class at Tanglewood.

Over the next 50 years, Bernstein, who went on to lead the New York Philharmonic, and later conducted around the world, frequently in Israel, became a highly-anticipated presence at the renowned music center, known for its pastoral scenery. “Tanglewood has always been, and will continue to be, the spiritual home of Leonard Bernstein,” said composer and Academy Award winner John Williams, whose donation to the BSO is funding the sculpture series. A courtyard at the music center is named after Bernstein.

The themes of many of Bernstein’s scores, including his Kaddish Symphony and Chichester Psalms, reflected his Jewish roots. The son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrant parents, Bernstein wrote of the early musical influence of Solomon Braslavsky, the European-born and trained vocal director and organist at Boston’s Congregation Mishkan Tefila, the family’s synagogue.

Bernstein, who taught at Brandeis University from 1951 through 1956, launched the school’s Festival of Creative Arts in 1951 and served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1976 to 81. He performed frequently in Israel, notably during the country’s founding years and during the 1967 Six-Day War. At age 70, Bernstein was named conductor laureate of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Bernstein was also a prolific composer for Broadway, with the musical “West Side Story” his most famous Broadway show.

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Holocaust Victim, Artist Charlotte Salomon's Life Premieres as Opera

By Michael Roddy

Photo: Salzburger Festspiele / Ruth Walz

(Reuters) — The Berlin-born Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon left behind a body of watercolors and text she called “Life? or Theater?” before she was killed at Auschwitz in 1943 at age 26, carrying her unborn child.

Salomon’s life, which has inspired films, plays and a musical, was turned into an opera that plumbed the depths of human emotion in its premiere on Monday at the Salzburg Festival in Austria.

With music by French composer Marc-Andre Dalbavie, staging by Swiss director Luc Bondy and libretto by German-Jewish author Barbara Honigmann, who used 85 percent of Salomon’s own text, the work was the season’s most anticipated opera at the prestigious festival in the city of Mozart’s birth.

It did not disappoint.

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Sephardic Legend Flory Jagoda Keeps Singing at 90

By Menachem Wecker

Photo: Tom Pich

Soon after she assumed the makeshift stage during her July 16 performance at the Washington D.C. JCC, Flory Jagoda, 90, lit a candle. “Sephardic women always believed in light, in a candle,” she told the audience of about 125 people. “With these candles,” the Bosnian-born artist sang in Ladino, “We pray to God … to grant us a healthy life.”

A few songs later, however, an accidental thrust of the guitar sent the candle flying, and for a split second before it was clear whether a firefighting team would need to be summoned, the assembly’s collective heart skipped a beat. “Let’s just sing,” said Susan Gaeta, one of the two musicians accompanying Jagoda, defusing the mood.

The candle was encased in a glass box, so catastrophic danger probably wasn’t too likely. And Jagoda, for her part, has seen music do the exact opposite of destroy. “I did save myself with music,” she said, recounting her parents placing her alone on a train out of Croatia in 1941. “Don’t open your mouth,” her father had told her. “Just play your harmonica.” (Throughout the performance, Jagoda used the word “harmonica” to refer to an accordion.)

At 90, Jagoda appears to have a healthy sense of humor about her performances. In response to a false start on one song, where the trio wasn’t in the same key, she told the audience, “You know at my age, I don’t hear good.” Eying her colleague Howard Bass, she said, “He’s going to play beforehand, which is good, because it leaves me a good in.” Without batting an eye, Bass told her, “I’m just playing what you wrote!”

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Tommy Ramone, Jewish Punk Icon, Dies at 65

By Michael Kaminer

Getty Images

As Thomas Erdelyi, he was the Budapest-born son of Holocaust survivors who settled in Forest Hills, Queens.

But as Tommy Ramone, he became the leather-jacketed, rhythm-slashing backbone of The Ramones, arguably one of the most influential bands of the late 20th century.

Ramone, the last surviving original member of the band, died July 11 of bile duct cancer at his home in Ridgewood Queens. He was 65.

The Ramones first came together in 1974, at the height of California-rock flab and music-business excess.

Erdelyi, who had worked as a record producer beginning in his teens, was going to be the band’s manager and was helping audition drummers when the group was forming in 1974, according to the Washington Post.

When none of them could follow the Ramones’ style, he picked up the sticks himself, learned to play drums on the job, and became Tommy Ramone. He was also widely credited with creating the band’s signature look — leather jackets, huge mops of hair, and, for himself, omnipresent sunglasses.

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A Mandolin Orchestra's Labor Roots

By Jon Kalish

Photo courtesy New York Mandolin orchestra

On June 1 the New York Mandolin Orchestra will celebrate its 90th anniversary at a concert in Manhattan. The repertoire ranges from a Vivaldi concerto to St. Louis Blues. Founded in 1924 by a Russian Jew named Samuel Firstman, the orchestra was initially affiliated with the Jewish communist newspaper Freiheit. For a time it performed both the national anthem and the socialist Internationale at its concerts.

“All these people had come from Europe and it was part of their culture. They believed in a larger culture,” says Bill Knapp, a concertina player who was a card-carrying member of the Wobblies and played with the orchestra for more than 30 years. “It was very important to them that they play this music, that they learn it, they pass it on.”

Among the New York Mandolin Orchestra’s alumnae are the bluegrass virtuoso Barry Mitterhoff, who was given his first mandolin by his aunt Sylvia Reuben who had played in a mandolin orchestra in Newark, New Jersey. Mitterhoff, who now performs with the acoustic music group Hot Tuna, joined the New York Mandolin Orchestra in 1976 and served as its concertmaster for 12 years. He’ll participate in the concert on Sunday.

“By the time I got involved in 1976, there were very few, quote, unquote younger players, which included anybody under 50,” Mitterhoff told the Forward. “Most of the members were senior citizens and some of them were couples. They all worked in factories and sweatshops.

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The Jew Who Fell in Love With Wagner

By Judy Maltz

(Haaretz) — The music of German composer Richard Wagner was never played in his parents’ home: Too many bad associations with Hitler and the Nazis, explains filmmaker Hilan Warshaw.

So it wasn’t until he began playing violin in a New York City youth orchestra that Warshaw was first introduced to the work of the notoriously anti-Semitic 19th-century German opera composer. And rather embarrassingly, he found himself smitten.

“I just loved the music. But, at the same time, it was something that my conscious mind told me was anathema,” he recalls.

Over the years, Warshaw – whose family lost many relatives during the Holocaust – developed what he describes as a “push-pull relationship” with Hitler’s favorite composer. And it made him curious about the other Jews in Wagner’s life.

So curious, in fact, that he decided to devote the past several years to making a film on the subject. The fruit of that effort, “Wagner’s Jews,” is playing in Tel Aviv at the Docaviv festival, Israel’s premier event for documentary film.

Produced, directed and written by Warshaw, the feature-length film focuses on the Jews who were some of Wagner’s closest associates, among them the gifted young pianist Carl Tausig, who was almost like a son to him; the conductor Hermann Levi, who happened to be the son of a rabbi; and the pianist Joseph Rubinstein, who lived in Wagner’s home for many years and killed himself when the composer died.

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Jerusalem Chamber Festival Fills Gap in Berlin

By A.J. Goldmann

Photo: Monika Rittershaus

This past weekend saw the third installment of the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival at the Berlin Jewish Museum. The brainchild of Russian pianist Elena Bashkirova, the festival comprised over 40 musical pieces spread over six very full concert programs, featuring an enviable array of international musical talent, including many Israeli performers.

The festival, which ran this year from May 7 – 11, fills a gap in Berlin’s musical landscape. “Berlin, with all its multitude of musical events, doesn’t have a chamber music festival,” Bashkirova explained. “It has a lot of great concerts and everyone plays here, but there isn’t an actual festival. So, I think there was a great interest from the public. And now we’re doing it for the third time and I’m very happy.” Judging from the generous attendance for the three concerts I attended, it seems that the festival is indeed catering to a demand felt by this city’s musically inclined.

At first glance, the title is likely to confuse. The festival director explained the Berlin series’ connection to an older, more established musical event in Israel. “This festival is like the little brother of the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival,” Bashkirova said referring to the festival she founded in 1998 and is held every September in Jerusalem. “We are doing programs that are very similar to in Jerusalem and the people who play are mostly the same,” she explains.

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Reform and Conservative Come Together in Song

By Menachem Wecker

When 31 students from Jewish Theological Seminary’s H.L. Miller Cantorial School and Hebrew Union College’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music perform together on May 4, the concert will be the first interdenominational collaboration of this sort that David Tilman can remember.

Years ago, there were “very significant” differences between the Conservative and Reform movements, but recent years have seen a narrowing gap, says Tilman, associate professor at the Miller Cantorial School and hazzan emeritus at Beth Sholom Congregation of Elkins Park, PA.

Both JTS and HUC teach musicianship; prayer modes (nusach) for the weekdays, Sabbath, festivals and High Holidays; biblical cantillation; and Jewish musical history, he says, and both schools require students to learn guitar, “recognizing the importance of this instrument as an effective teaching tool for children, teenagers, and adults.”

JTS and HUC share music faculty, such as Jacob Mendelson and Joyce Rosenzweig, who will co-conduct the concert with Tilman. Bruce Ruben, the director of HUC’s music school, is a JTS alumnus, and Henry Rosenblum, JTS’s former dean, teaches at HUC.

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VIDEO: Jazz Genius in the City of Light

By Jon Kalish

A friend of klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer recently stumbled on a mention of Behcet’s Syndrome, a medical disorder involving inflammation of the blood vessels. He joked that Krakauer seems to be suffering from Bechet’s Syndrome, an obsession with the American reeds player Sidney Bechet, who received great acclaim in the late 1940s. Krakauer has let it be known that he has idolized Bechet ever since he was 11, when his parents gave him one of the great clarinetist/saxophonist’s LPs, and has called Bechet the teacher he never met.

Krakauer covers Bechet’s “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” on his “The Big Picture” CD and the live show based on the album. Film buffs may know the tune from Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” Krakauer’s wailing clarinet is heard on the track improvising over funk guitar lines. He told the Forward that it was a daunting task to cover a Bechet piece, though Krakauer paid tribute to Bechet in a rollocking 1997 composition titled “Klezmer Ala Bechet.”

We’re proud to debut the latest video for Krakauer’s Big Picture project here. Created by Matt Esolda, a video wiz at Manhattan’s Light of Day production company, it starts with an Oscar Wilde quote: “When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” Esolda mixes grainy color footage of Paris from the early 1950s with more quotes about the City of Light from Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Man Ray, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Enjoy.

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Forgotten Songwriter of 'Twist and Shout'

By Michael Kaminer

“Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Piece of My Heart.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.”

The songs are recognized almost everywhere. But their Jewish creator, Bert Berns, has nearly vanished into obscurity.

That should change this year, with a book, documentary, and stage musical — all inspired by Berns and his music. April 15 sees the release of Joel Selvin’s “Here Comes The Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues” (Counterpoint); in June, the off-Broadway musical “Piece of My Heart” will open at the Pershing Square Signature Theater in Manhattan. And a documentary on Berns is slated for distribution this fall.

Other Brill Building songwriters may have had the glory, but few influenced pop music as much as Berns. He stewarded the early careers of Neil Diamond and Van Morrison, co-founded Bang Records with music-industry heavyweights Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, and recorded with legends like the Isley Brothers, the Drifters, and Ben E. King. And none other than Sir Paul McCartney extolled Berns and his music in a recent video posted on Time.com.

The son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants, Berns contracted rheumatic fever as a child, which ultimately caused his death from a heart defect in 1967. His son, Brett, and daughter, Cassandra, are now overseeing the multimedia celebration of their father and his work.

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Chicago Concert Brings Interfaith Music Together

By Menachem Wecker

“This sanctuary is the most religiously diverse place in this great city,” said Michael Siegel, the rabbi of Anshe Emet, a Conservative synagogue in Chicago.

If that sounds like crowing, consider that conspicuous among the attendees of the synagogue’s April 6 “Sounds of Faith” concert were kippas, Greek Orthodox vestments, and headscarves.

The program, which packed the synagogue’s 1,100-capacity main sanctuary, featured Koranic recitations, Old Testament cantillation, and monastic chants. Musicians ranged from the choirs of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church and Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation to the Islamic Foundation Children’s Choir and Anshe Emet cantor [Alberto Mizrahi and Temple Sholom of Chicago (Reform) cantor Aviva Katzman.

“The greatest thing that happens at this concert is community building. There are divides and there are people who say ‘We should never get together,’ and ‘Oh my God! The Koran was being read on a Bima of a synagogue?!’” said Mizrahi in an interview. “Well they’re not used to hearing the ‘Sim Shalom’ of [Max] Janowski either.”

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