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How HaZamir youth choir serves as ‘an on-ramp to Jewish life’



(New York Jewish Week) — All across the country, groups of Jewish teenagers meet each week to rehearse as a choir. In groups as small as two and as large as 18, they gather in synagogue basements, Jewish community centers, senior centers and even churches to sing together. For many, it’s their only involvement with Jewish life. 

These 450 young people, who range in age from 13 to 18, are members of HaZamir, an international choir for Jewish high school students. With 26 chapters in the United States and 10 in Israel, they convene each year for a spring concert in New York City. 

But this coming concert — to be held on Sunday, March 19, at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall — will be different than most years. This weekend’s celebration, which includes more than 300 student and alumni singers, will commemorate HaZamir’s 30th birthday as well as the 75th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel.  

“The idea behind the creation of HaZamir was to give Jewish teenagers the opportunity to have a high-level music experience and to express their Jewish selves and their music selves,” said Mati Lazar, HaZamir’s conductor and founder. “At that point, and even now, [that] is not really a given.” 

Sunday’s concert will include performances by the entire ensemble, as well as songs performed by the Israeli cohort and members of the Chamber Choir, an elite group of HaZamir singers. (Students have to audition to join HaZamir, and select singers are invited to audition for the Chamber Choir.) The highlight is always the “senior song” — “Yachad Na’Amod” (“Together We Stand”) — that closes out the concert, said Vivian Lazar, Mati’s wife and the director of HaZamir.

“This is a problem with any high school teacher — you fall in love with your 12th graders,” Vivian told the New York Jewish Week. “They’re adults already. They’re smart, and they’re intuitive and then they leave you. For the last verse, they put their arms around each other. Some of them don’t sing because they’re crying so hard.”

HaZamir singers at the 2013 Gala Concert. (Courtesy HaZamir)

Mati Lazar, who declined to provide his age, founded HaZamir in 1993 as the high school arm of the Zamir Chorale, a professional Hebrew-language choir and Jewish choral performance group in North America that was established in 1960. A native of Brooklyn, he had been a member of Zamir Chorale as a teenager, and wanted to create an opportunity for other young people to have the same experience. 

Starting with just one small chapter in New York — which Mati personally ran — he watched it grow, and grow, over the next three decades. “I knew it would be important — I knew it would evolve into what it has evolved into,” Mati said. “The surprise for me was how successful it would be in Israel.” The first Israeli chapter was founded in 2006.

He is also the founder and director of Zamir Choral Foundation, the umbrella organization that operates HaZamir and Zamir Chorale, as well as a choir for middle schoolers and a choir for young adults in their 20s and 30s.

Though HaZamir is an extracurricular activity for these high schoolers, the Lazars place serious demands on their members. “We empower these teenagers,” Vivian Lazar said. “When they go and have free time together, they’re kids. When they’re sitting in rehearsal, we treat them like professionals, and so they behave that way.”

As a result, participating in the choir can often become a lifelong commitment — and sometimes even a family affair. Sophie Lee Landau grew up in New York listening to her mother perform as a member of Zamir Chorale. Landau joined HaZamir in seventh grade and stayed with the group throughout high school. In college, she became a member of Zamir Chorale for a number of years until she moved out of New York in 2015.

For the past six years, Landau, 29, has been the conductor for the Houston-based chapter of HaZamir. “It’s an opportunity to connect with your peers who have come from a similar faith and to connect more to Jewish text,” Landau told the New York Jewish Week. “It’s really special to be able to give [students] an outlet to connect to their heritage and to find peers and friendships with similar interests and similar backgrounds. It’s about not feeling like you’re alone.”

HaZamir singers performed a concert at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to commemorate the one year anniversary of the deadly shooting that took the lives of 11 synagogue members. (Courtesy HaZamir)

The Lazars see the choir as “an on-ramp to Jewish life” with an emphasis on pluralism, community and Zionism. HaZamir is not designed to be religious, Vivian explained, though she suggested that singing together in harmony is often a spiritual experience. 

However, “to be Jewish is to be literate,” Vivian said, adding part of being in the choir and learning to sing the Hebrew music includes learning the texts and their meanings.

“The more you know about your history and your tradition and your culture, the better human being you can be,” Vivian said she tells her students. 

For participants, these principles culminate during “Festival,” a Shabbat sleepover that takes place in the days leading up to the annual concert. This year, the group will congregate at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel in Tarrytown, New York.

“Festival” is the first time chapters from around the world meet after having rehearsed the same songs as individual groups throughout the year. “It is a spiritual kind of experience singing music together: You’re breathing together, you’re thinking about the same text at the same time, and you’re making harmony,” Mati Lazar said. “All differences really subside.”

According to Landau, the weekend is especially rewarding for participants who hail from smaller Jewish communities. “This is the one opportunity for the kids to all get together,” she said. “Once you get together and you sing with 300 other kids, the sound is overwhelming. It’s the thing that they look forward to most, after working hard all year they finally get to put it all together and hear what the music can do.”

Over 400 students attended HaZamir’s “Festival” in 2019. (Courtesy HaZamir)

Though it’s meant to be a rehearsal boot camp for the teenagers, Festival also aims to nurture the cross-country and international friendships that are made on Zoom throughout the year. Activities include a Thursday-night jam session, hours of rehearsals during the day and a range of Shabbat services on Friday night and Saturday morning — egalitarian, Orthodox, Reform, and all-women services are among the options. For many participants, Vivian said, it’s the first time they can explore these different types of Jewish religious expression. 

For Milo Shaklan, a senior in HaZamir’s Brooklyn chapter, whose ninth and tenth grade concerts were canceled due to COVID-19,  going to Festival and the Gala concert for the first time last year was “a moment of understanding,” he said. 

“I got to connect with all these other Jews,” Shaklan said. “I had no idea how big the community was. When I’m interacting with people in my synagogue community, I am interacting with people who more or less observe like me. At HaZamir, I’m interacting with Americans who are less observant than me and Americans who are more observant than me, and then Israelis who are both more and less observant than me.”

Landau concurs. “To be able to establish such a network is really incredible, and that’s why this weekend is so important,” she said. 

For the Lazars, it’s alumni like Landau — who has maintained a long-term relationship with the choir — who are the biggest reward for the efforts. This year, 14 HaZamir alumni are now conductors of their own chapters, and all HaZamir alumni will be invited on stage to sing during the second half of the two-hour concert. 

“It’ll be a very, very beautiful moment,” said Vivian.

The HaZamir 30th Anniversary Concert will take place on March 19 at 3:00 pm. Buy tickets here. 

The post How HaZamir youth choir serves as ‘an on-ramp to Jewish life’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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