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‘Mercenaries for Jesus’: Christmas is a busy time for Jews who sing in churches 



(New York Jewish Week) — “Jesus is a paycheck,” said Rob Orbach, one of the many classically trained Jewish vocalists who perform Christian sacred songs in churches across New York City.  

“There’s a lot of money to be made in churches, especially in New York,” Orbach, 30, who lives in West Harlem, told the New York Jewish Week. “It’s a competitive gig. It’s challenging. We have to be perfect.” 

It’s the Christmas season, which means churches throughout the city will be presenting holiday music during worship services and in concerts. And because churches don’t discriminate when hiring professionals for their choirs — and New York City has a surplus of Jewish musicians — many of the singers and instrumentalists bringing comfort and joy, comfort and joy, will be Jewish.

“There are lots of Jews all over the church scene,” Maya Ben-Meir, an Israeli singer who has nine years of experience singing in churches, told the New York Jewish Week. “These churches have stellar ensembles. They hire only professionals and perform magnificently beautiful music. Why wouldn’t I go for this type of job?”

While Christmas may be the busy season, singing in a church is one of the rare jobs for professional singers that is “a steady source of income for most of the year,” she added.

Jewish singer Rob Orbach, 30, performs as part of a church choir in 2021. (Courtesy)

David Gordon, 49, a singer who lives in Manhattan and has more than 20 years of experience singing professionally in churches, estimates that there are hundreds of Jewish singers in church choirs all across New York during this holiday season.

“My choir right now, there are a dozen paid members, and nearly half of them are Jewish, and so is the woman who plays the piano,” said Gordon, who, like other singers interviewed for this article, was hesitant to name the churches where he works.  

Gordon, who said that “he’s not very religious” but celebrates the Jewish holidays with his family, told the New York Jewish Week that just this week, he sang a jazz nativity scene and received a call “to ring for the ‘Messiah’” — that is, Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio, a staple of the Christmas season.

“Everybody I know talks about how many ‘Messiahs’ they’re going to have to pay their bills in December,” Gordon said. “It’s a huge part of the career at a certain level.” 

He added that he sees himself as “a mercenary for Jesus” — and the outsider angle of a Jew coming into a church to sing Christian worship music is not lost on him.  

“There were times where I did not feel welcomed,” Gordon said. “There’s this overlap of ‘We don’t really want you here because you’re a mercenary, you’re getting paid to be here.’”

He said he once heard a pastor say during a sermon that “it’s the fault of the Jews that Jesus was killed the way that he was killed,” Gordon said — a historic charge that the Catholic Church and other denominations have tried to quash.

“It’s something that occasionally comes up,” Gordon said. “Just the sort of standard institutional and relatively harmless antisemitism that’s just part of the Christian tradition.” 

Stephanie Horowitz, 41, a Reform Jew who has sung in churches for years on Long Island, told the New York Jewish Week about how she has heard “upsetting things” while working in church choirs.  

She described an experience of when the story of Jesus’ crucifixion was told during a service. “This particular church used a translation that was very incendiary towards the Jewish people,” Horowitz said. “It was very clear that they’re trying to send the message that the Jews of the time were responsible for his death, without clarifying that this doesn’t mean we need to hold Jewish people today responsible.” 

She added that in another experience, a pastor was giving a sermon about how “the Messiah will be a successful man.”

The pastor “said that, to a Jewish person, a successful man means a rich man,” Horowitz said. “I literally almost stood up and left. The musical director, afterwards, asked if I was OK.” 

Meanwhile, Ben-Meir, who grew up secular, said that she was “fortunate enough to work in churches where I didn’t feel antisemitism directed toward me.” 

“Everyone knew that I was Jewish,” Ben-Meir said, who is taking a break from singing in churches this season to travel with her partner. “It was never a secret.” 

Horowitz explained that when one studies classical music, all roads lead to the church, as Western composers such as Bach, Haydn and Handel led church ensembles and wrote through a Christian lens.  

“One of the few places that value musical tonality is the church,” Horowitz said. “I’m obviously not busy on Christmas anyway, so it works out.” 

(The custom, it should be noted, goes the other way as well: Some synagogues hire non-Jewish singers and instrumentalists for their choirs. One rabbi even weighed in on whether the practice was permissible.)

And yet, it may seem that for a Jewish person, who is somewhat religious, who celebrates holidays, who grew up around all the Jewish customs, may have trouble singing Christian worship music.  

Orbach, who identifies as culturally Jewish, said it is “very easy to separate” his Jewish religion from Christianity when he sings in churches. However, he recalled a time when a church leader asked him to read prayers outside of the rehearsed song.  

“As much as I’m not religiously Jewish, that was the line for me,” Orbach said. “I said to them in my interview that I am Jewish.” 

Ben-Meir said she never “considered myself to be Christian” while singing in churches. 

“It’s a job,” Ben-Meir said. “I always felt that what I was doing when I was singing was bringing joy to the congregants themselves. That, to me, is a form of service, and I don’t necessarily ascribe religiousness to the service.” 

Gordon, who is also an actor and teaches acting classes, said that when he performs Christian worship songs as a Jew, it’s similar to when he “checks his ethics at the door when playing a misogynist in an opera.” 

“I check my personal feelings aside,” Gordon said. “That’s what I’m paid to do. I just take on the character and the intention of the text, and I’m always glad when an audience is with me, and I’m able to affect them. I don’t really care how.”

He added that there are times when he’d prefer to sing other songs and play other characters that don’t “support the structure of the church.”

“We all have to make compromises as artists,” Gordon said.

Horowitz said that there are plenty of positive experiences involved with singing in the church, and looks forward to taking part in her professional Christmas carol trio, The Jewel Tones, that gets consistent work throughout the holidays. 

“Most of the time, it’s really nice,” Horowitz said. “I feel like I’m helping them practice their religion, and there is something beautiful in that. I’m helping them get closer to God.” 

The post ‘Mercenaries for Jesus’: Christmas is a busy time for Jews who sing in churches  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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