Concert for social justice brings communities together

by | Feb 13, 2020 | Other News

Cantor Jennifer Rueben.

Ohef Sholom Temple saw the climax of its 175th year celebration on Sunday, January 19, with a concert featuring two of the qualities the congregation is most proud of—the vigor of its dedication to social justice through civic outreach, and the joy of music as a fount of inspiration.

Cantor Jennifer Rueben and Music Director Charles Woodward designed a free public program of songs about freedom and justice. They invited Pastor Sharon S. Riley of The Faith Deliverance Christian Center to help narrate the event and that church’s 25-person choir to share in making the music. Nearly 200 people attended the concert and enjoyed a lavish reception afterward.

In the weeks of preparation, the two musical groups at first rehearsed alone, led by their respective music leaders, Charles Woodward and Sister Angie Caree. Then they came together to practice blending. Church members were undaunted as they launched into Hebrew lyrics for a shared song about crossing the sea to freedom. And Jewish and Protestant singers together polished up the Latin phrase in the middle of a song about how we all need love.

Among those offering brief remarks introducing the various sections of the program were Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg, Terri D. Budman, OST president, and Alice Titus, OST Archivist, who noted that community not only enriches the experiences of individuals, but that coming together makes possible things that otherwise cannot exist at all. As she said, “You can’t sing harmony by yourself.” Proving the point, the women of the combined choirs brought the house down singing a four-part round about love, while Maestro Woodward at the piano played Pachelbel’s Canon making a fifth layer to the complex rhythms and interlacing lyrics.

On that weekend when the nation celebrates the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Pastor Sharon Riley read with passion the “I Have a Dream” speech. Then, the OST choir sang a setting of those words which featured three of the leading vocal soloists of Tidewater, soprano Anna Feucht, alto Kathryn Kelly, and tenor/baritone Doug Lynch and Max Holman. WHRO-FM’s Wayla Chambo accompanied on her flute and Cantor Jennifer Rueben sang lead solos.

An unexpected presentation came from Don Victor Mooney, president of HR 1242 Resilience Project. He presented a tube to Ohef Sholom Temple that was chronicled in Times of Israel for Holocaust Awareness. The tube had been mounted aboard Mooney’s rowboat on a journey he took from Africa to New York in 2015. “In light of today’s rising anti-Semitism, it’s our prayerful hope that this tube will reaffirm the solidarity between African-Americans and the Jewish community and turn the tide against hate,” Mooney said.

After the concert, around the plates of bagelNutz, cookies, and fresh strawberries, debates arose between those who thought that the presentation of the King speech in words and in song was the highlight of the day. Some countered that the ultimate sense of the occasion happened when approximately 200 elders, children, African-Americans, whites, Jews, Christians, and afternoon visitors together let their voices soar with We Shall Overcome. For others yet, the emotional high came early, when the Deliverance Church Choir rejoiced the gospel song Work On, Pray On!, and the heretofore dignified Steinway leapt to life in the hands of 19-year-old, sometimes church organist, Malaki Frazier. He started learning piano at age three and recently picked up the flute, and accompanied some of the songs with his violin. Drums and brass will be his next challenges. He spent the social time accepting compliments and answering questions. All agreed that the event was spirited and heartwarming, and thus a fitting end to the synagogue’s year-long celebration.

– Kathryn Morton