East meets Middle East at Temple Israel

by | Feb 28, 2014 | Other News

Lei Lei and Lily Berz.

Lei Lei and Lily Berz.

Last month, the Jewish new moon ceremony coincided with the Chinese New Year. So, Temple Israel and the United Hebrew School celebrated.

Rabbi Michael Panitz says that by pairing Rosh Chodesh and the Chinese holiday, “Our members came away with a better understanding of the building blocks of the Jewish calendar. Living in our multi-cultural society, Jews can find that celebrating with others does not dilute our own culture. It can actually raise our consciousness of our own contribution to the many-colored quilt of modern life.”

And many-colored it was, with performers and visitors in bright Chinese dresses, with oriental streamers and decorations hanging from the ceiling and with a spread of eggrolls, latkes and auspiciously bright tangerines.

The program featured the two cultures of symphony cellist Lei Lei Berz, who is originally from Xi’an Province, China. A member of Congregation Beth El, Lei Lei is a frequent contributor to the musical world of Temple Israel—she performed Kol Nidrei on her cello on Yom Kippur and held a fundraiser there in the autumn to help the public schools’ music program. On Feb. 1, she returned to join Rabbi Panitz making music of delight and thanksgiving.

“I enjoy the beautiful traditions of both my Jewish and Chinese cultures,” she says. “It’s wonderful that they share the Lunar Calendar.” With daughter Lily, she performed the Friedman melody for the havdallah brachot, while children of the United Hebrew School led the prayers.

Rabbi Panitz also tickled the ivories on Jewish songs trading off with Lei Lei when she played Chinese folk tunes on the Mongolian horsehead fiddle and the Ehru. The middle of the program also drew on the skills of younger daughter Amelia, as the versatile Berz family fascinated the gathering of 100 adults and students with a shadow puppet presentation of Chinese folk tales.

Finishing the evening, a string of five children became a Chinese dragon, wending their sinuous way through the crowd to the rhythms of a hand gong. Party-goers were slow to leave at the end of the evening, wanting to know more. Like the Jews who have lived in China for many centuries, they wished one another “Mazel Tov in this Year of the Horse.”

Party coordinator and UHS principal Becky Winstead says, “We are very lucky to have community members and leaders who see the enormous value in bringing together people of different cultures to learn and celebrate.”

by Kathryn Morton