Virginia Jewish Choral Celebration combines congregations

by | Oct 20, 2014 | What’s Happening

Sunday, Nov. 16, 3:30 pm, Congregation Beth Ahabah, Richmond

Jewish choral groups from across the central and southern regions of Virginia will perform as a single choir, in the first-ever Virginia Jewish Choral Celebration at Richmond’s Beth Ahabah. The event is free and open to the public.

The Virginia Jewish Choral Celebration will bring together singers from at least five synagogues: Congregation Beth Israel (Charlottesville), Congregation Beth Ahabah (Richmond), Temple Emmanuel (Roanoke), Congregation Agudath Sholom (Lynchburg), and Ohef Sholom Temple (Norfolk). Four choral directors will contribute their talents directing the choir: Sharon McCord (Charlottesville), Naomi Amos (Lynchburg), Natan Berenshteyn (Richmond) and Charles Woodward (Norfolk).

“After participating in the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) Biennial Choir, I wanted to bring that experience home to the people who were not able to attend,” says Jan Levin, a member of Agudath Sholom, who, together with Ken Roeper, a member of Congregation Beth Ahabah, has spearheaded the initiative.

The Virginia Jewish Choral Celebration program includes an assortment of sacred and secular works in a range of musical settings. Ono Adonai, by early 20th century composer, educator and director Max Helfman, offers a classic rendering of a soulful prayer from the S’lichot service, a set of penitential prayers said prior to the High Holidays and other Jewish fast days. By contrast, Sing, Sing, Sing, a 1997 composition by noted jazz musician and Goucher College president Jose Bowen, though based on Psalm 98, has a decidedly modern flair. Finally, Seekers of Peace, by Jewish composer, pianist and educator Simon Sargon, which takes its text from the sacred book Sayings of the Fathers, is peaceful and contemplative in tone.

Several of the non-liturgically based program selections may be familiar to many, including a lush choral setting of the popular Israeli song Erev Shel Shoshanim, arranged by Jack Klebanow, and an imaginative four-part rendering of the Hebrew folk song Hine Ma Tov by New York City-based composer and educator Neil Ginsberg. Attendees will also be treated to the haunting Eili, Eili, a soulful poem left behind by Hannah Senesh, a heroic young woman who gave her life to free other Jews after escaping Nazi Europe. The work is arranged for four voices by London-born Canadian composer Steven Glass.

Also featured in the program are original compositions and arrangements by three of the directors. Sharon McCord, director of the Chutzpah choir from Congregation Beth Israel, who arranged the Debbie Friedman song Not by Might, explains, “This song blends the biblical message from Zachariah that a world of peace comes not from might or power, but from a joyful spirit.”

Naomi Amos, High Holiday choral director at Agudath Sholom, will direct her composition To Olga, a contemporary choral setting of a poem written in the Theresienstadt concentration camp by a young Holocaust survivor, Alena Sunkova. A third original work, Le Dor va Dor, by Natan Berenshteyn, choral director at Congregation Beth Ahabah, offers a choral setting of a liturgical text expressing the strength of the ties of the Jewish people to God across the generations.

The Virginia Jewish Choral Celebration choir is expected to include more than 60 singers. The program includes nine choral pieces presented with commentary by the directors and will run about an hour.

Congregation Beth Ahabah is located at 1111 W Franklin Street in Richmond.

For more information, contact Ken Roeper at or Jan Levin at