Kineret Brokman of West Caldwell and Ilan Kaplan of Springfield — both graduates of Golda Och Academy in West Orange — were among the 17 members of the Chai Notes, Cornell University’s Jewish a cappella group, who entertained at the White House Hanukka party the evening of Dec. 9.
The group performed for guests for over two hours and, at a private meeting with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, sang a brief rendition of “Et Rikod” (“Time to Dance”). They also met the Jewish Supreme Court justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Cornell, class of ’54), Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer.
The White House Hanukka party, now in its 15th year, is held in the grand foyer. The Maccabeats, the a cappella ensemble originally formed as a Yeshiva University group, entertained at a holiday reception in the afternoon.
In the evening, before the lighting of the menora, President Obama wished the gathering “Happy Hanukka” and asked guests to “acknowledge and give it up for the Chai Notes.”
The Chai Notes perform songs in Hebrew and English, ranging from traditional liturgy to R&B, and intersperse their performances with skits, directed by Kaplan, class of ’17.
For Brokman, class of ’18, being a member of a Jewish a cappella group has been a longtime dream. “When I was eight, my older brother joined a Jewish a cappella group at Brandeis University, and I was their biggest fan,” she said. “And so when I came to college, I knew I wanted to join a Jewish a cappella group.
“It’s been everything I’ve always wanted,” Brokman said. “Not only are we making great music and connecting ourselves to our traditions, but we have gotten as close as family; we are the best of friends, so it’s really been a great experience.”
Performing at the White House, she said, was “surreal.” The invited guests, including the Obamas, were “bopping along and really enjoying themselves. We got to shake their hands, and they inquired about our lives as students.”
The Chai Notes “worked so hard on this, spending long hours in rehearsal to perfect our sound and performance, and it really paid off,” Brokman said. “I am so proud of what our group has accomplished, and we are so excited that we can share this experience with our family, friends, and our communities.”
Kaplan said that the Chai Notes “never sounded better. The acoustics were great, and people passing by constantly stopped to take pictures or video or just listen.” He said he was “struck by how nice everyone was. The Obamas and the Supreme Court justices were very complimentary. I had a sense of a really Jewish welcoming environment.”