This spring, an interfaith concert for peace will be sowing what the organizers hope are new seeds of harmony. The event, taking place at Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange on Sunday, April 2, will bring together over 130 singers and musicians from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim backgrounds to perform a repertoire that celebrates all three faiths and more.
Cantor Erica Lippitz of Oheb Shalom, a prime mover behind the event, said that when the concept arose back in 2015, “we had no idea that it would be so relevant.” The current political climate, she added, has shown in stark terms the importance of fighting bigotry and instead building mutual caring and respect.
Inspiration for the event, according to Lippitz, came from internationally renowned choral authority Dr. Joshua Jacobson, the founder of the Zamir Chorale of Boston and professor of music and director of choral activities at Northeastern University.
“Choruses are a model of the ideal community: a community of expression, in which through our differences we create harmony. By creating an ebb and flow of musical dissonance and consonance, we learn to disagree and agree,” wrote Jacobson in an email exchange with NJJN.
Jacobson said he hopes that the message of the afternoon will be “contagious, and that our musical model will be an inspiration.”
The event celebrates the value of differences and the beauty of otherness, he added. “Our upcoming program brings together music and people who come from differing cultures, differing religions, differing politics. We are attempting to create harmony and counterpoint that transcends these differences.”
Jacobson will serve as guest conductor and narrator for the program, which includes some of his original work.
The offerings range from his “Ani V’Atah” and “Adinu: A Sufi Song,” arranged by Shireen Abu-Khader and Andre De Quadros, to the traditional “Dona Nobis Pacem” and an excerpt of Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms.”
The concert will feature the Harmonium Choral Society under the direction of Anne Matlack, the Kol Dodi Community Chorale of MetroWest NJ, Voices in Harmony of Essex County, and the St. Andrew & Holy Communion and Morrow Church choirs, joined by 14 guest singers and instrumentalists. They include Zafer Tawil, Amir Vahab, and Peri Smilow. Joining Lippitz will be guest cantors Perry Fine, Meredith Greenberg, and Benjie-Ellen Schiller.
Some of the performers, talking with NJJN at a recent rehearsal, described the joy emerging from sharing their varied music. They are hoping their audience is similarly inspired.
Cheri Dworkin said she hadn’t sung for many years, and in 2015, when she decided to do it again, she researched available groups to find one with the values and the type of music she wanted. “Of all of them, this was really a great fit,” she said of Kol Dodi. “It enriches all our lives.”
“I’m a musical Jew,” said singer Jim Peskin, who described himself as a “newbie,” having only joined Kol Dodi about five years ago when he settled in the South Orange area. He was attracted, he said, by both the repertoire and ideals of the group.
Peskin described the power of music in an email to NJJN. “Music comes from the heavens and has no better place than settling in the heart” and transforming into a wild peace, he wrote. “Wild Peace: Suddenly…Like Wildflowers” is the concert’s title.
The April event is the second concert sponsored by the Solkoff Eskin family in memory of their son Jonah, who died 22 years ago at the age of 15. As with the first event two years ago, it honors his affinity for people regardless of race or ethnicity. Speaking at the rehearsal, his mother Marcia said of Jonah, “Judging people by the color of their skin was an anathema to him.” Jonah also loved music, and played the clarinet and the oboe. He would surely have reveled, she said, in the camaraderie of these performers and their commitment to building connections.
That commitment comes through loud and clear from those taking part. Cantor Fine of Temple Beth Shalom has championed bridge-building through Voices in Harmony, which he cofounded almost two decades ago, and he described the present assembly of performers as “a mosaic that we’re very proud of.”
Many of the singers, who come from towns and congregations across central New Jersey, belong to more than one of the groups involved.
“We love to sing,” said Louise Karger, who, with her husband Dan, belongs to Kol Dodi and Harmonium. They have been involved with the choral groups for decades.
For music teacher Valeriya Tuz, the furor over refugees and the policies of the Trump administration pack a personal punch. Tuz, who codirects Kol Dodi with Lippitz, immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1991, and has found the choral fellowship at Oheb Shalom deeply comforting. “I trust the people here,” she said.
On the Friday preceding the concert, March 31, Jacobson will be speaking after evening services. There will be a dinner, for which reservations are required. The talk is at 8 p.m., and is free and open to the public.
The concert will be held on Sunday, April 2, at 4 p.m.
Funding is from the Oheb Shalom Jonah Solkoff Eskin Memorial Fund.
For more information, go to Ohebshalom.org.