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Shiru Nah choral group celebrates musical milestone

When Ronnie Weinstein decided to join a local women’s choir in 1978, she had no idea the importance Shiru Nah would play in her life for the next 30-plus years.

“When I joined the group, most of the women were 60, 70, maybe some young 50s,” said Weinstein, who was then in her 30s, in a phone interview. “They were wonderful women, and that’s the thing that’s carried over all these years. We all come from different places but we became a family.”

On Oct. 11, more than 25 past and present members gathered together with families and friends to celebrate the group’s 40th anniversary at the Maplewood Country Club. “The reunion was festive and heartwarming,” said Weinstein, who now serves as choir director. “The connection of each person to one another reminded all of us of the unique legacy of Shiru Nah.”

The women shared stories and retold old jokes and, of course, sang songs.

In prepping for the event, Weinstein and Francine Sprinzen, the choir’s long-time accompanist and music arranger, visited the Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest, where curator Linda Forgosh showed them a meticulously kept scrapbook from the good old days, full of photos, flyers, and articles from NJ Jewish News and other newspapers.

“We were able to go through it, year after year, and see what we did. It was amazing, some of the things we had forgotten,” said Weinstein. “A lot of great venues and synagogues and churches. It was wonderful to be able to recapture 40 years. And, of course, I got a little verklempt.”

Weinstein, who majored in music at Syracuse University, said she hadn’t planned to be so involved with an ensemble of adult singers. “I always thought I was going to work with children, but then this came along and it was wonderful.”

‘Liking people’

Shiru Nah performs about a dozen recitals a year, mostly in the fall and spring, at senior citizens’ centers and residences and Hadassah, sisterhood, and men’s club meetings. The programs usually consist of a cantata on a specific theme and include Hebrew, Yiddish, and American songs.

“We have lots of different kinds of music,” Weinstein said. “It’s interesting to see how the audience responds to our repertoire. Very often, the elderly people love the Yiddish, but sometimes the younger people like it because it sparks something they remember from their childhood. Maybe a grandmother or grandfather sang to them.”

And you never quite know the impact a song might have. Weinstein recalled a synagogue performance during which a Russian woman, newly arrived in America, was especially affected by one of the group’s numbers, which dealt with hardship. “[She] jumped to her feet, came to the front of the room, and she said, ‘That’s me, that’s my life,’ and started talking about her experiences coming to America with nothing.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Weinstein said. “We didn’t realize how appropriate that song was. We were just singing as part of the cantata, talking about the Jewish experience in America. But it was so personal to her.”

It’s moments like that that make participating in the group so rewarding, she said.

“We encourage our audience to be involved in our singing because we’re bringing music to them. We want them to get something out of it. We get a lot out of it, too; it’s very gratifying, but we want our audience to be enjoying our experience, too. It’s a win-win.

“It’s been a big part of my life. I didn’t realize it was going to be every Tuesday since 1978,” said Weinstein, who hosts rehearsals in her Short Hills home. “We feel very fortunate we’ve been able to do that.”

Over the 40 years, Weinstein estimated, Shiru Nah has raised almost $100,000 for Israel via United Jewish Communities of MetroWest and Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. “Shiru Nah means ‘Let us sing’ in Hebrew, and we sing for Israel,” she said.

Getting younger women to join Shiru Nah has been a problem since the group rehearses and usually performs during the workweek, but Weinstein said she would love to have more singers join the group. “They have to be caring because we’re part of the community; we’re doing more than just singing. When we go to senior citizens’ homes, we really extend ourselves. Liking people has to come across.”

For information on auditioning for Shiru Nah, or to arrange a performance, contact Weinstein at 973-467-4947 or ronniemusic45@comcast.net.

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