Cantor David Tilman knows one of the best ways to bring the Greater Philadelphia Jewish Community together.
“Music and singing is the best way for Jews,” said Tilman, who is the choral director of Shir KI, the adult choir at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park and the conductor of the Cantors Assembly Delaware Valley Region. “When Jews gather, and sing together, it brings our community together.”
After a successful debut of Sing Hallelujah last spring, Tilman is assembling a 2019 version, featuring 165 Jewish voices, 11 area cantors, eight area choirs and two special guests — internationally recognized Cantor Alberto Mizrahi of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, and Rabbi Jeffery Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, who formerly served Congregation Beth Judah in Ventnor, N.J., for seven years before it merged with Temple Emeth Shalom of Margate, N.J.
This year’s Sing Hallelujah is scheduled for 8 p.m. Feb. 20 at Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center. Attendance at the inaugural event was 1,700 and Tilman, the event’s music director and conductor, believes that number is something to build on. The upcoming program will celebrate the arrival of the Jewish people in America and the unique evolution of the community’s music from the 19th century to the present.
“When we were planning this event, we wanted to include one of the best Jewish voices we could attract,” Tilman said. “Cantor Mizrahi is known internationally and has performed for world leaders and with many renowned orchestras. He is an immigrant as well, having come to the United States from Greece as a youngster. I officiated at his wedding, and he officiated at mine. What he will add to such a strong assemblage of voices is remarkable.”
Mizrahi is looking forward to again singing in Verizon Hall.
“I performed there once before,’’ Mizrahi said. “It is an outstanding venue as far as acoustics and the audience’s enjoyment is concerned. I’m excited about it. Glad to be there for David.”
Having performed at Days of Remembrance ceremonies for presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as with legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck and orchestras and choirs worldwide, Mizrahi is passionate about Judaism and Jewish music.
“My father survived Auschwitz,” Mizrahi said. “I wanted to be an opera singer when I was young and I did some of that, but as a cantor, I can sing beautiful music and celebrate being Jewish. What better can a person do? In a way, I’m still acting onstage, and contributing to something I truly feel passionate about.”
Tilman also has a close connection with Myers, a man of chesed following the tragic shooting and death of 11 congregants at his synagogue Oct. 27 in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
“I taught Jeffery [who is both a cantor and a rabbi] at the Jewish Theological Seminary and I wanted him to be here for this program,’’ Tilman said. “I am quite pleased he accepted.”
Myers will give a short talk before singing Yehezkel Braun’s “Adon Olam.” Braun was a famous Israeli composer who died in 2014.
“I am honored and delighted to be reunited with my Delaware Valley colleagues as we lift our voices in song in praise of the Almighty,” Myers said.
Sing Hallelujah’s music will not be of any one American Jewish denomination.
“That’s not how we are presenting the music,” Tilman said. “It’s the overall development of Jewish music in America, and the effect America has had on it. If a piece was composed in Berlin, there always would be German themes in it. There is a difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic music for those reasons.”
The eight choirs scheduled to participate include the Adult Choir of Rodeph Shalom, Adult Choir of Main Line Reform Temple, Beth Israel Choir, Cantors Assembly Delaware Valley Region, Choir of Congregation M’kor Shalom, Choirs of the Old York Road Kehillah/Jewish Community, Makhelat Beth Sholom and Sharim v’Sharot People of Song.
“I feel we have a great mix of voices from our Greater Philadelphia Jewish community and some outstanding individuals joining us.” Tilman said. “The object, again, is to bring our community together. Nothing does it like song.” l
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