Executive director of the Philadelphia Film Office Sharon Pinkenson, Jewish musician and recording artist Ross Levy and Cantor Harold Messinger of Congregation Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley have a challenging gig this Sunday as judges of the "Israel: A Song in Our Hearts" competition, which will be emceed by singer and bandleader Eddie Bruce. They will have the daunting task of selecting the top individual and group vocalists from the following finalists in the 17-and-under and adult categories.
Four friends from Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Merion, -- sophomores Ben Dayanim on guitar, vocalist Jed Zaslow and Joe Zwillenberg on bass -- will share the Israel 63 festival stage on Penn's Landing with freshman Misha Datskovsky on drums. Quartet members already have shared their love of music with audiences at school, and at area coffee shops, parks and other venues. They will perform "City of Gold" for the judges, as well as the thousands of individuals and families expected to turn out to celebrate Israel's 63rd anniversary of independence.
Seventeen-year-old Michael Fackenthall, an 11th-grade honor student at Strath Haven High School in Wallingford, will perform "Jerusalem of Gold," a song inspired by a family visit to Israel in 2008. Fackenthall has performed in high school and Ohev Shalom Synagogue musical theater productions and is a member of a band, Stone Sterling. He hopes to attend New York University, and pursue a career in musical theater and composition.
The final entrant in the 17-and-under category is Danielle Lichter, a resident of Jamison, Pa., who is currently an 11th-grade student at Central Bucks East High School. She will sing "Pray" for the live festival audience.
Lichter has appeared in many staged shows, has sung the U.S. national anthem at numerous NBA games, and has performed many solo charity concerts where 100 percent of the proceeds have benefited the American Cancer Society. She plans to study musical theater in college.
Singer and songwriter Amy Elkins will sing an original composition entitled "Eretz Israel," a place that she describes as "very close to my heart." The 39-year-old artist is known to the school children she has performed for as "Mama Mac," the same name as the CD that she released.
Forty-one-year-old Shimon Benarush describes himself as "a singer of Hebrew music." A native of Jerusalem, he has many friends and relatives who still live there. Benarush will perform "Lehol Ehad," a song that resonates on a deeply personal level. Benarush explains that "one of my family members was in a tragic incident where a bomb exploded on a bus. Luckily, she survived." He dedicates this song to her tenacity and to the spirit of the Jewish homeland.
Twenty-year-old Laura Warren, a rising college sophomore, often performs for charity events, including fundraisers for breast-cancer research, muscular dystrophy and ceremonies commemorating the anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11. She has sung the U.S. national anthem at the age of 14 at Villanova University to kick off the Advanta Women's Tennis Championships and at her own high school graduation.
Her love of Broadway musicals has been expressed by starring roles in numerous high school and college stage productions. She has worked as a demo singer on songwriters' original songs, traveling to music studios in the Greater Philadelphia area and in Nashville, Tenn.
She will sing "Can't Break Her Spirit," an original pop anthem she penned in collaboration with her mother, Bonnie Warren, and a family friend, musician Anthony Newett.
Contest winners will receive $500 cash prizes and the opportunity to sing the national anthem during Federation's Jewish Heritage Night at the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday, Aug. 18 at Citizen's Bank Park.
From Israel With Love
Following the song competition, the festival stage will be reset for the Isramerica House Band, a group of talented Israeli- and Jewish-American artists who have performed for audiences from Tel Aviv to Times Square.
The group features vocalists Judah Gavra, Yael Gonen, Stav Livne and Nir Chalamish. Pianist Natalie Tenenbaum, Hemi Bordowitz on drums, Nadav Lacmish on bass and Rotem Sivan on guitar will provide accompaniment. All are graduates of the Israeli Defense Forces bands, and have studied in such acclaimed institutions as Juilliard, the Manhattan School of Music, and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York.
Tenenbaum, who is also Isramerica's musical director, has toured the world with many Broadway shows, as well as performed at Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall. The band performs in Hebrew, English, Yiddish and other languages with a varied repertoire of classic Israeli songs, rock ballads, ethnic Mizrachi music, klezmer, folk, Broadway show tunes, Israeli and American pop songs, and traditional Jewish music.
The Isramerica House Band is part of the ISRAMERICA Company, which showcases the talents of Israeli and Jewish-American artists working together to present the beauty of Israel through art. The company is run by artistic director Sivan Hadari.
Doors will open at noon. Federation president Leonard Barrack and Daniel Kutner, Israel's consul general for the Mid-Atlantic region, will welcome the crowd. Cantor Charles Garson of Congregation Mikveh Israel will sing "Hatikva," and Julie Shuman will lead the crowd in the singing of America's national anthem.
Throughout the afternoon, festival-goers can shop at an Israeli marketplace; enjoy falafel and other ethnic fare; participate in special children's crafts and Lag B'Omer activities; and browse booths highlighting the programs of local organizations.
As an added incentive to attend this free event, which will be held rain or shine, every guest may enter a drawing to win one of several prizes, including a VIP personally escorted behind the scenes tour of Citizen's Bank Park prior to the start of Federation's Jewish Heritage Night with the Phils; a sports' lover's package of tickets and premiums to several professional events; and even a trip for two to Israel.
Israel 63 is made possible by the generosity of sponsors Blank Rome LLP and the Jewish Exponent.
For more information, see: www.jewishphilly.org .