I was hired as a violinist for the Philadelphia premiere of “A Concert of Concern,” part of the Sacred Rights, Sacred Song organization of musicians and social activists. As stated in the program, Sacred Rights, Sacred Song envisions Israel as a healthy Jewish democracy in which the spiritual civil rights of all Jews are protected; Judaism is expressed and celebrated freely and equally by men and women and in its myriad forms of observance; and matters of personal status and spirit are governed by a Public Jewish Law that welcomes vibrancy and creativity. The mission of Sacred Rights, Sacred Song is to educate the North American Jewish community about challenges to religious freedom in Israeli society and motivate them to provide moral, visible and financial support to promote a Jewish democratic society based on the notions of gender equality and freedom of worship.
I wasn’t sure what I had agreed to when I got the call, but I was excited to be playing with some other musicians from The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia as a part of this project. Sacred Rights, Sacred Song commissions renowned Jewish composers to set music to lyrics that tell stories of religious and civil rights concerns in Israel. Composers featured on this premiere were Gerald Cohen, J.A. Kawarsky, Fran Gordon, Naomi Less, Jerome B. Kopmar, David Gooding, and Ellen Schiller. There was not much “in between” when it came to the music I was provided: it was either easy, held notes and simple, repetitive rhythms or lines so fast, high, and complicated that they might’ve come out of a violin concerto!
We had one rehearsal and a day-of dress rehearsal prior to performing in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater on 12 Cheshvan 5777 (if I read my Jewish calendar correctly), and to say the instrumentalists felt uncertain is putting it mildly. Our conductor, Cantor David Tilman, was a friendly gentleman whose inconsistencies might have been a result of stress caused by the free-spirited choir. The ultimate goal of the concert was to energize a modern Jewish Democracy movement that works to remove the definition, interpretation and application of Public Jewish Law from the control of an ultra-Orthodox minority in the modern Jewish democratic State of Israel, or so the advertisements said. It didn’t seem like this performance was well advertised, and so it wasn’t surprising to look out and see a rather sparse audience, but everyone involved in producing the event seemed pleased with the outcome.
Ben was able to take photos:
Here are some of the lyrics:
The Odd Bus
If a public bus has a certain number,
the rules on that bus must change.
I know that in a democracy, that sounds a little strange.
If a public bus stops at certain places,
all passengers should beware.
The seating on that public bus is neither just nor fair.
It makes no difference what you think
or what principles you hold.
It’s been decreed that on that bus,
as a woman you are told
where to sit, go to the back
‘cause that’s the will of G-d.
Don’t you think in a democracy
that is a little odd?
The Woman at the Wall
Did the birds join in chorus when the Levites proclaimed
Hallelujah, praise be the Name?
As I sit in my garden surrounded by sound,
I try to imagine what my ancestor found
when she came to this place.
Was there fear on her face or barely a trace
of awe and of wonder when approaching the steps with her sacrifice ready,
were her hands shaky or steady?
And what of the bird to be consumed by the flame?
Did the chorus of birds sound exactly the same?
Images of Av
On a hot Jerusalem day in mid-July, we learned that the camera does not lie.
Images from our Holy Place reveal the strength on Anat’s face
as she embraced and protected our Torah.
To the horror of those who traveled from afar,
each standing with mouth open and ajar.
As we saw the police of the Jewish State, bow to the fear and hate of those who deny a woman’s public right
to connect through prayer and song to our Creator of light.
Do we dare to sit in silence as this tyranny approaches?
No – the time come to say to our State that this way encroaches
upon the rights of all Jews who seek the Sacred at the Western Wall.
Am Yisrael, the pictures and the videos, like shofars call us to remember
that intolerance and hatred were the spark, the smoldering ember
that ignited the flames of destruction, in days long gone by.
Just like sacred memory, these images do not lie.
A Sacred Prayer
Each child has a sacred right to survive,
whether from Gilo, Gaza or Gadera.
In the Divine image each child is made,
whether from Haifa, Beit Hanoun or Hadera.
A sacred song must now be sung,
to remind ourselves that”We Are One”
is not just about a special tribe
but also about looking deep inside
to find a way to heal the Rift.
May we use song, our sacred gift
finding words, joining voices, Arab and Jew.
A New Year, a new commandment,
this we must do.