News & Jews

Hundreds of Voices Raised in Celebration of Jewish Choral Music at the 2023 North American Jewish Choral Festival

    Nearly 400 singers joined together in celebration of Jewish Choral Music and the 75th anniversary of Israel at the Zamir Choral Foundation’s 2023 North American Jewish Choral Festival (NAJCF), held July 9-13 in Tarrytown, NY.
    Since 1990, NAJCF has offered a unique and joyful opportunity to connect to the power of Jewish choral music and form lasting friendships with fellow music lovers during a five-day Festival. This year’s participants came from 12 states and ranged in age from 15 to 87, featuring a variety of musical experiences from amateur singers to professionals, cantors and conductors.
    “From hundreds of voices come one harmonious choral community led by a renowned staff of conductors and other music experts who inspire and create a truly unique musical society of the highest level of musical education and excellence,” says Matthew Lazar, Festival founder and world-renowned conductor.
    Many of the attendees are also members or alumni of Zamir Choral Foundation’s musical programs including HaZamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir; Zamir Noded for young adults 18-30; and the acclaimed Zamir Chorale, all under the direction of Matthew Lazar, a leading force in Jewish choral music.
    Singers at NAJCF have myriad opportunities to engage in their love of music. They are divided into different choirs based on their sight-reading abilities, where they are led by accomplished conductors and sing in “instant ensembles” and also join in daily “community sings” with the entire group. The Festival culminates with performances by the ensembles.
    According to Dana Stein of North Brunswick, New Jersey, who has been participating in the Festival since its inception, “The Festival presents a wonderful opportunity to learn extraordinary music and work with accomplished conductors from all over the world, all while having fun, meeting new people, and forming a community.”
    NAJCF attendees are also treated to evening concerts by outstanding guest performers.  This year’s roster featured Nashirah: The Jewish Chorale of Greater Philadelphia, PA conducted by Julia Zavadsky; Yiddish Philharmonic Chorus of NYC conducted by Binyumen Schechter; Makhelat Hamercaz: Jewish Choir of Central New Jersey conducted by Sheldon Levin and Anna West Ott; Shireinu Choir of Long Island conducted by Deborah Tartell; Hallel B’Shir, conducted by Edward Pleasant; Shirah: The Community Choir of the Kaplen JCC, conducted by Marsha Bryan Edelman; the New Jersey Cantors Concert Ensemble, conducted by Sheldon Levin; and Zamir Chorale, Zamir Noded and the HaZamir 30th Anniversary Ensemble, all conducted by Matthew Lazar.
    There are workshops and seminars throughout the five days on topics ranging from sight-singing and vocal technique to spirituality through music. Workshops at the 2023 NAJCF included The Songs of Leonard Cohen; Learn to Blow Shofar; The Evolution of the American Cantorate; Body Language and Facial Expression; The Jewishness of Leonard Bernstein; Lessons Learned From Debbie Friedman; and many more.
    NAJCF also provides Fellowships to select young conductors, many of whom are alumni of HaZamir: The International Teen Choir. At the Choral Festival the Fellows have an opportunity to work intensively with Maestro Lazar, building on sessions with him that they attend throughout the year. Several of the Conducting Fellows at NAJCF direct their own HaZamir chapters in different cities across the U.S. and Israel, and this year for the first time, three young conductors from the Zamir Choral Foundation’s Conducting Fellows program conducted a community sing for the full NAJCF community.
    “It is incredibly rewarding to see our past HaZamir teens grow to become conductors and take a leadership role at NAJCF,” says Lazar. “I am heartened to see the love of Jewish music carried on to the next generation through our programs and these extremely talented young adults.”
     The Zamir Choral Foundation, created by Matthew Lazar, promotes choral music as a vehicle to inspire Jewish life, literacy, community, and connection to Israel. Matthew Lazar, Founder and Director of Zamir Choral Foundation, is considered the leading force of the Jewish choral movement in the US. He has worked with Maestros Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Carlo Maria Giulini, Daniel Barenboim and others. The Zamir Choral Foundation is guided by an expansive vision of vibrant Jewish identity across the generational, denominational and political continuums through the study and performance of Jewish music at the highest level of excellence. For more information about Zamir Choral Foundation and its programs, visit www.zamirchoralfoundation.org.   

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JCC Maccabi Games® and Access Welcome Nearly 2,000 Teens from Around the World to Fort Lauderdale August 6 – 11

    Following the historic JCC Maccabi Games in Israel, the world’s largest Jewish youth sports event continues with JCC Association of North America’s 41st JCC Maccabi Games® and Access events in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, August 6-11, hosted by the David Posnack JCC. The opening ceremony will kick off at the FLA Live Arena on Monday, August 7, at 6 p.m. ET, with more than three dozen state, county, and local officials as well as prominent Jewish leaders slated to attend. The Games are a dynamic experience of Olympic-style sports and volunteer service designed to strengthen Jewish teens’ identities and connections to global Jewish peoplehood.
    Nearly 2,000 Jewish teens comprising 64 delegations from the U.S., Canada, and six other nations around the world will gather for the inspiring week-long events. For the first time, delegations from Argentina, South Africa, and Ukraine, which also sent a delegation to the recent Israel-based Games, will participate in Ft. Lauderdale. Israel, Great Britain, and Mexico, countries that regularly participate in the Games, also will be represented. The Games will feature baseball, basketball, ice hockey, girls’ volleyball, flag football, lacrosse, soccer, table tennis, tennis, swimming, and dance competitions. The Games’ closing ceremony and celebratory dinner on Friday, August 11, will feature the passing of the JCC Maccabi torch to next year’s host communities.
    The JCC Maccabi Games are not just about sports and athletics but also serve as a spark to ignite Jewish pride and identity in Jewish youth and an opportunity for them to develop lifelong friendships with Jewish peers from around the world. JCC Maccabi plays a vital role in offering Jewish experiences to Jewish teenagers who otherwise would not have access to them. For 63 percent of teens, the JCC Maccabi Games is their only engagement with an organized Jewish youth event, global Jewish life, and Israel. The 350 coaches, delegation heads, and scores of volunteers who make the Games possible leave a lasting impression on the teens’ sense of Jewish community and Jewish identity. For more than 40 years, across 111 host communities, and touching over 500,000 Jewish teens, families, and volunteers, JCC Maccabi has stood as one of the most significant Jewish peoplehood initiatives of our time.
    In addition to sports, athletes engage in volunteer and community support experiences through JCC Cares, the service arm of the JCC Maccabi experience that brings to life the JCC Maccabi value (midot) of tikkun olam (repairing the world). Program partners for JCC Cares in Fort Lauderdale include the Children’s Services Council of Broward County, We Finish Together, and the Goodman Jewish Family Services (JFS) of Broward County food bank services.
    “I am filled with pride this summer as more than 3,000 Jewish teens from around the world take part in the JCC Maccabi Games, one of the foremost Jewish peoplehood initiatives of our time.” shares Doron Krakow, president and CEO of JCC Association of North America. “We returned to Israel for just the second time in our history as we joined in the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the fulfillment of the Zionist dream. We continue in Fort Lauderdale for one of the largest such gatherings in recent memory.  For thousands of athletes, along with coaches, volunteers, host families and a wall-to-wall coalition of Jewish community organizations, this year’s Games are an extraordinary reminder of the capacity for good across a diverse and dynamic Jewish community.”
    JCC Maccabi Access is the only organized Jewish youth sporting event that integrates its athletes with JCC Maccabi athletes for a shared experience. Access athletes—accompanied by individuals who provide one-to-one support—will join thousands of their Jewish peers in unified and specialized activities; athletic competitions; skills development; social activities; and the opening ceremony, marching together with their community delegation. The Access Games will culminate with a rousing closing ceremony that celebrates the accomplishments of each athlete. JCC Maccabi Access reflects JCC Association’s commitment to inclusion and supports JCCs in developing ongoing engagement activities in their own communities for teens with disabilities and their families.
    “We are especially honored to host the Access Games for athletes with developmental disabilities,” says Scott Ehrlich, CEO of the Posnack JCC, which last hosted the Games in 2015. “Strengthening lay and professional leadership ties; activating volunteers and fundraising efforts; and fostering a sense pride within the community and beyond are among the reasons we are excited to take on this role again this summer.”
    The Ft. Lauderdale Games are made possible by continental and local donors who are committed to providing countless young Jews with this exceptional opportunity. This year’s extraordinary JCC Maccabi Games have been supported on the continental level by a $5 million total investment from RootOne, which is seeded through a generous grant from The Marcus Foundation and powered by The Jewish Education Project. Mosaic United, the Samueli Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Seed the Dream Foundation, and other individual and anonymous donors provided critical support for the Games’ educational components, community service activities, and more.
    Major philanthropic support also is provided by The Coca-Cola Company, a proud sponsor of the JCC Maccabi Games for 34 years, distinguishing the company as the JCC Movement’s longest-standing continental sponsor. 
    At the Games’ conclusion, JCC Association of North America will officially announce the host communities for the 42nd JCC Maccabi Games® in 2024. The Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit in West Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, will host the Games from July 28 to August 2, 2024, for athletes ages 12-16. And in Houston, Texas, the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC will host the JCC Maccabi Games® and Access from August 4 to 9, 2024, for athletes ages 12-16 and Access athletes ages 12-22. Detroit and Houston will be the 112th and 113th JCC communities to bring the Games home. 

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