American, Israeli teens give voice through song

American, Israeli teens give voice through song

Members of HaZamir celebrate a succesful performance following the concert. 

Photo by Adam Reinherz
Members of HaZamir celebrate a succesful performance following the concert.  Photo by Adam Reinherz

Musical imperfection never sounded so true. HaZamir, an amateur choir of eighth- to 12th-grade students from Pittsburgh, Karmiel and Misgav, performed at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s Katz Performing Arts Center on March 30. The 18-member chorale delighted listeners with both familiar and lesser-known works.

“This audience is made up of devotees of HaZamir,” said Douglas Levine, musical director of HaZamir Pittsburgh. “A lot of them know what HaZamir is about. [They] come to see what the repertoire is.”

HaZamir is a self-described international Jewish high school choir of network choral chapters from across the United States and Israel that provides Jewish teens a high-level choral experience in a Jewish environment. Pittsburgh’s chapter was started nine years ago by Nizan Leibovich. This past year, Leibovich passed the baton to Levine.

“Pretty big shoes to fill,” said Levine of his predecessor.

Levine, with his Israeli counterpart Rima Priimak, alternated conducting throughout the night. Although bookended by HaZamir staples — Leo Low’s “HaZamir” and David Burger’s “Tefilah L’Shlom Medinat Yisrael” — the concert’s strength rested in its midway inclusion.

Halfway through the program, the American-Israeli teen assemblage sang David Burger’s “Tefilah L’Zahal.” Bluntly translated, “Prayer for the Israeli Defense Forces,” Burger’s song gives voice to words offered in many synagogues on Shabbat morning.

Positioning American singers beside Israelis on the Katz Center stage gifted the audience a visual framework of togetherness. But the irony of such discordant groups singing for the welfare of Israeli soldiers could not have been more apparent. While members of next year’s American crop will enter college, their choral counterparts will begin serving in the IDF.

Though months away, the campus/combat divide resonated with the group.

“We used it as a jumping-off point,” said Carolyn Gerecht, the JCC’s director of teen learning.

After the Israelis arrived on Sunday, March 27, one of their first activities was reading “Tefilah L’Zahal” with the Americans, Gerecht added. “Somebody read it in Hebrew, and somebody read it in English.”

They then discussed the prayer’s meaning.

“I tried to explain my experience because I’m going into the army next year,” said Yoav Tene, a 12th-grade member of HaZamir Karmiel/Misgav. “I just tried to explain what I felt about the song so they can relate.”

“For me, the ‘Tefilah L’Zahal’ is very emotional because most of our brothers are in the army,” said Carmel Mena, a 10th-grade member of HaZamir Karmiel/Misgav. “There are some concerns if you send someone from your family to the battle lines. I want them to come back safe.”

Unlike their joyful rendition of David Shukiar’s “Psalm 150,” which inspired clapping, shoulder bobbing and feet tapping from the audience, HaZamir’s performance of Burger’s “Tefilah L’Zahal” silenced the several hundred attendees. Lacking the tonal majesty of their other numbers, “Tefilah L’Zahal” reflected the honest weight of youthful naivety and unprocessed experience.

“The Americans here are very related to Judaism, I think they understand,” said Tene.

“The special bond that [we] develop, they are our brothers. … When they go to the army, [our] spirit is going with them,” said Jacob Wiesenfeld, an 11th-grade member of HaZamir Pittsburgh.

“It’s really emotional, this whole bonding with Americans and Israelis,” said Mena.

“Even though we’re from different parts of the world, we know the same songs and have so much in common,” added Yael Perlman, a 10th-grade member of HaZamir Pittsburgh.   

Perhaps due to pre-existing commonalities, perhaps because of a developed bond, the singers are achieving the aims their elders set.

“Through Partnership2Gether we try to bring people together and provide them opportunities to share their common interests,” said Cindy Goodman-Leib, former chair of P2G. “This is an opportunity to do that through the arts.”

We want people to “experience the great joy of Jewish peoplehood through music and singing,” said Debbie Swartz, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s planning associate.

HaZamir’s concert was sponsored by both the Federation and Partnership

2Gether. Additional sponsors included the JCC and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

“HaZamir is an inspiring experience in which you meet other people and make lasting friendships simply through music,” said Wiesenfeld.

“It’s been a great experience to sing with so many friends I’ve made over the last few days,” said Naomi Frim-Abrams, a 10th-grade member of HaZamir Pittsburgh. “It’s really awesome.”

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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