Just hours before the Israel-set “The Band’s Visit” swept the Tony Awards, another tribute to Broadway — and beyond — was playing at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation as the singing group Divas on the Bima delivered a concert of familiar showtunes and unique takes on Hebrew standbys.
All ordained cantors from the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary, the three “divas” were part of last weekend’s celebration of the formal installation of Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers as the spiritual leader of TOL*OLS. Myers, who began his tenure at the Squirrel Hill congregation last August, wanted Divas on the Bima to be part of his installation festivities to further his overall efforts to infuse the synagogue with more song.
“There has been a rich tradition of cantorial music here that has been absent for way too long,” said Myers in an interview. “I want to bring that back.”
The concert, which followed a cocktail reception and formal installation program, commenced with Myers joining the divas — Magda Fishman, Alisa Pomeranz-Boro and Elizabeth Shammash — on the bima for their opening number, “Ma Tovu.”
The show that followed was a diverse repertoire of songs in Hebrew and English, with the women moving seamlessly from their trio to solos to duets, and equally easily from new and old Broadway classics to music based on Jewish liturgy.
The third diva in the group, Shammash, was familiar to many in the audience: she was a former High Holiday soloist for Tree of Life in 2004. She has performed with several opera companies in the United States and in Israel, and is the cantor at Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell, Pa.
Highlights of the show included a Fishman and Pomerantz-Boro duet of “For Good” from the popular Broadway musical, “Wicked,” and Fishman’s Hebrew rendition of a Venezuelan showstopper — whose title translates to “Go Crazy” — in which she expertly delivered the frenetically fast-paced and lyric-dense piece, accompanying herself on trumpet.
“Just listening to that song, I’m out of breath,” said Myers, as he again ascended the bima to belt out his moving interpretation of Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria” from “West Side Story.”
While most tunes were adeptly accompanied on piano by Scott Stein, a New York-based musician, the divas also performed an a cappella version of “Gesher Tzar Me’od,” melodically combining their voices simultaneously in Hebrew and English.
Pomerantz-Boro, who is currently the international president of the Cantor’s Assembly, read a letter on behalf of the organization to Myers, congratulating him on his installation at TOL*OLS, and noting: “Clearly, your congregation already knows that you make a difference.”
In a tribute to the person whom he dubbed his “greatest inspiration” — his wife, Janice, a special education teacher — Myers picked up his guitar and performed George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” accompanied by three friends on additional instruments.
The show concluded with the three divas and Myers on the bima together, joining in a final Hebrew number, followed by a standing ovation.
Several of Myers’ rabbinic colleagues were in the audience for the show, including rabbi emeritus of the congregation, Alvin Berkun.
For Myers, the weekend of events, which included a special kiddish luncheon on Saturday, marked the commencement of a meaningful relationship between him and the congregation — which had its roots as Tree of Life — established more than 150 years ago.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as the 10th rabbi of Tree of Life Or L’Simcha,” said Myers. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.