Local teens raise money for Israeli choir after funding cut
HaZamir, the International Jewish Teen Choir, works to bring PGH, Israeli teens together for a spring concert. Funding for the Israeli branch of the program was cut this year.
For the last three years, Naomi Frim-Abrams has cherished her relationships with the Israeli teens from Karmiel/Misgav whom she has gotten to know through HaZamir, the International Jewish Teen Choir.
Each year, while Frim-Abrams, a teen leader of the group, was practicing the HaZamir musical repertoire along with her chorale peers in Pittsburgh, she took a certain amount of joy in knowing that her friends in Israel were learning the exact same pieces and that they would be singing them together in the spring in New York City at a major venue.
She also looked forward each year to her Israeli friends coming to Pittsburgh for a week following the performance in the Big Apple.
So, Frim-Abrams was understandably upset when she learned, through a June 19 Facebook post by one of her Israeli friends, that the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh had decided to cease its funding to the Karmiel/Misgav chapter of HaZamir.
That would mean that unless the Israeli chapter found other funding, its members would be unable to travel to New York for the spring concert, and to Pittsburgh.
But Frim-Abrams, a senior at Pittsburgh Allderdice, as well as the rest of the members of HaZamir Pittsburgh, decided to take matters into their own hands.
“We are going to do everything we can to keep the partnership for next year!” Frim-Abrams replied on Facebook.
HaZamir Pittsburgh is one of 38 chapters of HaZamir throughout the United States and Israel. The Karmiel/Misgav chapter of HaZamir has been supported by the Partnership2Gether program, a sister-city collaboration linking Jewish Pittsburgh to Karmiel and the Misgav region in Israel’s central Galilee.
Partnership2Gether aims to strengthen relationships between people in Israel and the diaspora. HaZamir was doing just that, according to the Pittsburgh teens participating in the choir and their parents.
For Frim-Abrams, getting to know the Israeli teens has been “an incredible experience,” she said. Their times together singing and socializing have been meaningful.
“We have a very special connection,” Frim-Abrams said. “I think we would all feel a loss” if the Karmiel/Misgav teens could no longer come to the U.S. to sing with HaZamir.
Shortly after reading about the funding cuts on Facebook, the Pittsburgh teens got busy putting together an open-mic fundraiser to help their Israeli cohort. The fundraiser was held at Rodef Shalom Congregation on Dec. 10, and the money raised that night, coupled with an on-line fundraising campaign, totals about $3,000, according to Ed Frim, Frim-Abrams’ father.
The teens in Israel also have raised about $1,000. Frim estimates that it will take about $15,000 to bring the Israeli teens to the U.S.
“It was a big deal for us as parents to see the kids come out and try to raise money on their own,” said Judi Rosen, the mother of Pittsburgh HaZamir singer, Max, who is a junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice. “And they were really good.”
While the Pittsburgh teens and their parents were surprised to learn about the funding cut from a Facebook post, they are moving on and just trying to find different funding sources.
“The bottom line for us is that the decision was made, and we’re trying to continue to find ways to bring the kids here with a positive outlook,” Rosen said.
It’s about music, it’s about building a shared repertoire over time. It’s different than going to camp or doing Diller [Teen Fellows] for one year. This builds over the course of a few years.
Federation staff explained the funding cut in an email to HaZamir parents on June 21.
“Partnership2Gether of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh made the difficult decision to discontinue funding the Karmiel/Misgav chapter of HaZamir,” wrote Debbie Swartz, Israel and overseas planning associate of the Federation, and Vicki Holthaus, youth kesher chair of Partnership2Gether.
“It was the culmination of a long discussion between Partnership2Gether in Pittsburgh, the JCC and our Israeli leadership in Karmiel/Misgav. We recently became aware that this decision was communicated by the Israeli teens to the Pittsburgh teens via Facebook, and we truly regret that you may have become aware of this decision in this manner.”
Swartz referred a request for comment to Adam Hertzman, the Federation’s director of marketing.
The decision to cease funding the Karmiel/Misgav chapter was made due to “changing needs,” Hertzman said. “They decided to shift the money elsewhere. The program was not having the broad impact that the steering committee desired.”
Last year, Hertzman said, there were just nine participants from Pittsburgh and 12 from Karmiel/Misgav.
“HaZamir was successful in building relationships between those families, but the steering committee was looking for new initiatives that are more relevant today,” including programs that bring youth educators from the partnership region to Pittsburgh and various adult programs.
Acknowledging that local HaZamir concerts have attracted 300 people at Rodef Shalom and more than 100 people in the South Hills, Hertzman recognized “it’s hard for participants any time we end funding for one program and shift it to another.”
Federation funding for HaZamir Pittsburgh remains in place.
The Karmiel/Misgav chapter of HaZamir will continue in Israel with its own local funding, said Frim, but the question remains as to whether the Israeli singers will be able to come to the U.S. in the spring.
The 2018 HaZamir Festival — which includes a few days of the singers rehearsing together before their show — is scheduled to begin on Thursday, March 15 and conclude on Sunday March 18, with the concert at David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.
“We’re still working on it,” Frim said. “There are a lot of things up in the air. We may not be able to bring the whole group from Israel, which would be a shame. And if they do come to New York to the festival, we will have to figure out how to get the kids to Pittsburgh.
“It’s nor a Partership2Gether project any more, but there are a number of people in the community that value it for its own sake,” Frim added.
While the program itself is valuable because it provides a vehicle for kids to sing “high-level Jewish choral music,” the Israeli partnership component is also significant, according to Molly May, conductor for HaZamir Pittsburgh.
“It is an outlet for making Jewish connections and making connections with Israel,” she said.
May described Shabbat at the festival retreat — where the HaZamir teens from all the chapters get together to rehearse — when all the Israeli seniors who will be headed to the IDF after high school are called to the stage.
“We sing the prayer for peace in Israel,” May said. “While the room is singing together to these kids who will be serving their country, there is a pluralistic connection.”
The connections the teens build with each other is unique, she continued.
“It’s about music, it’s about building a shared repertoire over time. It’s different than going to camp or doing Diller [Teen Fellows] for one year. This builds over the course of a few years and culminates with the moment we are singing to these Israeli teens before they head to the army and the performance at a major venue in New York.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at