Dance, song and stories united more than 400 Jewish women on Tuesday night, June 7, at the sixth annual “The Sound of Jewish Music” event, a project of Chabad of Pittsburgh.
Organized by Chani Altein, with assistance from a committee of women from throughout the denominational spectrum, the program held at the University of Pittsburgh’s Bellefield Hall was intended to “find a way to bring together women from all parts of the Jewish community,” Altein said.
“As women, we have incredible power,” she told the crowd at the commencement of the program. “Together we have the power to light up the world.”
In fact, the concert hall was filled with Jewish women of all ages, and from various backgrounds and communities, enjoying the musical performances of the a cappella ensemble Kol Shira and the Tzohar Vocal Ensemble, 12 students from the Tzohar Seminary for Chassidus and the Arts. This was the first year that Tzohar students performed at the event.
Dance numbers were performed by the Bodiography Student Company, as well as seven dancers from within the Jewish community who had been choreographed by Bodiography’s Maria Caruso, a former teacher at Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh.
Several individuals took the stage for solo performances, including Ariana Finkelstein with a stirring rendition of “Close Every Door” by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Two other singers each paid tribute to composer Lin-Manuel Miranda. Lauren Bartholomae payed homage to “You’ll Be Back,” from the musical “Hamilton,” by using that catchy tune along with the words to “Adon Olam.” Later, Elinor Nathanson performed a crowd-pleasing parody of Miranda’s “How Far I Go” (Disney’s “Moana”), changing the title to “How Long I Go,” with the new lyrics hysterically exposing a mother who treasures her alone-time while in the bathroom.
Four women took the podium at various times throughout the evening, each to share a personal story of struggle, inspiration and triumph.
Cheryl Moore spoke of breaking free from an abusive marriage to ultimately find her calling as an obstetric nurse “empowering moms to address their concerns.” Chaya Engle spoke of finding a quiet moment of pure joy and tenderness with one of her sons amid a “supersized” vacation in Orlando, Fla., that had not gone as planned. Marsha Simonds told the audience of her battle with general anxiety disorder and how gratitude and mindfulness helped her conquer it.
But the final story, told by Rachael Dizard, may have been the one which resonated most with the audience: her lifetime effort to come to peace with her own body.
When Altein first had the idea of creating a program to unite Jewish women throughout Pittsburgh, “it occurred to me that music was a good way to start,” she said, noting that through the years she has included additional elements in the program.
“I think there’s a lot of inspiration that comes from seeing and celebrating other people’s talents and stories,” Altein said. In turn, the performers are enriched by receiving positive feedback from their audience. Some of the Orthodox performers, she noted, do not have a chance to perform in other venues, so the “Sound of Jewish Music” gives them a place to showcase their skills.
Bringing diverse Jewish women together to join in an evening of art and inspiration can create a sense of unity, Altein said.
“There’s really something special about recognizing we have different lifestyles and different interests, but we’re all part of the same group,” she said. “There’s something beautiful about that.”
The live musical accompaniment to the singers and dancers was outstanding and included Laura Daniels on piano, Jeanne McHale on drum and Janice Coppola on clarinet.
The evening began with a dessert reception and the opportunity for each guest to add her own creative touch to a collaborative piece of art — a clay tray from Color Me Mine.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.