CSI’s Cantorial Café celebrates Israel’s 75th
Photo: One Voice Choir
Members of the One Voice Gospel Choir

Program set for March 26

By Deb Silverthorn

Congregation Shearith Israel presents the Small-Waldman-Cohen Signature Series’ Cantorial Café Celebrating Israel’s 75th Year of Independence. Beginning at 7 p.m. on Sunday March 26, at the synagogue, CSI’s Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker and visiting Cantor Aaron Bensoussan will lead a musical celebration of Israel’s 75th year of independence.

Bensoussan and Zhrebker, along with Director Judy Klein and the CSI High Holy Days choir, Director Trish Hodge and the One Voice Gospel Choir and pianist Jon Schweikhard, will perform Ashkenazi and Sephardic liturgical pieces as well as Israeli and Yiddish songs.

“Cantor Aaron is an incredible hazzan who brings such a beautiful Sephardic flavor. He is an outstanding professional and it’s an honor to have him return to help us celebrate the establishment of Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel,” said Cantor Zhrebker.

Bensoussan, who last visited Shearith Israel in 2011, comes to Dallas fresh from shooting a video of his latest rendition of “Avinu Shebashamayim,” “A Prayer for Israel,” in Jerusalem.

“My son Yoni is in the army, serving our country. I pray for Israel every day. This year it is most important that we all be praying for Israel,” said Bensoussan.

Bensoussan, born in Mogador (now Essaouira), Morocco, comes from generations of rabbis dating back to Maimonides. He is the son of Luna and Rabbi Yehoshua Levy-Bensoussan and the grandson of Rabbi Haim Bensoussan, all of blessed memory. The latter was the chief rabbi of Morocco.

“My family came from great holiness, and I still look up to them. I was just a young child, but I remember my grandfather’s silver cane. I remember his love,” said Bensoussan.

It is his ancestry, combined with the sound and talents of — and his great respect for — Reb Shlomo Carlebach and Hazzan Yossele Rosenblatt, both of blessed memory, that brings Bensoussan’s special sound.

“I never thought I’d make it to their level, but I fell in love with their music and I’ve never stopped learning. Music elevates our hearts and brings an awareness to the Force beyond. Our words may get blocked but music pierces through everything,” said the cantor. As a child he learned to play the lute and the drum and, before his bar mitzvah, he studied with Moshe Afriat, a Moroccan master of Jewish liturgical poetry.

At the age of 14 Bensoussan joined his brother to study at the Mirrer Yeshiva in New York. Ultimately, he graduated from New York’s Queens College and the Cantors Institute (now the H. L. Miller Cantorial School) of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Bensoussan served as a chazzan at the Sephardic Jewish Center, Temple Gates of Prayer and Temple Beth Sholom, all in New York, before moving to Canada, where he served Congregation Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda in Toronto. Since 2010, he has composed and recorded his music and traveled the world.

Bensoussan says his wife, Phyllis, is his backbone and that without her he could not walk out the front door. They are the parents of Joshua and Yoni.

“I’m grateful to come back to Shearith Israel, to your Cantor Zhrebker, who is very special. If I can touch people through my music, maybe to keep Shabbat, to do any mitzvah, that is my dream,” said Bensoussan. “I want to bring my music and my heart to build unity. We must have unity in ourselves, or we don’t stand a chance with our enemies.”

The One Voice Gospel Choir returns to CSI, having participated since 2018 in the congregation’s annual Shabbat services paying tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We were introduced to Dallas’ Jewish community by Bruce Feldman, of blessed memory, one of my best and dearest friends. He and the friends we made through him have been some of the greatest gifts to my life,” said Hodge, who credits that relationship with her choir’s performances throughout the Jewish community.

“Celebrating Israel, celebrating the Jewish people, is an absolute honor for us and we are so excited. Cantor Zhrebker is a gentleman and a consummate professional and we so appreciate being welcomed into the community and this special program at Shearith Israel,” said Hodge.

Dena Fein has chaired CSI’s music committee for 22 years. “These two wonderful cantors, two very beautiful choirs and our community in-person. It’s going to be a night to remember,” said Fein.

To purchase tickets, $18/general and $15/students and seniors, visit tinyurl.com/CSI-3-26-Cantorial-Café. For more details, contact Theresa Hurt at thurt@shearith.org.

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