By Harriet P. Gross
Today, Christmas music plays nonstop everywhere. A good day to consider our own musical possibilities.
First: “Lights! Celebrate Chanukah Live in Concert” has been airing across the nation on PBS. Something fun for everyone, with Cantor Alberto Mizrahi, actress Mare Winningham, black/Jewish singer Joshua Nelson, the Klezmatics, etc. If you’ve missed it, contact producer Craig Taubman (www.craignco.com/flash/lights) for a brief taste, then ask your public broadcaster to run it again. This is a first for PBS, and “We hope it will not be their last,” says Craig. Amen to that!
Second: Here’s a goodie to remember for the future: A classical music radio station out of Wake Forest, N.C., honors Chanukah every year at the time of the first candlelighting. For 2008, Rabbi Jenny Solomon selected the music and wrote the script to go with it. Ken Hoover, host of WCPE’s “Great Sacred Music” program, reminds his faithful listeners that this is a long station tradition: The music played 24/7 by WCPE “transcends belief systems, crafted by artists from all traditions, listened to by a global audience reflective of the world’s diversity….” That last is possible because this 30-year-old non-commercial station streams on the Internet and can be enjoyed worldwide in a choice of formats. Give it a listen: www.theclassicalstation.org.
Third: “Songs of Life” was created earlier in 2008 to honor the people of Bulgaria, who 65 years ago “stood firm and saved their Jewish population,” according to Kalin and Sharon Tchonev of Lexington, S.C. They organized this international choral event, subtitled “a festival of thanksgiving,” which recently took place in both Bulgaria and Israel; choirs and individuals from around the world joined to perform Ernest Bloch’s major work, “Sacred Service,” and present other “songs of life” of their own choosing. There was also a special presentation of 50,000 flowers to the collective Bulgarian people — one for each Jew they saved so long ago.
Dr. Michael Bar-Zohar has written “Beyond Hitler’s Grasp” about this, one of the Holocaust’s lesser-known rescue stories. The Tchonevs write, “History has shown that even in life’s darkest moments, a light often emerges that beckons hope for generations to come. It is our hope that ‘Songs of Life’ will transcend cultural and religious lines and … build bridges among all that it touches.” Learn more about this effort at www.songsoflife.org.
Fourth: Even the Library of Congress is promoting Jewish music! And Jewish heritage! “The Musical Heritage of the Jews of Cochin” was a recent program, with parallel book display, in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. Jewish women’s songs for weddings and other rituals and celebrations, in Malayalam (a wonderful East Indian language — spelled the same backward and forward!), were on the verge of extinction when researchers assembled a group of Cochini Israelis and helped them re-learn the music of their ancestors. Now, after five years, the Nirit Singers “have brought to modern ears the voices of their aunts and grandmothers,” says the Library, which hosted the group there. You can learn more from Anchi Hoh, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fifth: More Jewish music, more Jewish heritage: Go to www.fau.edu/jsa to fill your ears with an assortment of wonders. This is the site of Judaica Sound Archives at the libraries of Florida Atlantic University, whose mission is “Rescuing, Preserving, and Sharing a Heritage.” You will love it — guaranteed!
Sixth, and finally: the true story of Miri Ben-Ari of New Jersey, a young violinist who grew up in Israel. But even there, even with school field trips to Yad Vashem, she never connected the Holocaust to her own life.
Then, when she was 12, a teacher gave her class a family tree assignment — and Miri heard for the first time from weeping grandparents about her long-gone Polish relatives. She learned that a girl about her age was playing the violin when the Nazis came for her family, and she never played again.
Suddenly, “The Holocaust was personal,” Miri said. “Something had happened to a little girl with a violin. A girl like me. I vowed, ‘Every time I play, I will play for her.’” And she has. Moving to New York for advanced study, Miri has appeared at Carnegie Hall. But she’s also formed “Gedenk” — Yiddish for “Remember” — a group that teaches youngsters: “The Holocaust happened to people like us. We must never forget. I will never let hate silence a little girl’s notes again.” Read more about her at www.guidepostsmag.com/miri.
Now — go treat yourself to a musical Chanukah!
By Harriet P. Gross