My first clue that we had signed up for something special was when a veteran parent told me, “You have to bring tissues. Trust me.” It was September when we had this conversation, as the HaZamir DC group was easing into their weekly rehearsals at the Bender Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Rockville, Maryland. I filed away that information, but didn’t quite process the meaning.
As a newbie with HaZamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir, my son Jaden and I had heard about the excellent reputation of this group. We didn’t know much more, but thought it would be a fun extracurricular activity, as well as a way to connect with other Jewish teens in the DC area. The burgeoning DC chapter, filled with kind, enthusiastic teens, and led by their dedicated conductor Teddy Klaus, bonded during the year through rehearsals, small performance opportunities, and an Intervisitation in the winter with about 200 teens from the East Coast HaZamir chapters.
Concurrently, we learned that over 400 teens in 38 other chapters in the U.S. and Israel were learning the same high-level Jewish choral music, with the intention of creating a pluralistic peer community of the next generation of Jewish choral singers. The culmination of their efforts was to be a four-day festival of rehearsals and bonding in Stamford, Connecticut, followed by a gala performance at David Geffen Hall in Lincoln Center — yes, Lincoln Center! — in New York City.
Fast forward to March 18, as we walked into Lincoln Center with awe, a palpable buzz in the air. From the first note, we knew this would be an unforgettable experience. It’s difficult to describe the reverberation in the room of the sound of over 400 well-trained singers; suffice it to say, there was not a dry eye in the house. (Tissue warning was heeded.) Led by the famed conductor Matthew Lazar and director Vivian Lazar, the HaZamir singers performed a gorgeous repertoire of contemporary and classic Jewish music that was heartfelt, joyful, soulful, and stirring, and gave the audience a sense of hope for the future.
We later heard the stories of the long weekend — the Israeli roommates that Jaden befriended, the bonding activities, the late-night rehearsals and socials, and the fabled HaZamir Havdalah (Sabbat concluding ceremony) experience. The HaZamir national office often stresses that this is not just a chorus, but a Jewish choral youth movement. That concept was clear to all after the gala performance; we can’t wait to do it all again next year.
By Arlen Gaines