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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 13th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

A Festival of singing people – 440 of them – from 18 choirs – in 16 European Cities – May 9-12, 2013 – held with workshops at the reestablished historic Odeon Theater in Leopoldstadt – the previously mainly Jewish Second District of Vienna.

The Festival culminated in a public concert on Sunday May 12, 2013 at the Austria Center back-to-back with the offices of the Vienna UN compound. The Honorary Chairman of the event was Austria’s President – the Honorable Heinz Fischer.

This after the 2011 revival of the European States Makkabi sports-competitions that brought at the time 60,000 out-of-town visitors to Vienna.

The present event was dedicated to the revival of Jewish culture in European Communities – and at times the choirs including non-Jews as well.

The timing seems symbolical – it started May 9th – the Victory Day over Nazism and ended on Mothers’ Day – if you wish in memory of those Jewish self sacrificing mothers that helped continue Judaism in Europe that proving that Hitler was defeated.

At the workshops the choirs were taught new songs that were then performed jointly by all participants at the grand-finale of the Sunday event. These included Adon Olam with the Chief cantor of Vienna’s Jewish Community Shmuel Barzilay, Ose Shalom, and the israeli National anthem – The Hatikah (Hope).

The professional leader of the event was Choirmaster Roman Grinberg of the Vienna Jewish Choir whose President is a Young man Florian Pollack who was the organizer of the Sunday concert. Though performing also liturgical music, this choir is cultural in content – including both men and women, something that might have been difficult to do if it were directly part of the Orthodox stream of the majority of Vienna Synagogues – though quite normal with the Or Chadash Reform Vienna Synagogue. Nevertheless the Orthodox Chief Rabbi of Austria, Rabbi Chaim Eisenberg, who himself has in the past performed with the Vienna Jewish Choir outside the Synagogue, wrote an introductory note to the Sunday program booklet.

The MC on Sunday was Ms. Danielle Spera who is a well known Austrian TV personality, and in 2010 became the Director of the Vienna Jewish Museum. She was the top choice of Vice Mayor Renate Brauner, who is in charge of the Vienna Holding Company that owns the buildings of the two Vienna Jewish Museums that were up for renovation in the 2010-2011 years.

The meeting of the choirs cost 200.000 Euro and the money came from institutional contributions. The main backer was the Bruxells based European Jewish Union that was described by the MC as The Jewish European Parliament.

At the workshops, the nine choirs that belong to the Renanim organization – choirs from Amsterdam, Bruxelles, Dijon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Paris, Toulouse, and Utrecht chose to appear in a large united choir – thus reducing the number of choirs on Sunday from 18 to 10 facilitating a more manageable situation.

The Sunday event started with one choir on stage and all the others in various locations in the hall – singing together Uru Ahim- Hava Neranna. . .  with an added 1400 people in the large and full hall of the Austria Center (In the audience I spotted also several women with Muslim head-covers). Then, after the introductory, thankfully rather short  speeches, the line-up was thus as follows:

1. The Vienna Jewish Choir led by Roman Grinberg that was created 20 years ago by Dr. Timothy Smolka with 8 people and counts now on 50 active singers having performed at many events all over Europe. Their contribution was mainly in Jidish – old folk-songs.

2. The Assoziazione Coro-Kol of Rome led by Choirmaster Andrea Orlando that started with Verdi’s Va Pensiero and moved to Hebrew Shabbat and wedding songs. This choir was established in 1993 by the Great Synagogue of Rome and has usually a repertory that includes Ladino as well as Yiddish songs.

3. The Masel Tov Choir of Wuppertal, Germany with Rokella Rachel Verenina, formerly of Odessa, the Ukraine, as choirmaster.It is a choir established 15 years ago by Russian immigrants that finally wanted to express themselves freely. It has now 35 active members – Jews and non-Jews and is one of the best in Germany. They sang Yiddish and German. In the choir I spotted also one black man and many of the singers looked like hardened industrial workers – what they probably are indeed.

4. The Boys Choir of The Vienna City Tempel – the Main Synagogue of Austria Shmuel Barzilai, the Chief Cantor in charge. It had 7 boys under the age 13. This Choir is modeled after the famous Vienna Boys Choir. Their songs were all in Hebrew and from the liturgy and were received with warm applause.

5. The Shalom Chor of Berlin led by Nikola David who is an operatic singer who after graduating from cantorial school has now a position with the Erfurt Synagogue. The 37 active members are from the community and from churches around Berlin. They sang in Hebrew and interestingly wore shawls of single colors – red, green, orange, blue, light green – which left me with the impression that they covered the political spectrum of Germany. I wonder if this was indeed the intent of these colors.

6. The Ensemble Vocal Zamir of Paris with Albert Benzaquen as choirmaster ranging in music from Shlomo Carlebach and Naomi Shemer to Chasidic and Ladino. It was created in 1980 from basically members of families from the Sephardic community. They have had many appearances in France and do not miss the choir festival in Israel – the Zimrya in Jerusalem. Working people – they clearly enjoy what they are doing and we were told meet twice a week.

7. The Jewish Choir “Eva” of Saint Petersburg with Elena Rubinovich as choirmaster. An all girls choir. The teen-age girls dressed in white blouses and blue long skirts. They had a large Magen David attached to their blouses above the heart. They started with Jerusalem of Gold in Hebrew, had a Russian song and moved to Yidddish – “Bei Mir Bistu Shein” the Jewish American song. Interesting – this was different then in the written program and clearly they have a large repertory and were excellent – real singing talent – lurks here. We were told that the girls are children and youth organized by the Welfare and Community Centre. Terrific applause.

8. The Varnishkes of Lviv, The Ukraine with Oleksandra Somysh as Band leader of what was indeed a Klezmer-music group.  Another example of terrific applause. The team was born 6 years ago and as they state it – they adore the magic of Yiddishkeit. They include volunteers and foreign students and are lovely. They reminded me of a similar non-Jewish group I saw in Cracow years ago and Elie Wiesel was in the audience then.
The Lviv group – the singing was all in Yiddish – and we understand that young German audiences love to listen to them.

9. Hor Bracha Baruh a Choir named after the Baruch Brothers of Belgrade. This choir is not by definition Jewish – but it was named after three brothers that were killed fighting in the resistance in WWII, and the choir comes to honor their Jewish culture. The choir was founded in 1879 as the Serbian Jewish Singing Society – perhaps the oldest Jewish choir in the world – then re-established under the present name when Yugoslavia split and the Serbs clearly were looking for Israeli recognition mentioning that it was Serbs that were most friendly in those terrible war-years.Their repertory is eclectic – included Serbian, Ladino and Hebrew and sounded well rehearsed. It is a nostalgic but hope-filled experience. The Choirmaster Stefan Zekic – a clear professional.

10. The Renanim combine with Avner Soudry as choirmaster and Therese Beuret-Sadoul as Administrator that gave us a Paul Ben Haim Hebrew composition, a Suite Judeo-Espagnole and a very appropriate Shir LaShalom, then Mipi El. They remained on stage and were joined by everyone else for the Grand Finale.

There were obviously no encores – but everyone, afyer milling around for a while, happily called it a night.

 

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