21 Tevet, 5779
Cantor Phil Baron
This week’s parasha, Sh’mot, appropriately begins with a list of names, which makes sense because sh’mot means “names.” True, the Greek title of the book “Exodus” sounds rather more grand and descriptive. However, the Torah strives for clarity, and a little housekeeping and exposition at the beginning of a book does make some sense. So as the year 2018 of the Gregorian calendar draws to a close and we open a new book, as it were, I’d like to share some names with you as a way to explain what’s going on with the Music and B’nai Mitzvah staffs at VBS.
The most noticeable change involves music director Chris Hardin, who now lives in Portland, Oregon with his new wife Angie. Despite the distance, Chris is still commuting to LA twice each month to join us for Shabbat morning and Rimonim services. And just as the Children of Israel increased in this week’s parasha, we’ve been blessed in Chris’s absence by a list of extraordinary musicians, including David Spear, Bob Remstein, Dan Spector, and our musician-in-residence Asher Levy. Asher also sits in on the oud (an ancient Middle-Eastern instrument) and is often joined by cellist Robert Een. In addition to Cantor Fox and me, you will also hear Asher’s voice at T’marim, our monthly Sephardic service, at Rimonim, and on Shabbat mornings along with the beautiful singing of Cantor Toby Schwartz. In addition, our Shabbat Musaf services are enhanced by a new group of singers, all from our congregation, which we affectionately call the Norman Pumpernickle Choir! If you are a Shabbat-morning attendee, read music, and would like to join the NPC please let me know.
We’ve also been joined at Rimonim by a wonderful new talent, our cantorial intern Bryce Megdal. Bryce was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona where she attended Jewish day school and developed a lifelong love for Judaism and the Hebrew language. After becoming a Bat Mitzvah, Bryce remained involved at her temple as a B’nai Mitzvah and Hebrew tutor, Learning Lab Director, teen and adult choir member, Shabbat band lead female vocalist, and Cantorial Soloist. She double majored in Judaic Studies and Studio Art at the University of Arizona, currently holds a masters degree in Jewish Studies. Bryce will graduate from the cantorial school at the Academy for Jewish Religion this coming May. Also a songwriter, we’ve been featuring her Yihyu L’ratzon each month at Rimonim. Listen to it here > or visit Bryce’s website at brycemegdal.com to hear more of her recordings.
Meanwhile, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah staff also has some new names and positions. Cantor Toby Schwartz has a new title, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Training Coordinator. Toby has worked hard and with great devotion to ensure that our students do their best and have a positive experience while preparing for this important moment in their lives. Her caring concern is a great asset to our program. In her new role she’ll be managing all of our tutors, including Cantor Jay Harwitt, Asher Levy, Udi Shmueli (who recently joined our staff) and Elana Vorspan (yes, our own Marketing and Communications Director is also a wonderful teacher of Torah), as well as Hebrew tutors Bryce Megdal and Lauren Kramer.
One more important name to mention is not the name of a person. First it was the name of a small congregation in Jerusalem. Then, when a few of its members showed musical talent, it became the name of a performing group. The name is Nava Tehila, and their music has become an integral part of the worship service of all denominations across the U.S.
Their music is easy to sing, deeply meaningful, sublime (their name means “beautiful praise”) and amazingly engaging. Please mark your calendars for a special event, Shabbat Shira on January 18 at 7:30 pm, featuring Nava Tehila, and the Rimonim band.
As this year draws to a close, thanks to the wonderful musicians and teachers that enrich the lives of all of us here at Valley Beth Shalom.