Temple Emeth to host choir festival
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Temple Emeth to host choir festival

12 synagogue choirs to perform in Teaneck on Sunday

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The choir of Temple Emeth, in Teaneck, will sing at Sunday’s choir festival, hosted by the shul. Courtesy temple emeth

When the recession forced the Union for Reform Judaism to streamline its organizational structure several years ago, the annual adult choir festival sponsored by the New Jersey”“West Hudson Valley region was thrown into jeopardy. That didn’t sit well with many of its participants, who were reluctant to end a tradition that dated back more than 20 years. Cantor Ellen Tilem of Temple Emeth in Teaneck was among them.

“A bunch of cantors got together to keep the festival going,” said Tilem, a 17-year veteran of Temple Emeth, which is hosting the festival for the third time. “They felt it was really important for our volunteer choirs to hear other volunteer choirs and be part of a larger component of Jewish music.”

Thanks to their efforts, 12 Reform synagogue choirs from seven counties in New York and New Jersey will gather at the Teaneck synagogue this Sunday at 3 p.m. Temple Emeth will join with two other Bergen County choirs, Temple Beth Or of Washington Township and Barnert Temple of Franklin Lakes. Other choirs joining forces are Temple Emanu-El of Livingston and Anshei Emeth Memorial Temple of New Brunswick, and Temple Beth-El of Monroe, N.Y., and Temple Beth Sholom of New City, N.Y.

Also taking part in the concert are choirs from Temple Har Shalom of Warren, Temple B’nai Or of Morristown, Temple Beth El of Hillsborough, Temple Emanu-El of Edison, and Temple Beth Am of Parsippany.

Each choir will sing several selections, with all 12 groups coming together to perform two pieces, “Mi Sheberach” and “L’dor V’dor.”

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Cantor Ellen Tilem says that volunteer choirs “make a big difference in the level of spirituality at the service.” Courtesy temple emeth

“Volunteer choirs really give a lot to a synagogue,” said Tilem, whose choir is led by volunteer conductor Jacqueline Guttman. “Besides the spiritual component, they carry on a tradition of modern Reform and traditional Jewish music in the synagogue. They make a big difference in the level of spirituality at the service.”

One benefit of the choir festival, Tilem says, is it gives her and other cantors the opportunity to discover new music for their synagogue services.

“For me, as a cantor, every single Shabbat I’m in my synagogue, so I rarely get to hear what’s going on in another synagogue, to see what their cantor feels is pertinent to their congregation,” she said. “Maybe I’d like to bring [one of those] pieces back to my congregation.”

The singing of “Mi Sheberach” will honor its composer, Debbie Friedman, who died in January from cancer at the age of 59.

“The impact that Debbie Friedman made on Reform Jewish music has been monumental,” said Tilem. “As a larger group we definitely wanted to pay tribute to her.”

In addition to organizing this year’s adult choir festival, Tilem is running a junior choir festival in conjunction with Temple Avodat Shalom of River Edge, which will host the May 15 event. Six to nine Reform choirs from Bergen and Rockland counties are expected to participate.

Admission to Sunday’s festival is free.

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