Memorial concert to raise funds for sefer Torah
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Memorial concert to raise funds for sefer Torah

RIDGEWOOD – Marvin Amsterdam, with his sonorous baritone and imposing stature, was a beloved and familiar presence on the bimah at Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center here.

No one blew the shofar or read Torah quite like Marvin — or quite as often.

That’s why on Sunday the congregation will pay tribute to Amsterdam, who died a year ago on Rosh HaShanah, with a concert to raise money to commission a new sefer Torah in his memory.

The concert, "From Bimah to Broadway II," has been organized by Temple Israel’s Cantor Michelle Freedman and will be held at the synagogue at 7 p.m. Susan Amsterdam, Marvin’s wife, and the couple’s two daughters, Deborah and Bonnie, plan to be present, along with seven area cantors, the shul’s children’s choir, and five high school seniors who will perform with Freedman.

Three years ago, Freedman staged a similar concert to raise money for the Cantors Assembly, the professional organization for cantors affiliated with the Conservative movement.

During an interview last week in an office cluttered with pictures of 9-month-old twins Erica and Kara and the dozens of framed photos she’s received as gifts from the b’nai mitzvah she’s mentored since joining the congregation in 1999, the cantor said that the three scrolls the community already owns are very heavy and hard for young teens to carry. Moreover, explained Freedman, on those Shabbatot when three Torahs are required in the main sanctuary, such as on Chanukah, Shabbat Shekalim, and Rosh HaShanah, the junior congregation in another part of the synagogue is left wanting.

Freedman has hand-picked colleagues who are outstanding vocalists to perform a range of hazzanut, liturgical music, on Sunday, spanning the globe and the centuries. Different cantorial traditions, for example, Kurt Weil’s "Kiddush," which Freedman described as Broadwayesque, and the opening song, which Freedman likened to a French opera, will be represented throughout the program. She made the selections, she said, to highlight the cantors’ unique talents. In keeping with the holiday season, the ensemble will also perform such crowd-pleasers as "Ma’oz Tzur" and "I Have a Little Dreidel."

The five teen vocalists, Hannah Birnbaum, Hannah Barudin, Larry Crane Moscowitz and Emma Rosenthal of Ridgewood High School and Stephanie Schreiber of Montclair-Kimberly Academy, will perform the "Broadway" segment of the concert with two numbers from West Side Story. "Most of them were in my first Dalet class and I took them through b’nai mitzvah," said Freedman. "Many stayed involved through the Torah Club."

The children’s choir, which Freedman established shortly after she joined the congregation and now numbers about 30 youngsters in fourth through 10th grades, has proven an effective way to keep younger members engaged outside the classroom and once they graduate from the religious school, she said. The group will perform two songs, the familiar Chanukah tune "Light One Candle" and "Hazak Amenu," a famous pop number that "talks about life in Israel and the pain of losing people you love who serve in the Army," said Freedman, adding, "I told the children, ‘This one’s for all of you who like to hold a hairbrush in front of a mirror and belt one out.’ They all got into it." She chose both pieces, she said, with her talented ninth-grade soloists in mind and to make it easier for younger ones who still have difficulty with complicated harmonies.

Participating area cantors include Adam Frei of Forest Hills Jewish Center; Sheldon Levin of Cong. Neve Shalom in Metuchen; Ilan Mamber of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff; Janet Roth Krupnick of the Jewish Community Center in Summit; Brian Shanblatt of Temple Beth Sholom in Fair Lawn; Ellen Tilem of Temple Emeth in Teaneck; and Marcey Wagner of the Jewish Congregation of Brookville, NY. Levin, also trained as a conductor, will conduct all the pieces. Among the group are old friends from the H.L. Miller Cantorial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where Freedman was invested, and her college roommate from the Hart School of Music, which, coincidentally (or not), she noted, graduates more vocalists who ultimately enter the cantorate than any other conservatory.

Accompanying the performers will be Irene Bressler of Ridgewood on harp and Tamara Freeman of Saddle River on violin. Both musicians are Temple Israel members. Bressler, in particular, said Freedman, devoted endless hours to rehearsing with the children’s choir.

The two-hour program will be followed by a dessert reception, sponsored by the Temple Israel Sisterhood. In addition to ticket purchases — $18 with advance purchase, $’0 at the door; children under 13 will be admitted for free — donations of $7′ (Supporter); $180 (Sponsor); and $360 (Benefactor) are being accepted. All contributions are tax-deductible. Checks should be made payable to "Cantor’s Discretionary Fund."

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