Musical mitzvah raises money for AIDS organization
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Musical mitzvah raises money for AIDS organization

Local teen (and friends) perform for a good cause

Jeremy Shinder gets ready to play Pugsley in the “Addams Family.
Jeremy Shinder gets ready to play Pugsley in the “Addams Family.

Haworth teen and stage performer Jeremy Shinder had his first gig when he was 2. It was when his grandfather, Rabbi Frederic Pomerantz, called him up to the bimah to play drums at Temple Beth-El of Northern Valley in Closter.

It is fitting, then, that his recent bar mitzvah celebration — which included a benefit concert for Equity Fights AIDS — took place at that same synagogue.

In fact, his bar mitzvah spanned two synagogues, said his mother, Rabbi Rebecca Shinder, religious leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Florida, N.Y., and associate rabbi at Tenafly’s Temple Sinai for many years.

“My shul is small, so we did Friday night there,” said Rabbi Shinder, who also is the congregation’s cantor and educational director. “It was packed. My father had done a jazz service [at Beth-El, where he is now rabbi emeritus] and Jeremy wanted that to be part of his bar mitzvah celebration. He played the drums for it. We brought in musicians through former congregants at Beth-El.”

The Saturday service took place at Beth-El, where “I was on the bimah with five rabbis and four cantors,” said Jeremy, a seventh-grader at Haworth Public School. “The main rabbi was my mom. My grandpa did the Torah service and benediction.”

What was it like to grow up surrounded by rabbis?

“You had to pay attention in Hebrew school,” said Jeremy. His efforts clearly paid off.

Jeremy Shinder with his mother and father preparing for his bar mitzvah.
Jeremy Shinder with his mother and father preparing for his bar mitzvah.

“I read more Torah than most bar mitzvah kids do,” he said, pointing out that Korach is one of the longest Torah readings. And, he said, he had never read from the Torah before. Still, he added, “my mom was tolerant. She cut down my haftarah a little bit.”

His mother, clearly proud, noted that “he leyned a long parashah, chanted the haftarah, and led the service with me.” The afternoon service was followed by dinner, and then by Jeremy’s mitzvah project — a benefit concert on behalf of Broadway Cares: Equity Fights AIDS, with performances by “The Musical Mitzvah Makers.”

“We came back into the sanctuary and had a concert in which the kids” — all young people with whom Jeremy had worked — “did some group songs and solo songs. Jeremy also gave a talk about why he did it, and thanked corporate sponsors and individuals givers. He talked about performing a mitzvah being part of a bar mitzvah.” So far, Jeremy has been able to donate nearly $3,600 to his designated charity. He had set out to raise $1,800.

Jeremy produced the entire show, getting in touch with everyone who participated. Of course, his mother helped a lot, she conceded. “We sent them music, assembled books for each of them and for the musicians. Jeremy ran the rehearsals and divided up the parts. He took control.”

The teen’s acting career began with a local talent search at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, where he continues to work with Deborah Roberts and Amelia DeMayo.

It was his grandmother who insisted that he try out.

“It started with my uncle,” Jeremy said. “He always wanted to be an actor, but my grandma didn’t allow it.” Jeremy is named for that uncle, who died of AIDS when he was 30 years old. Jeremy’s bar mitzvah took place on June 13, his uncle’s birthday.

“My older brother was interested in show business but my parents were from Pittsburgh and didn’t know anything” about show business, Rabbi Shinder said. “He was in all his school plays, but they didn’t know how to translate that into something more.”

“When my mother saw the ad [for the JCC tryout], she said don’t make the same mistake I did. You can’t say no.

“I’m a rabbi and I work on Sunday so I had a babysitter take Jeremy to the JCC on that Sunday. He played the drums and sang, and a month later was signed with a big New York agency.”

From there, she said, her son’s career blossomed. His first job — while he was in nursery school — was for Nickelodeon. Now, at 13, he has under his belt a Broadway show as well as an extended tour, an appearance on Sesame Street, bit parts on TV shows, commercials, and an independent film, and countless Shabbats spent playing drums at musical services.

His schoolwork has not suffered.

“Wherever he works, they must provide education,” his mom said. “We’re very lucky to have found a fabulous [tutoring] company.”

Jeremy Shinder
Jeremy Shinder

“When I was in ‘Christmas Story,’ I had two phenomenal tutors,” Jeremy said. “They have become my personal tutors ever since. I always request them and get them.” He noted that his mother was going to tutor a fellow actor — a student at a Solomon Schechter school — but the arrangement did not work out.

Rabbi Shinder said that Amelia DeMayo,a singing teacher at the JCC, has been “fabulous” with Jeremy. “She said he needed to be Pugsley in ‘The Addams Family,’ even when he was too young and too short. He was singing the music long before they were auditioning for replacements,” Rabbi Shinder said. When the time came, he got the role. “But they had the nerve to close. Still, they went on tour in the U.S. and in Asia.”

Jeremy is a showman, Rabbi Shinder said. Like her father — a longtime rabbi who never looked at his sermon but preached from memory — “Jeremy didn’t look down at the notes for his bar mitzvah speech.” Calling her son “like Nathan Lane in tap shoes,” she described him as a “unique person. He’s a boy and a comedian and has a unique look.” He does, in fact, tap dance.

“I love it. This is what I do,” Jeremy said of his work as an actor. “It’s not work, not even a job or hobby, but a passion. This is what wakes me up in the morning. I have a vocation for acting.” The young performer said that while most people assume that he particularly enjoyed the role of Pugsley — and it was a fantastic experience, he said — “my personal favorite was an off-Broadway show with John Tartaglia and Kerry Butler. It was the best chance ever.” [The show was a revival of “Big — the Musical.”]

Jeremy called Broadway Cares: Equity Fights AIDS “the leading industry-based HIV/AIDS fundraising and grant-making program in the country. They run social services in all 50 states.” To raise funds, he opened a page on the group’s website, donate.broadwaycares.org/jshinderbarmitzvah.

He connects his interest in helping others to Jewish teachings, pointing out that “even when you’re little and you go to Hebrew school, you learn about tzedakah. As you get older, it becomes natural to you. You know it’s the right thing to do.” He has also been inspired as a “Jewish boy growing up in a family with two rabbis.”

Jeremy would advise bar mitzvah students choosing a mitzvah project to “choose something that not only relates to your community, but also something that relates to you physically and mentally — not just one that you feel other people want to hear.”

Rabbi Shinder and her husband, Larry, live in Haworth with their three children, Jeremy, Jacob, 11, and Hannah, 8. She joked that while Larry is not a rabbi, “he is a very good driver into New York City.” Jeremy said that Hannah — a student at the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford — “doesn’t want to do anything regarding show business, but she’s my biggest fan.”

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