|From left to right: In 2013, Yaakov Chesed lead vocalist Jake Polansky, Immanuel Shalev of the Maccabeats, recording artist Simcha Leiner, and recording artist-producer Aryeh Kunstler judge the competition.|
If the Beatles’ appearance 50 years ago on the “Ed Sullivan Show” led to millions of record sales, perhaps a bunch of Jewish boys singing a cappella at Torah Academy of Bergen County could lead to thousands of dollars for a worthy cause.
Yeshiva University junior Gaby Novick knows this is possible. The March 12 “V’ata Banim Shiru” a cappella competition, to benefit the Koby Mandell Foundation, is the fourth annual event of its kind that he has executed.
“We have already raised thousands of dollars for the foundation and created a really great program,” he said, adding that he chose to move the competition from Long Island’s Five Towns to Teaneck this year when he heard about TABC’s newly expanded building.
Hosted by Avi Schwartz of West Orange, the competition will showcase singing teams from boys high schools, including JEC in Elizabeth, MTA at Yeshiva University, and Rambam Mesivta in Lawrence, N.Y., Mr. Novick’s alma mater. The panel of judges includes members of successful Jewish a cappella groups Six13, the Maccabeats, and A.K.A. Pella.
In 2008, Mr. Novick was one of about 50 American high school students participating in a five-week summer program of the Koby Mandell Foundation (www.kobymandell.org), which was founded by Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell in response to the 2001 murder of their 13-year-old son, Koby, by Arab terrorists near their home in Tekoa, Israel.
The foundation runs therapeutic programs for bereaved mothers, as well as 10-day summer camps on a kibbutz near Nahariya, on the northern coast of Israel, for some 400 four- to 18-year-olds who lost siblings to terrorism or other tragic circumstances.
The visiting U.S. teens tour Israel for three weeks and spend the other two weeks as Camp Koby counselors.
“Gaby came to me a couple of years ago with the idea of having the competition as a way of raising money for our camp,” said Roy Angstreich, the foundation’s executive director. “Serving as a counselor at our Israeli camp has a tremendous impact on the teens who work with our kids, and we were honored that Gaby felt the importance of helping us provide the camp experience for even more kids. The competition not only raises funds for our camp but also raises awareness of the work that we do on behalf of the victims of terror.”
Mr. Novick launched the first VBS competition in 2010 with fellow Rambam Mesivta senior Jacob Bernstein, an a cappella singer. “The idea was putting together chesed” – acts of kindness – “fun, and music,” he said.
He based the competition on a similar annual choral event for yeshiva high school girls that began a couple of years before at the Hebrew Academy of Five Towns and Rockaway. Every year, a different charity receives the proceeds of ticket sales.
The name of the competition is taken from a liturgical poem read in many congregations on Shavuot, “V’atah banim shiru lamelech b’tiferet m’foar,” “And now, my sons, sing to the King with magnificent glory.”
Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. VBS performance cost $10. All the costs of the production are covered by sponsors, so 100 percent of the proceeds can go to the foundation.
Rabbi Mandell said he and his wife are grateful to Mr. Novick for helping to offset the foundation’s annual $1.7 million budget, of which Camp Koby accounts for about $700,000.
“The fact that people are still thinking and caring about those who lost family members to terror is meaningful to us personally, and to the kids and families who have suffered here in Israel,” he said. “It warms my heart that events like this continue to remind people of Koby’s life and his sacrifice. Gaby’s continued involvement is very inspiring to me.”
Mr. Novick said the camp taught him that the trauma of losing a close family member to terrorism lasts long after the headlines fade.
“Down the road, children are still dealing with issues, and bereaved parents still need support,” he said. “I saw that the camp is such a great experience for these children to open up and meet other kids who have been through similar experiences, and Sherri does tremendous work with mothers. It seems there isn’t as much tragedy going on in Israel these days, but that doesn’t mean these families don’t need help, so I want to raise awareness for the cause and help raise money.”