Music has long been a key part of Beth El Synagogue, whether coming up with new melodies that get widely adopted or concerts that bring the community together. So to kick off the synagogue’s 100th anniversary year, having a musical event only seemed fitting.
“To me, there’s no better way to mark the beginning of our next 100 years, than with an evening full of music that brings together not only the Beth El community but reaches far beyond Beth El,” said Beth El Senior Rabbi Alexander Davis. “This is a time in which we are seeking community, and we’re feeling very low, and music has the power to touch us deeply and to lift us up.”
The event, 100 Years, 100 Voices: A Celebration in Song, takes place at 4 p.m., Jan. 28, at Beth El. The event features Nick Page, a St. Louis-based, internationally known song leader, as well as more than 200 singers from nine interfaith choirs from around the community. The event is free and open to the public.
“Singing as a community was the first thing that the Israelites did when they became a people after slavery,” said Cantor Ben Tisser. “We (Beth El) are a singing community. Come to any service, and that’s one thing that people notice immediately is that we sing. A lot.”
Davis said that Beth El has a history of participating in activities with different faith communities in its history.
“To be in a choir means that you have to be really attuned to listen carefully to those other voices around you,” he said. “And that feels, to me, even more pertinent in our own day to be able to listen to the voices in our community, but to listen to the voices outside of our Jewish community.”
Tisser said that Page composes and arranges music from a variety of folk traditions and languages.
“We’re going to be singing songs as a community in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of different things going on that remind us that as we enter our second century, as much as we have a responsibility inward to stay strong, we have a responsibility to remember that we’re part of something much larger than just Beth El or even just the Jewish people. And that’s been the charge of the Jews since the beginning to be a light to the world.”
Page being a part of the event was a big deal to the directors of the choirs that are taking part in the event.
“Every choir director knew who he was and was very excited about him coming to town,” Tisser said. Page will spend the week before the event in Minneapolis to come and work with the participating choirs. And he’ll participate at Beth El over Shabbat weekend – which is fitting given it’s Shabbat Shira, when the Torah portion Beshalach is read.
“In the Torah, that’s the first time when we hear people singing. It’s that feeling of exhilaration and liberation when the Israelites crossed through the waters to the shores of freedom. It is that that we pray for and strive for especially right now in this time of darkness to be able to feel that sense of freedom.”
Davis gave Tisser the credit for conceiving of the idea.
“Nick Page does this kind of thing around the country, but it has to be rooted in local relationships, and Canter Tisser has cultivated those,” he said. “He’s gotten to know choir leaders from other choirs and other faith communities. I’m appreciative of all of his efforts.”
Tisser said that singing is a fun way to be together in community.
“In many ways, it’s an event that reflects our values,” he said. “It’s accessible in the afternoon for people of all ages. I’m actually excited by the idea of little kids making noise in the room. We just want this to be fun.”