In an effort to promote peace through harmony, more than 100 faith leaders came together to produce an interfaith, multiracial virtual video that unites the voices of Black and Jewish prayer leaders from around the world. The Cantors Assembly, of which Adath Jeshurun Congregation’s Hazzan Joanna Dulkin is a vice president, came up with the idea for the “Voices for Change” video as a way to build bridges among the Black and Jewish communities through music following the murder of George Floyd by police violence in May.
The song “Total Praise” – written by African American gospel artist Richard Smallwood – was sung individually by a group of Cantors and Black prayer leaders and integrated into a 3 ½ minute video that is being used to promote peaceful healing while simultaneously benefiting music-related scholarships for the Afro-American Music Institute. “Total Praise” is based on Psalm 121 and is a well-known anthem to many in the Black community.
“We’ve been working for like a month on this huge choir video with cantors and black music ministers,” Dulkin said. “It’s a conversation/community building/fundraiser for a scholarship program for young and elderly African American musicians.”
The Grammy-award winning Smallwood served as conductor.
“I am honored and humbled to be a part of this amazing collaboration. To direct my composition Total Praise that features my Jewish and African American brothers and sisters standing together in solidarity is something of which I am immensely proud,” said Smallwood. “I pray that this will help to inspire, encourage and bring healing to all people everywhere.”
Within days of the Oct. 27 attack at Tree of Life which killed 11 worshippers, Pastor Eric Manning of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. – whose congregation experienced its own tragedy in 2015 with the murder of nine worshippers – reached out to Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers and the two have since become friends, continuing to inspire and provide strength to one another. The two faith leaders introduce the video, which is followed by a pre-recorded conversation on issues of faith, race and actions needed to forge better relationships.
“We want to show solidarity and support with our Black brothers and sisters and believe our voices can be used to create positive change in the world. Music is more important than ever,” said Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, who has served as the Rabbi and Cantor for the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh since the summer of 2017. Myers, an active member of the Cantors Assembly, also previously served on its Executive Council.
Said Manning: “Music has a way of bringing different communities together, providing healing and encouragement to communities that had suffered trauma. With our communities coming together to sing total praise, we celebrate our ‘oneness,’ the fact that there is more that unites us than divides us and that our combined histories are interwoven together.”