Cantors unite in song
Cantor Samuel Cohen understands that music has the power to unite people from every walk of life. That’s why this month he’s holding a cantorial concert at his synagogue for the Jewish community. Unlike the standard cantorial show, however, his event, called “Guys & Meidels: A Night of Showstoppers,” will feature a distinctive blend of sacred music, musical theater and Yiddish numbers.
Cohen, who has been cantor at Kehillat Ma’arav in Santa Monica since July 2012, is hosting the concert on Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. and will feature performances from him and three other cantors: Marcus Feldman of Sinai Temple in Westwood, Rachel Goldman of Beit T’Shuvah in Culver City and Shira Fox of Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills.
The title of the one-hour show is a play on the musical “Guys and Dolls,” and Cohen said he wants to make such programs an annual event.
Before he became cantor at Kehillat Ma’arav, a Conservative congregation, Cohen worked at an Orthodox synagogue, Congregation Magen David, in Beverly Hills. He grew up Chabad, but after resigning from his former position, went through a spiritual change. Feldman, a Reform Jew who became Conservative, joined with Cohen and two other male singers to create The Hollywood Cantors, performing a repertoire of Hebrew, Italian and Yiddish music.
Fox, who grew up singing Yiddish music, and Goldman, who was in the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, have also previously collaborated together, Cohen said. Their act resembles that of The Barry Sisters, a jazz and klezmer group that was prominent from the 1940s through the 1970s. Fox said that she’s thrilled to bring back the idea of the Jewish singing group. “There have always been duos and acts in Jewish music history, like The Barry Sisters. It’s been part of our legacy to do duos or groupings, and we’re excited to revitalize that kind of pairing.”
“We’re in our late 20s and early 30s and we want to bring a new flavor to Jewish music and get rid of the notion that good Jewish music is old and passé,” Feldman said. “We want to keep it important and central and relevant to Jewish life.”
Feldman said it’s important to him to represent Sinai Temple, but also to join with other denominations. “We have a responsibility as young cantors, and the newest generation of cantors, to reach beyond our communities and unite over our love of Jewish music.”
Despite their different backgrounds, when Fox, Goldman, Cohen and Feldman come together, Cohen said, “we make an amazing sound. What we do together is bring the future of the cantorate with a modern twist. We also bring our different perspectives, and the way we grew up, into the cantorial arts.”
Goldman stressed that the event won’t be the typical run-of-the-mill cantorial concert. “It’s a lightning bolt of life. We’ve all been involved in cantorial concerts over the years, and they’ve all had a similar theme. We wanted to infuse something refreshing into the standard cantorial concert. Something punchier. We play around with new genres and old styles. We want to get people re-energized.”
In addition, she said, “we’re trying to tap into each others’ roots, because we’re all going to different backgrounds. We’re helping each other grow by playing to each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
If “Guys & Meidels” goes well, Feldman said that the group would like to take the show on the road. He expressed an interest in doing a similar concert at Sinai, which has the capacity to hold more people.
The goal is to expand beyond Kehillat Ma’arav and its community to the Jewish people in general. Cohen said he believes that through music, this can be accomplished. “We want to collaborate and make beautiful music instead of worry about our own synagogues and everybody’s entities. We all get much further by joining together and helping each other and showing what we can do as a group. We can collaborate in many different ways, not just at this point, but hopefully in the future, in and out of the synagogue.”