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Sharing cultures through music

Elementary schoolchildren, Jews and non-Jews, many of them Latinos, danced the Mexican Hat Dance in the aisles of the main sanctuary at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino. Accompanied by the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony (LAJS), Argentine-born cantor Marcelo Gindlin sang a rousing rendition of the classic song while hundreds of happy 10-year-olds waved and clapped as part of a one-hour program presented by LAJS showing the links between Latino and Sephardic music. In attendance were nearly 1,000 fourth- and fifth-graders from Jewish day schools and their counterparts from largely Latino schools in the San Fernando Valley, as well as about 100 “senior guests,” residents of Jewish homes for the elderly.

Gindlin sang an operatic version of “Granada,” which he said he heard his father sing “at every party.” He told the students that Granada is a city in Spain, the country whose history connects, in a profound way, Latinos with Sephardic Jews, both groups tracing much of their music and culture, as well as their language, to Spain.

The Nov. 29 concert was the culmination of a series of classroom workshops conducted by LAJS musicians, who went to schools to help the students understand what they were going to see and hear.

Beth Elliott, who plays viola with LAJS, went to Kittridge Elementary School in Van Nuys a number of times prior to the concert. “I showed them how Latino and Sephardic traditions are similar,” Elliott said. “For many of these kids, it’s their first time inside a Jewish temple, their first time seeing a concert.”

Noreen Green, LAJS conductor, said the musicians served as ambassadors: “It’s as if the Jewish and Latino communities live in two different worlds,” she said. “Some of the Latino kids have never met a Jewish person, much less been inside a synagogue. … It’s important to reach out to our neighbors. And what better way of doing it than by music?”

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