Life during the pandemic has us all Zooming and re-Zooming so frequently that sometimes it seems, except for web meetings with family and friends, that all the lectures, talks, webinars and performances blend into one long screen-share experience.
Not so with Emunah Jerusalem's annual Jerusalem in Harmony Concert, a much-loved event. Jerusalemites were resigned to doing without it this year, until popular Cantor Simon Cohen decided the 2020 concert was a challenge he was going to meet in a unique way. It meant countless hours of unpaid hard work for the busy cantor – but the evening was so successful that it may be hard to go back to the way it used to be!
Arutz Sheva spoke to Cantor Cohen about his stellar achievement:
Arutz Sheva: Simon, tell us about the Jerusalem in Harmony Chazzanut and Classical Concert B.C.E. – that is, Before the Corona Era.
Simon: Emunah's Jerusalem in Harmony Concert has always been a special kind of fundraising evening, especially since it is always for a worthy cause. For the past 12 years, just about everyone in the Jerusalem Anglo Religious Zionist community – along with many others, filled every seat in the Jerusalem Theater Auditorium for Emunah Jerusalem's annual concert, a superb evening of highly professional but somehow heimish musical performances that put a smile on everyone's face and had everyone there enthralled.
Arutz Sheva: Who produced a complicated evening of this nature?
Simon: The event was successfully produced every year by dedicated Emunah volunteers headed by indefatigable organizational whiz and veteran UK olah Renee Becker partnered with volunteer Brenda Cohen. It included star cantorial figures and singers, talented musical virtuosos and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Eli Jaffe for many years. The cantors would always at some point sing and harmonize together, performing Chazzanut, Opera, Broadway, hassidic and Israeli favourites, would sometimes begin to dance together and involve the entire audience in the warm spirit of the evening. It was always beautiful, inspiring – and fun.
This photo shows it:
Arutz Sheva: What was the point of having an annual concert, besides its being an enjoyable evening from a musical and social point of view?
Simon: It most certainly had a higher goal than enjoying the performance for its own sake, which also would have been fine, but the profits were traditionally dedicated to one of the many worthwhile projects of Emunah Jerusalem as well. That's why I refused to accept the thought that it would not take place this year.
Arutz Sheva: But theaters are closed. What could you do?
Simon: I decided to prove to myself that Emunah's wonderful reputation for educational endeavors and social welfare projects for the community without any overhead to speak of would come to my aid. I turned to 24 of the world's leading cantors, conductors and choirs who all agreed to appear live without charge on Zoom from their homes, synagogues or outside venues and create a magical evening with performers and participants from all over the Jewish world broadcast to the entire world– something we could not do normally and which made the concert unforgettably special. We blended live items with clips of stellar parts of previous concerts and it turned out to be more exciting than we could have ever imagined.
In fact, we divided it into two evenings, because we couldn't bear to leave anything out.
We also showed a video clip showing the wonderful work of the family therapy center, now needed even more crucially for Jerusalem residents. The response was overwhelming.
Arutz Sheva: How did the evening work?
Simon: Ariella Zeitlin agreed to co host with me – and even played the violin in between the songs. We introduced each performer, spoke to him live, and here and there, took a few minutes to talk to some of those watching and let them share their enthusiasm with the performers. The different venues for the songs made it fast moving and the roster of singers made for a wonderful musical experience.
Just to give you an idea of the outpouring of generosity from performers who waived reimbursement for appearing, here is a very partial list of perfomers: Chief IDF Cantor Shai Abramson, singer/musicians Yonatan Razel and Colin Shachat, Cantors Chaim Dovid Berzon and Shimon Craimer. All the others are as well known.
Arutz Sheva: How did you feel after all the work you put in?
Simon: When I think of the help for the Jerusalem Emunat Rachel Family Counseling Center's Yehudit Preminger Therapy Unit that resulted from the concert, it makes me want to do it again. Emunah Jerusalem, despite the pandemic and perhaps even more so because of the problems caused by the pandemic that go way beyond health issues, continues to be on the front line in assisting individuals and families through crises. Helping that happen was the motivation for my hard work and that of those who helped and performed, and the reason for the good feeling I have after its success. We are a wonderful nation and Emunah Jerusalem is a wonderful organization.
Here is a taste of the concert - two of the songs seen on the Zoom:
1. Cantor Simon Cohen and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Eli Jaffe, in the song performed in honor of Jonathan Pollard: "Bring him home".
2. And with the Hallelu Choir singing out in the mountains: Mi Sheberach Lakahal by Shalom Kinori