Those are the words to a Thomas Morley English madrigal that Aliza had to perform for Mother’s Day when she was in second grade. She still sings that every May. Indeed, there is a merry spirit to the month of May and it makes me want to celebrate, preferably with all of you.
The month of May has been declared Jewish Heritage Month in Ontario. Thanks to the work of MPPs Mike Colle, Peter Shurman and Cheri DiNovo, this bill of declaration was passed last year and, as the saying goes, it’s good for the Jews. I had the honour of singing at the Opening Kick-Off Ceremony, and I was so pleased to see how many branches of the Ontario Jewish world were connected through this wonderful initiative. Jewish Heritage Month was created to celebrate the contribution of Jewish Ontarians to all areas of life. As MPP Mike Colle addressed the audience, he mentioned specific Canadians, names you would most likely all recognize but which were foreign to me until then. It was utterly fascinating.
I have always known about the incredible contributions of Jews to the areas of science, literature, medicine, culture and more. In the world of music alone, I am constantly impressed—awestruck actually—at the disproportionate presence of successful Jewish songwriters. Last year’s Beth Tzedec concert saluted the outstanding number of Jewish songwriters who wrote for Hollywood films. We had an amazing sell-out concert with a very long waiting list. It garnered such an enthusiastic response that I decided to further delve into this area and put together an evening of not only Hollywood Jewish songwriters, but those of all popular songs: The Great American Jewish Songbook. Even I didn’t know what I was getting into.
We all know about the Gershwin/ Berlin/Kern presence in Broadway musicals, but in exploring the many styles of popular song, I discovered that the Jewish songwriters consistently dominate across the musical board. (OK, I’ll concede maybe not in rap and country.) Their success in song has made it, at the same time, easy and challenging to find material to put the show together. There are literally thousands of songs from which to choose for the concert line-up, and herein lies my dilemma: How does one choose?
Well, we have chosen, and the result is spectacular. I am now in rehearsals for The Great American Jewish Songbook, a signature event for Jewish Music Week in Toronto and Beth Tzedec’s gala musical fundraising event of the year. For the first time—and this is really exciting—we have moved the Beth
Tzedec concert outside of our shul walls to the George Weston Recital Hall at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. When we decided to move it, it was primarily to accommodate a larger crowd (we really were disappointed last year that so many could not get tickets), but this beautiful venue itself is the perfect setting for this fantastic evening of the world’s favourite songs.
Accompanying me on stage will be the fabulous Broadway Singers and the 30-piece Songbook Orchestra. We have special guest appearances by the so-cute-you-want-to-eat-them Voices of Tomorrow Children’s Choir and the extraordinary Toronto Heschel School Choir. Of course, what would a Simon Spiro show be without some film footage and special costuming moments? We have that, too.
Yes, I know what some of you are thinking: Another synagogue event. People often comment to me that they and their families are simply “not interested in shul”. They will happily (or at least supportively) attend a bar mitzvah, a wedding, a bris or other life cycle events, but in general, they tell me a synagogue has nothing to offer them. If you recognize yourself here, read on.
This concert is for you. This concert is for your parents, your children and friends. Yes, even your grandchildren will love this event. Please do not stereotype a synagogue. Since my arrival here at Beth Tzedec, I have done all I can to bring outstanding musical productions to you and the Toronto community. It is so gratifying to know that Beth Tzedec has come to be known as “The Music Synagogue of Toronto”. If you have not yet been part of any of these events, now is the time to see exactly what a shul can offer you. It’s a chance to celebrate. Celebrate the Jewish contribution to music, and celebrate an evening out with other music-lovers, Jewish Heritage Month, Jewish Music Week, and Beth Tzedec. Celebrate the Merry Month of Maying!