Grapevine: A choir of one’s own

Something to learn from the Makuya

Benny Lau (photo credit: KNESSET)
Benny Lau
(photo credit: KNESSET)
■ MOST OF the congregants of Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue in Talbiyeh are immigrants from English-speaking countries – primarily the US and England, but also Canada, South Africa and Australia. Because there is no regular cantor, members of the congregation, and occasionally visitors from abroad, lead the prayers. Thus the style and tunes of services vary, and for many it is a rare opportunity to relive the liturgy that was part of their childhood.
A long-standing rule, which is not strictly enforced, is that the service be conducted in Sephardi Hebrew. Once in a while someone raised in a yeshiva or in a synagogue where the Ashkenazi pronunciation was used conducts the service in Ashkenazi Hebrew, or a bar-mitzvah boy has been taught his Torah portion in Ashkenazi Hebrew, and they’re allowed to get away with it.
But it’s difficult to top what happened last Saturday when Rachel and Alex Katz, formerly of New Jersey, who came to Jerusalem via Ra’anana, celebrated the bar mitzvah of their son, Ezra Netanel. Aside from considerably increasing the number of members of the priestly tribe who blessed the congregation, the Katz family brought their own choir, whose harmony and varied repertoire, with a choice sampling of Carlebach melodies, livened up the service to the extent that some congregants had to restrain themselves from applauding.
■ EVEN THOUGH the Japanese Makuya have premises in Jerusalem and members come to Israel at least once every year and parade along the Ben-Yehuda Mall as they sing Hebrew songs, there are many well-educated and generally well-informed people who apparently have never heard of Makuya.
Rabbi Benny Lau, the outgoing spiritual leader of the Ramban Congregation, was invited to attend a Makuya conference in Japan, and was very impressed with the sincerity of its members, with their study of Genesis and Song of Songs and with their Hebrew singing, especially when they sang liturgical songs. He posted his impressions on Facebook and was inundated with responses, mostly from people who wanted to know about Makuya. Lau referred them to Wikipedia, but did remark that in addition to being great lovers of Israel, the Makuya community cherishes and observes many important values.
They don’t say a bad word about anyone. They don’t gossip. They make great efforts to understand other people and to help those in need, and their hospitality is not only outstanding but in the true spirit of Abraham the Patriarch They are also devout in their prayers. For all that, they are normal family people, but in the purity of their faith, they are a reminder of the essence of the Torah.
■ IT SEEMS that mayoral candidate Ze’ev Elkin has succeeded in attracting the big money. Among the people hosting parlor meetings for him are Jane and Jon Medved and Claire and Stuart Hershkowitz, who have invited guests to join them for pizza and beer while they listen to Elkin outline his plans for Jerusalem. The invitation has been carefully worded so as not to preempt the result of the election, but it’s fairly clear what result the hosts of the evening anticipate. Medved, who is the founder and CEO of OurCrowd, which has brought tens of millions of investment dollars to Israeli start-ups, is in his own right a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Stuart Hershkowitz has been involved in banking and finance for more than 30 years and inter alia is vice president of the Jerusalem College of Technology.
■ IN MANY parts of the world in which there is a shortage of English teachers, qualified teachers and other people whose mother tongue is English are responding to calls to be volunteer teachers. It’s a great chance to get to know another country, and to have the satisfaction of giving their students additional language skills. Israel also benefits from volunteer English teachers, and near the end of last month, some 250 of them arrived in the country under the joint auspices of Masa and the Education Ministry. This is the eighth year in which the program has been operating. Most of the volunteers will be teaching in peripheral communities around the country. Husband-and-wife team Zack and Sarah Massa-Myers, who married a year ago, will be teaching in Jerusalem. Zack, who converted to Judaism some years ago, previously came to Israel on a Birthright trip and decided that the best way to strengthen his connection to Israel was to give something back. He is a qualified teacher. Sarah hasn’t merely come along for the ride. She will be teaching, too.