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Chaya and Rabbi Alan Green

By HOLLY HARRIS

Shaarey Zedek Congregation bade farewell to longtime Rabbi Alan Green and his wife Chaya with a series of events beginning with a gala dinner Thursday, April 26, followed by a special Shabbat service on April 28 that saw participation by Cantors Herschel and Judy Fox.

 

Rabbis Anibal Mass & Alan Green at Havdallah ceremony

Saturday evening, following the Havadallah service, there was a rock ‘n roll party. The celebration culminated with a community cantorial concert Sunday afternoon at the synagogue.
Laughter and song filled the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue sanctuary on Sunday, April 29th, with a Community Cantorial Concert held as part of the Retirement Gala Weekend honouring SZ’s Senior Rabbi Alan Green and his wife Chaya as they prepare to leave for their new home in Fairfield, Iowa this summer.


The beloved rabbi, who served 18 years at SZ following eight years at the former Beth Israel Synagogue, perhaps said it best during his opening remarks at the concert, “I can’t think of a better or more inspiring conclusion to wind up three glorious days,” before thanking special guests (by Rabbi Green’s invitation), Scholars-in-Residence Cantor Herschel Fox – who hosted the matinee show and hails from Winnipeg’s legendary North End, including succeeding Cantor Brownstone at the Talmud Torah at age 20 – and his spitfire American-born wife Cantor Judy Fox for travelling from their L.A. home for the festivities.


The weekend events, organized by Rena Secter Elbaze and sponsored by The Asper Foundation, launched with a sold out gala dinner held at the shul on Thursday night, including a performance by the Foxes accompanied by jazz king Ron Paley, a rock ‘n’ roll dance party Saturday night with local band FRENZ, following a special Shabbat service that included Cantor Fox hosting Torah L’Chayim, with Sunday’s multi-generational concert organized by SZ’s Rabbi Anibal Mass attended by nearly 400.

At the Saturday, April 28 Rock ‘n Roll party: Rabbi Matthew Leibl (at keyboards) with a little help from friends (left-right): Patti Cohen, Arthur Blank, Alain Renaud, Clare Whiteman, Rena Elbaze, Amy Karlinsky.

An astonishing line-up of 28 chazzanim, vocalists and musicians performed an eclectic program ranging from Beatles and Leonard Cohen hits to liturgical Chassidic and Talmudic prayers sung in English, Hebrew and Yiddish. Cantor Fox kibitzed and kvelled between numbers, sharing anecdotes of his formative years spent in Winnipeg. Many of the performers also paid their own heartfelt tributes to the Greens before launching into their selections.
Highlights included Cantors Len Udow and Tracy Kasner Greaves performing Udow’s touching folksong “Elohia” from his recent album Modeh Ani (Look for a Morning), while Kasner Greaves later treating the crowd to a stirring rendition of Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” accompanied by pianist Jeff Dolovich.


Richard Yaffe also sang a “Contemporary High Holiday Inspired Medley” including Cohen’s “Who by Fire” – a Rabbi Green favourite - “Dance Me to the End of Love,” and Max Janowski’s “Avinu Malkeinu,” introducing his performance by deadpanning, “Instead of hearing one depressing song, you’ll hear three.”
Leslie Emery sang The Klezmatic’s “Gonna Get Through This World,” joined by African drummer Jay Stoller and SZ’s second rabbi, Matthew Leibl on piano, with the latter also accompanying himself during the Beatles’ “Across the Universe,” paying homage to Rabbi Green’s lifelong devotion to transcendental meditation.
Three voices we don’t hear often enough included Cantor Arky Berkal, who served as Chazzan for Beth Israel with Rabbi Green, and whose “Mi Chamocha”, accompanied by Rabbi Leibl, proved he has this music in his very blood. The multi-talented Michael Eskin treated us to “Jacob’s Ladder” composed for his own CD “Mostly Genesis with a Little Exodus,” joined by pianist Shayla Fink and her husband, bassist Kinzey Posen, while the Hungarian-born Zoltan Jakal’s resonant vocals were heard in “Prayer for the State of Israel,” accompanied by pianist Dr. Eric Vickar.

 

Judy & Herschel Fox

Rabbi Mass, who opened the program with “Shalom Rav” also led SZ’s Dor Chadash Youth Choir in “Et Rekod,” including lively choreography with the seven youthful singers handling the microphone during each of their solos like pros – and possibly tomorrow’s chazzanim in the making.
However, the heart of the soul of the afternoon belonged to the mysterious, cryptically noted “Special Guest” in the program that had the entire crowd buzzing before the concert. Cantor Fox announced that, thanks to the magic of modern day technology, Winnipeg’s late, legendary Cantor Louis Berkal (Z”L)-  and uncle of Arky Berkal, would be “performing” with the Shaarey Zedek Quartet that included conductor/tenor Justin Odwak, his soprano wife Sarah Sommer, alto Mal Magorel and bass John Anderson.


And indeed, hearing a spine-tingling archival recording of Rabbi Berkal’s deeply missed, sweet tenor voice rise and fall as though from beyond the grave during the liturgical prayer “Modim,” 

Tracy Kasner-Greaves & Len Udow

seamlessly blended with the Quartet’s background harmonies, elicited open sobs and gasps throughout the audience. I dare say this moment has now become a treasured memory in SZ’s 130-year history, with the emotional standing ovation immediate and heartfelt.
The program also featured five offerings by the Foxes that showcased their dynamic vocals and charismatic showmanship, each taking turns in solos and duets. Highlights included Cantor Herschel’s powerhouse “Where Can I Go?”, a Holocaust survivor ballad celebrating Israel’s embrace of the Jewish people. Cantor Herschel ws given a second standing ovation after he delivered its final dramatic line, underscoring the song’s potent message: “Now I know where to go.” Another highlight was  Cantor Judy’s “Amar Rabi Elazar,” with the couple later leading the audience in a lively sing/clap-along during  the,Jewish wedding song “Od Yishama.”
The two-hour (no intermission) afternoon fittingly ended with a grand finale of “Hinei Ma Tov,” with the entire cast of performers taking the stage to regale the beaming Greens with the music of angels, carrying them on the wings of song into their next glorious chapter.

Holly Harris has been the classical music/opera/dance critic for the Winnipeg Free Press since 2004. She has loved the richness of cantorial music for years.