2014-01-22 / Local News

‘Al’s ChorAl’ an ongoing tribute to the legacy of Rabbi Albert Lewis


Gilah Lewis Sietz (left), daughter of the late Rabbi Albert Lewis, and Julia Zavadsky, professional musician and choir director who works with Al’s ChorAl. Gilah Lewis Sietz (left), daughter of the late Rabbi Albert Lewis, and Julia Zavadsky, professional musician and choir director who works with Al’s ChorAl. There were, suggests Gilah Lewis Sietz, three things that her late father, Rabbi Albert Lewis, held dear. They were music, interfaith understanding and seniors in a community.

Rabbi Lewis was the legendary longtime spiritual leader of Temple Beth Sholom, president of the Rabbinical Assembly and vice president of The World Council of Synagogues. He also was the inspiration for best-selling author Mitch Albom’s nonfiction work, “Have A Little Faith,” which clearly established the rabbi as an iconic spiritual leader. Albom actually delivered the eulogy at Rabbi Lewis’ funeral in 2008 at the rabbi’s request.

So determining a proper perpetual legacy and tribute was undoubtedly challenging for his daughter.

“My father had dedicated his whole life to the betterment of humanity,” said Sietz, a wellknown local Hebrew school teacher who also has worked for 25 years with the Adult Department of the Katz Jewish Community Center. Her challenge: To find the perfect synthesis of his passions as a perpetual tribute and legacy.

Enter “Al’s ChorAl,” an interfaith singing group composed of seniors who love to sing, and who are not barred admittance by tension-producing auditions or the need for formal training. The repertoire, as outlined in a mission statement, will run the gamut from folk, jazz, gospel, rock and even rock ’n roll.

“I want people to know and enjoy and see the value of music,” said Sietz, who saw the dream become a reality in January 2012, when a Meet and Greet launched Al’s ChorAl with about 40 singers. That included Sietz’s own mother, Sarah Lewis, who recently passed away. “She could not see or hear very well, but she enjoyed coming every week and loved being surrounded by members of the choir.”

That choir has quickly grown to 100 voices raised in song, and on a recent evening, those voices seemed to fill the entire interior of Temple Emanuel. In fourpart harmony, the singers, obviously relishing the sheer joy of their time together, even raised the roof with Beatles songs. There were smiles all around, and the timeless pleasure of music eclipsed everything else.

Last year, the group, which has a volunteer board to oversee choir operations, offered its first Rabbi Lewis Memorial Concert to the public, and on Thursday, Feb. 6, a second concert will be co-sponsored by the Katz JCC Adult Department.

The choral group is not without its requirements. Singers meet every Monday night. The choir formerly met at the JCC, “but they ultimately outgrew the space, which is a very promising sign,” said Marcy Lahav, JCC Adult, Cultural and Judaic director. “Now, because of its size, the group rehearses at Temple Emanuel,” said Lahav, who is delighted that a group like this for seniors exists—and thrives.

But not without effort. The choral group members work with professional musician/conductor Julia Zavadsky, a native of Israel. Zavadsky, who leads choirs at Temple University and Rutgers-Camden, and also at Temple Emanuel, delights in the hard work—and the wonderful results—of the choir’s dedication.

“Our singers are learning melody and text and how they come together,” said Zavadsky, who also sees the important social connections that have developed among the members. “The choir has most definitely become a caring community!”

Annette Fein, a Pennsauken widow, hadn’t really concentrated on singing in her adult life, although she always enjoyed it. “Now, Monday nights are the best— I’m at a stage of life when things get a bit lonely, and being part of this group is such a warm and welcoming experience. I can’t wait for Monday nights.”

For Dr. Roy Levinson, a busy internist at Cooper Hospital, serving on Al’s ChorAl Board is a special privilege. This physician sees his participation as “…the most fitting way I can think of honoring the memory of Rabbi Lewis, a man whose life had to be honored by something more than a plaque. The joy in the music has already made a difference in so many lives.”

Recognizing all of that, and remembering how his beloved childhood rabbi sang his way through life, Mitch Albom was one of the group’s first donors. Others have joined in donating, but the need is still great, explained Sietz.

The sweetest reward of Al’s ChorAl, said this proud daughter, is to make choral members feel appreciated, valued and uplifted.

“I also want them to remember and think of my father with grace and admiration, and to take his example and pay it forward.”

The second annual Al’s ChorAl Concert will be on Thursday, Feb. 6 from 7-8 p.m. at the Katz JCC, 1301 Springdale Rd, Cherry Hill. Tickets are $10.

For information, phone 856- 244-1257 or visit http://www.alschoral.org .

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