2017-07-19 / Voice at the Shore

Rebecca Schoffer returns home to lead families in a musical celebration of Judaism

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Local native Rebecca Schoffer of the 92nd Street in New York City will lead Boker Tov at the Shore on Sunday, July 23. Local native Rebecca Schoffer of the 92nd Street in New York City will lead Boker Tov at the Shore on Sunday, July 23. Families, mark your calendars: You don’t want to miss “Boker Tov at the Shore” at the JCC on Sunday, July 23, from 9:30-10:30 a.m. Led by locallyborn artist and musician Rebecca Schoffer, the PJ Library program will involve everyone—from young children to grandparents—in a joyous, musical celebration of Judaism.

“Everything I do is very musical and experiential,” says Schoffer, who is the director of Jewish family engagement at the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side of New York City. In addition to leading interactive, intergenerational musical programs for Shabbat and Jewish holidays, she also leads family-friendly rock concerts in which Jewish prayers and songs are set to lively, upbeat music (much of it written by Schoffer herself). Accompanied by a backup band, Schoffer plays guitar, sings, and fires up the audience until everyone is singing, clapping and dancing to the music.

The 92nd Street Y calls this joyful, interactive, musical approach to Judaism ”Shababa.” As they explain it on their website, “Shababa celebrates the intersection between ancient Jewish tradition and the needs of modern families.” Shababa programs “invite everyone in the room to be fully present, to join in the fun, and to open their hearts to the joys of Judaism.”

The upcoming PJ Library program will introduce shore families to the Shababa approach to Judaism. “There will be a lot of music,” said Schoffer, who will be leading the singing while playing guitar. “It will be an interactive, joyful, musical celebration for people of all ages. We will be singing, dancing, jumping and celebrating being together.”

Schoffer is also excited to bring her unique style of Jewish celebration to her hometown. “It’s a bit of a homecoming. I spent so many years at the JCC—in many ways I grew up there. It will feel good to come back there.”

Rebecca’s family has a long history of involvement with the local Jewish community. Her father, Leo Schoffer, was the honoree of the JCC’s recent 2017 Gala and has been a long-time leader in the local Jewish Federation. Her mother, Patti Schoffer, has long been active in Federation’s Lion of Judah society. Stockton’s Holocaust Resource Center also bears the name of her grandparents, Holocaust survivors Sara and Sam Schoffer. (Her six-month-old son, Sam, is named after her late grandfather as well.)

“I had a wonderful Jewish upbringing,” Rebecca recalled. “But I would also say I was always searching for something a little outside of the box, a place where Jewish life felt very celebratory and uplifting and musical. I always wanted to create something like that.”

Rebecca is now living that dream.

She began leading Shababa programs at the 92nd Street Y (92Y) in 2013 under the direction of Shababa’s founder, Karina Zilberman, who Schoffer describes as a mentor, collaborator and friend. Zilberman, an Argentinean native and former cantor, has grown the Shababa program from a group of people who gathered in the 92Y lobby on Shabbat to hear her sing and play guitar in 2007, to a thriving community of people committed to joyful Jewish celebration, both on the Upper East Side and around the world.

Zilberman is now director of the 92Y Shababa Network, which seeks to bring the Shababa approach to Jewish family engagement beyond 92Y’s walls. Currently, 40 Jewish organizations around the world participate in the Shababa network, coming to annual conferences at 92Y to share best practices with one another.

Meanwhile, Schoffer has also taken Shababa in new directions. With the support of PJ Library (which encourages Jewish learning in young children, largely by offering free books and programs), Schoffer wrote, directed and produced “Sammy Spider’s First Mitzvah - the Musical!” based on a Jewish children’s book written by Sylvia Rouss. The 2016 musical, performed at 92Y, was such a success that Schoffer is now working on another, based on “Bagels from Benny” by Aubrey Davis, which will premiere at 92Y this December.

Schoffer and Zilberman also released a CD of family music in 2015 called “Shababa of the Heart.”

Schoffer hopes these catchy melodies will get everyone engaged in Jewish life in a fun and meaningful way—everyone from families who are shomer Shabbos to those who are “just beginning the journey of figuring out how Judaism will fit into their lives.” Schoffer said she sees the whole gamut of Jewish families at the 92nd Street Y and strives to make what she does “accessible to all.”

Boker Tov at the Shore on July 23 with Rebecca Schoffer is a joint program of PJ Library and Jewish Learning Venture. In addition to music, the program will also include snacks and PJ Library stories. Families interested in attending should RSVP to Susan Weis at PJlibraryatlantic@gmail.com or call her at (609) 822-1854. To learn more about Shababa, go to 92y.org/shababa. 

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