News / USA

New York's Jews Unite to Help Haiti

Musicians, social activists contribute to benefit

Singer-Songwriter Basya Schechter combines Jewish traditional music with a downtown rocker's sensibility in her performance.
Singer-Songwriter Basya Schechter combines Jewish traditional music with a downtown rocker's sensibility in her performance.

Multimedia

Audio

It's just after seven p.m. on a recent bitter cold evening and the cavernous sanctuary of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on Manhattan's Upper West Side is bursting. Jewish musicians and congregants are among the people who have turned out for the second benefit for Haiti in as many weeks.

Cantor Daniel Singer, the synagogue's music director, says the event meets three of traditional Judaism's key objectives: education, worship and acts of loving kindness. "It's heart-wrenching to watch the sadness of what's going on in this ravaged country," says Singer. "And it's so important to address and to make people aware of it. That really speaks to the core of what music can do to help a real life situation. This is not just entertainment."

The event is sponsored by the Workmen's Circle, a century-old Jewish cultural and social justice organization. "This is our expression of Judaism," says Executive Director Ann Toback. "If you look at Judaism, the texts and the history, it's really a culture of activism. It's not about looking inward. It's about looking outward."

The Workmen's Circle sponsored the benefit for Haiti.
The Workmen's Circle sponsored the benefit for Haiti.

Toback says community members inundated the Workmen's Circle offices with offers of help immediately after the earthquake. "Because when you're committed to an outward focus, you can't sit silently when people are in need." 

Adrienne Cooper, the group's program director, often quotes an ancient Jewish text that likens saving a life to saving an entire world. "And a disaster of this magnitude… could overwhelm any community, including our own. So it's not possible to erect a barrier that says 'this is mine, this is somebody else's suffering."

On Common Ground

Although the Workmen's Circle is a secular Jewish organization, these sentiments are strongly echoed in Judaism, according to Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. "The essence of religion can be reduced to the response to the cry 'help me,'" says Hirsch. "Religious people believe that all human beings are endowed with the spirit of the divine and contain within them the spark of God. When a human being is diminished, the spark of God is diminished. And so we have an obligation to do what we can."

Hirsch says the central task of Judaism is to perfect the world, a concept called 'tikkun olam', in Hebrew. "You must act. Jews believe good intentions are important, of course. But in the end, we're measured by outcomes."

 

Haitian drum virtuoso Frisner Augustin performed with Frank London and the Klezmer Brass All-Stars.
Haitian drum virtuoso Frisner Augustin performed with Frank London and the Klezmer Brass All-Stars.

Benefit Draws Musicians and Money for Haiti Help

Judging by outcomes, the benefit for Haiti appears to be a success. More than 100 musicians perform in the evening program, raising about $14,000. The performers include 13 cantors who sing an ancient Jewish religious melody that recalls the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, traditionally considered God's holy home on earth. "And rebuilding homes is what this concert is all about," says Singer, the synagogue's musical director. "We're here to rebuild homes, [and to] help rebuild lives."

Jewish religious songs are not the only artistry on the program. Basya Schechter, a singer who combines traditional songs with a downtown rocker's sensibility, wows the crowd and a troupe from the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene also performs.    

Adrienne Cooper of the Workmen's Circle is also a Yiddish singer who performs with her daughter Sarah Gordon. She says her fellow musicians feel a powerful need to help those suffering from the Haiti quake and its aftermath. "Because artists are connected to one another and dependent on one another for influences, for being nurtured by other people's sounds, and because they are a bit vulnerable in society, they really feel a visceral and simple affinity and need to respond." 

Cooper believes music and art are fundamental expressions of our shared humanity. "When you raise your voice or speak through your instrument, it's how you convey compassion, anger, love and hope. Any of those things, said through music with an audience, becomes why you make art."

Frank London helped organize musicians for the Haiti benefit.
Frank London helped organize musicians for the Haiti benefit.

Building Bridges 

Much of tonight's art crosses cultural boundaries, says Jewish World Music trumpeter Frank London. The leader of Klezmer Brass All-Stars shared the Stephen Wise stage with renowned Haitian drummer Frisner Augustin. 

"The moment is so joyful you want to laugh and smile, and then you're thinking about what's happened and you want to cry." London pauses for a long moment to gather his thoughts "The fullness of the human condition is brought to the fore in a situation like this," he says, with a smile.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs