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

    Vietnam Mulls Tough Measures for ‘Misbehaving’ Chinese Tourists

    Move comes after footage surfaced online of Chinese travelers harassing a banana hawker in Da Nang

    Pakistan Social Media Star's Honor Killing Fuels Debate

    Qandeel Baloch's murder puts spotlight on deadly tradition and other mistreatment of women

    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.
    Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Borderi
    X
    July 22, 2016 12:30 AM
    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.
    Video

    Video Number of Syrian Refugees Arriving in US Jumps

    The United States is committed to resettling 85,000 refugees from around the world by October. Of that number, 10,000 will come from Syria and already some 4,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States, many of them settling in the state of Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from Chicago, their arrival is not the end of a difficult journey to find peace and stability.
    Video

    Video Rio’s Trams Await Olympic Tourists

    Over the past century, many cities around the world replaced electric trams, prone to breakdowns and backups, with faster and more spacious buses. But for some reason restored antique trams are a huge tourist attraction. So it’s no wonder the authorities in Rio de Janeiro are busy restoring their city’s old tram line ahead of the Summer Olympic Games. VOA’ George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora