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  • Scott Williamson

We remember them...

Unmarked Jewish graves outside the Nazi camp of Terezin

We talked about Terezin and Jewish musicians in the Nazi era at Temple Emanuel just three weeks ago. (see my previous post).

Last night we gathered there to remember the victims of the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. When Rabbi Cathy Cohen asked everyone to stand who was not a member of the two Roanoke Jewish congregations (TE and Beth Israel), the outpouring of support was overwhelming in its affect on me and many of our Jewish family. It was another occasion where our minority status was underscored. Only this time the result was a philo-semitic expression of solidarity and a palpable sign of support.

Along with our two beloved Rabbis, leaders from the local Muslim and Christian communities joined Mayor Sherman Lea and Senator Tim Kaine for a memorable and moving evening where, if I may be so bold to hope, a glimmer of the possibility of a more unified community was present...

I was grateful to welcome my colleague David Stewart Wiley who accompanied a rousing rendition of "God Bless America". I introduced this beloved standard by one of the "founding fathers" of the American "Songbook," a Russian Jew who immigrated to the US in 1893 (aged 5) named Israel Beilin.

Irving Berlin wrote his classic of US Patriotism in 1918 and revived it again in 1938. Berlin further demonstrated his commitment to the young, multi-cultural, liberal, democratic republic known as the USA by volunteering to serve in both World War I and the Second World War and making music with troops by conducting choirs of soldiers on Long Island.

Irving Berlin conducting a chorus of troops in NY in 1943

I am so grateful to all my friends at Temple Emanuel and in the community. Special thanks to members of the TE Choir, the Chailites, and to soprano soloist Asherah Capellaro.

Senator Kaine, in eloquent and refreshingly sincere remarks (summarized here) referenced the hateful anti-semitic violence from just over a year ago in Charlottesville. Many members of our choir will be joining with singers from Temples and Synagogues across Virginia at Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, 4 pm, Nov. 18 for the Virginia Jewish Choral Festival (look online for more details!)

One of the most moving pieces on that program will be Gerald Cohen's lyrical, elegiac setting of Psalm 23, "Adonai Roi" which is sung at Jewish funerals and holds a special place in the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) service of remembrance. We sang a duet version of it last night. (Here is the choral (SATB) version we will be singing next month.)

Zichronam liv'rachah. May their memories be for a blessing. Maybe more of us could renew our commitment to repairing the world (tikkun olam). Or at the very least - as Rabbi Cohen enjoined us - perform one good deed in honor of the dead.

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