From the opening notes of “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” to the closing duet rendition of “My Yiddishe Mama” by brothers Yanky and Shulem Lemmer, the recent SummerStage New York Cantors presentation was a true kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem’s name.
Played to an audience of New York and the greater metropolitan-area Jews of all stripes and many non-Jews, the concert maintained its dignified tribute to traditional Judaism and the love of Medinat Yisrael throughout.
The New York Cantors, whose European concert was aired on PBS to a viewing audience of millions over 150 channels, included Cantor Azi Schwartz of the Park Avenue Synagogue, Cantor Yanky Lemmer of the Lincoln Square Synagogue and Teaneck resident Cantor Netanel Hershtik of the Hamptons Synagogue. Special guests joining the three cantors were new singing sensation Shulem, a young chasidic singing star, recently signed up with Universal Music/Decca Gold, and Grammy-winning klezmer icon Frank London. At the performance, London was feted with the 2019 Memorial Award established in memory of conductor Zalmen Mlotek’s parents, Chana and Joseph Mlotek, creators of three Jewish songbook collections who devoted their lives to Jewish music activism. Mlotek, artistic director of the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene, conducted the 16-piece orchestra that accompanied the beautiful renditions of Jewish music of all genres throughout the glorious evening. Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, chairman of the New York Board of Rabbis and co-host for many years of radio talk show “The Rabbi and the Rev,” served as emcee.
Early in the program the cantors offered a rendition of the prayer for the welfare of the Israeli Defense forces, Avinu She’bashamayim Tzur Yisrael V’goalo, which had been made famous by the chief cantor of the IDF. Leonard Cohen’s world-famous Halleluya was beautifully performed with its Hebrew and English lyrics. A Ladino medley attributed to famed Israeli singing star Yehoram Gaon was melodiously performed. Yiddish classics were offered, accompanied by lively clapping by the audience. Barbra Striesand’s Avinu Malkeinu was received with great enthusiasm.
“Superstar” Shulem, dressed in full chasidic garb as was brother Yanky Lemmer, began his performance with a fabulous rendition of “God Bless America” that proudly united the American and Jewish worlds together. Shulem’s viral rendition of “A Million Dreams” from the award-winning film “The Greatest Showman” brought all to tears.
Mlotek Awardee Frank London, a founding member of the Klezmatics, performed the world premiere of his new klezmer concerto “Freylekhs—A Klezmer Fantasy for Orchestra and Trumpet.” During the 24-minute piece, London alternated between playing a klezmer trumpet and a long and twisted shofar.
Other musical offerings included an Italian medley “Feniculi,” a song from “Joseph and His Multicolored Dreamcoat,” and selections from the Pesach Haggadah. The concert’s message was summed up in the wonderful rendition of “Oseh Shalom” by famous Israeli composer Nurit Hirsch.
The tribute to Mrs. Lemmer, who was in the audience, by her two extraordinarily gifted sons through their rendition of “My Yiddishe Mama” brought the house down. When, at the conclusion of the concert, the audience, consisting of every stream of Jew and non-Jew gathered at a Central Park venue, all rose for the proud singing of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, all felt that a true kiddush Hashem had taken place that evening.
By Pearl Markovitz