Concert Hits the Right Notes in Raising Money for IDF Gym

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The nonprofit group Uru Achim is holding a benefit concert to raise money for Iron Dome soldiers’ need for a mobile gym.

The halls of the Karff auditorium at the Congregations of Shaare Shamayim will be reverberating with some decidedly non-liturgical melodies this weekend, as the synagogue plays host to a concert featuring opera and classical music.
The performance, which was spearheaded by local volunteer organization Uru Achim and sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, will begin at 4 p.m. on Aug. 30, with proceeds going toward the procurement of a mobile gym for Israel Defense Force soldiers who work on the Iron Dome defense system.
The concert has been in the works for about three months, said Bella Teperov. Teperov, coordinator of Uru Achim, which translates to “rise up, brothers,” said this show is significant because the musicians are non-Jews who are performing in support of Israel.
The performance will feature music from composers such as Verdi, Rossini and Handel, all performed by renowned soprano Sharon Cheng, who will be accompanied by pianist Will Crutchfield.
Cheng was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and has lived in the United States since 2002. She made her professional debut in the U.S. in 2009 with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra as a soprano soloist, according to her website.
“In one way or another I have been performing since I was a little child. I sang and danced already before primary school,” she said in an email.
She fell in love with opera among other interests and pursued a degree in public administration at Penn State University. Today, she has combined all of these interests and splits her time between performing, educating and working — she helps direct a program assisting foreign music students who want to study in America.
She was not originally supposed to perform, but as the first musician could no longer make it, Teperov called upon Cheng — a friend of one of the group’s members — to see if the singer could step in.
This will not be Cheng’s first visit to Philadelphia, and she said she loves the city mostly because of the museums and restaurants.
“I like to go to Morimoto and have a little bit of every dessert on the menu,” she quipped.
Cheng will sing a few opera arias, a group of German pieces as well as two pieces from renowned Russian composer Sergey Rachmaninov.
She is looking forward to the “chance to reconnect with songs and arias that have been favorites for me and the public for a long time, while adding a few novelties, including two songs in Russian.”
The Russian component is a big one, as many members of Uru Achim are from the former Soviet Union and now live in Philadelphia.
Founded in 2004, the group has about 20 volunteers who have united for the same cause: Israel.
Its members hold benefit concerts, lectures, meetings and other activities featuring Jews and non-Jews.
“Everything we do is related to Israel, all of our activities are centered around Israel,” said one of the founding members, Lazar Trachtenberg.
Teperov added a few other examples of what the group has done, including raising money for Israel rescue medical volunteer organization United Hatzalah of Israel, for which they were able to supply 36 bulletproof vests for paramedics, 16 defibrillators and several anti-burn kits. They also supplied two “ambucycles,” which were $23,000 each.
Its focus now is on the Iron Dome defense system.
Trachtenberg and his wife were in Israel for a large chunk of the summer, from the beginning of July to mid-August. While they were there, they visited the Iron Dome, where they met with officials. Though the group is also looking ahead to new projects, this one remains a top priority.
“The Iron Dome defense system is one of our latest projects. We’ve concentrated on it for about two or three years,” Trachtenberg said. “It is very important because it helps protect Jewish life in Israel.”
He and his wife also met with officers from other departments of the Israeli army. It was a “personal” and “very moving” experience, he recalled.
This benefit concert aims to build bridges to connect Jewish people with non-Jews, Trachtenberg said, again alluding to how the performers are not Jewish themselves.
The group has held 14 fundraisers and events at Shaare Shamayim and Teperov is “grateful” they are able to continue using the venue.
“It’s always amazing. This group brings in just incredible performers,” said Jacques Lurie, executive director of the synagogue. “To sit in the room and hear the level of musical expertise is just amazing.”
It’s clearly a “very worthwhile effort,” he said of why the synagogue continuously opens its doors to Uru Achim for their concerts and fundraisers.  “It’s one that’s critically important for Israel.”

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