Two brothers who embarked on disparate musical journeys will cross paths with a purpose when they lift their voices and sing at The Historic Congregation B’nai Abraham of Center City.
Two brothers who embarked on disparate musical journeys will cross paths with a purpose when they lift their voices and sing at The Historic Congregation B’nai Abraham of Center City. This will be the first concert the shul is producing in Rabbi Yochonon Goldman’s 15 years at the synagogue.
On Oct.15, Chazzans Shmuly Goldman of New York City and Choni Goldman of Johannesburg, South Africa, will perform for the first time together at B’nai Abraham. They were raised together in a Chasidic home in South Africa, but wound up developing radically different tastes in their mutual chosen profession.
“I loved the sound of choral music when I was a kid,” said Choni, 30, who serves as chazzan at Gardens Shul in Cape Town, South Africa. (He also sings regularly at Jewish events in the community.)
He grew up as a child soloist in the in Sydenham Highlands North Hebrew Congregation, where his father Yossy Goldman is the rabbi and, in 2007, toured as a backup vocalist with Matisyahu, arranging the vocal harmonies for the Jewish rocker’s 2007 summer tour of the United States.
But, as he got older, the South African culture played a major role in his life. He fell in love with pop music and merged it with his Jewish roots. While he grew up singing on Shabbos and holidays, he never studied music or envisioned himself doing this professionally.
Shmuly, 32, also began singing as a child soloist in the Sydenham choir. After years of serving as cantor of Chabad Sandton in South Africa, Shmuly moved to New York in 2011, where he married his wife, Frumi. He currently works at a Torah scribal center in New York City.
When Yochonon asked Shmuly to perform with Choni, he jumped at the opportunity.
“It’s something I am excited about,” he said. “It makes it very special [to be with my brother].”
Singing was in his blood, Shmuly told the Jewish Exponent in a phone interview. Many cantors have influenced him, including Yudi Cohen, the chazzan at his father’s shul.
After years of listening to his brothers sing Yiddish songs, Chasidic niggunim and liturgical melodies from the synagogue repertoire in South Africa, Yochonon started thinking a couple years ago about them performing at the shul. While the rabbi and his 11 siblings — eight boys and three girls — all sing, they are the only two who do it professionally.
“Music is the language of the soul and we are hoping that people will be moved and inspired by the soulful music which my brothers will sing,” the rabbi said. “I hope they will connect with the people in attendance and be able to engage the diverse audience with the various styles of songs they bring to the stage.”
Last year, the shul hosted “Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Story,” at the National Museum of American Jewish History, which was part of a community outreach initiative which introduced many people to the story of the Polish social worker who saved thousands of children from the Warsaw ghetto with her compassion and courage.
The rabbi wanted to hold a similar event this year, but this time at the shul. He did some research with the help of Robert Lunsk, the owner of Production Works International, an audiovisual company and found out the synagogue could host a small concert.
A local klezmer band, Klezmer with Class, will accompany the brothers; Yochonon feels their two contrasting musical styles will blend well for the set list, which will include “Shehecheyanu,” which is a song traditionally sung to celebrate a new occasion.
He said he is looking forward to hear Shmuly’s rendition of “My Yiddishe Mama” in both Yiddish and English, which will be dedicated to their grandmother, Esther Goldman, whose second yahrtzeit
was just commemorated.
“We feel that this would be the perfect setting for a Jewish musical performance.”