Temple Sholom Takes The Big Easy Way to Shabbat Service

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In the mood for some funky New Orleans jazz? You don't have to go too far. 

The swinging sounds of the Crescent City will share the stage with the musical landscapes of Eastern European Jews when Panorama Jazz Band performs at Temple Sholom in Broomall for a New Orleans Jazz Shabbat on Jan. 15.
 
Panorama, which has been performing for more than 20 years, has released five albums that combine the melodies of Eastern Europe, the traditional, indigenous rhythms of the Caribbean and the vivacity of New Orleans jazz.
 
The septet includes band leader Ben Schenck on clarinet, Aurora Nealand on alto saxophone, Charlie Halloran on trombone, Matt Schreiber on accordion, Patrick Mackey on banjo, Matt Perrine on sousaphone and Doug Garrison on drums.
 
Although none of the members are Jewish, they play at synagogues and Jewish events often. In fact, their first gig, in 1995, was a Jewish wedding. 
 
“I’ve been attracted to klezmer music since the ’80s, when I first heard it,” Schenck said. “The first time I heard klezmer was on the public radio when I lived in D.C. I was glued to it every week. I heard this really joyous, sexy clarinet and I said, ‘I don’t know what that is, but I have to have it.’ ” 
 
Schenck said he’s inspired by Philadelphia-based klezmer musicians such as Hankus Netsky, Elaine Hoffman-Watts, Susan Watts and Dan Blacksberg.
 
At Touro Synagogue in New Orleans, the congregation holds an annual Jazz Fest Shabbat, which Panorama has played at for about 15 years. 
 
The event combines the liturgy of a Shabbat service with klezmer music. Schenck said they will try to do a striped-down version of the festival in Philadelphia. 
 
Cantor Jamie Marx at Temple Sholom used to work at Touro Synagogue for several years, which is how he met Schenck.
 
Schenck reached out to him because the band has a gig in Baltimore on Jan. 16 for the New Orleans North Jazz Festival and wanted to expand the trip to the Philadelphia community. 
 
Marx said Temple Sholom hasn’t really done anything like this before; he hopes the novel nature of the event will entice hundreds of people to attend, including the temple community and music aficionados of all persuasions.
 
“It’s nice because it’s something I can bring — my time in New Orleans — to the Broomall community,” he said. “I hope people see a little window into New Orleans culture. That’s something that Panorama specifically brings, that New Orleans jazz and world music flavor.”
 
The band will join with the congregation’s volunteer choir to perform familiar Shabbat melodies but with an added swing flair, which Schenck called “contemporary Jewish liturgical music.” 
 
Marx said the layered melodies enhance the spirituality of the Shabbat experience. 
 
“When you add in that much instrumentation, it adds so much energy to the worship experience,” he said. “Granted, it is a different experience than you’d normally get, even at our temple, which we normally have piano and guitar. But it really brings a lot of joy and emotional connection to the music.”
 
The band will also perform some of their own songs.
 
“A rabbi once called jazz Shabbat services with Panorama, ‘Shabbat on steroids,’ ” Marx joked. “He said it’s everything that you normally experience on Shabbat but a little bit heightened, a little bit sweeter, a little more fun.”
 
After services, the congregation will host a New Orleans-themed oneg Shabbat, complete with a few king cakes shipped up for the event. 
 
Schenck said the band has played for many Jewish audiences.
 
“We’re like the house band at Chabad over here,” he said. “I’m always learning. It’s not my culture, it’s not my religion, but I’m always learning, and I really enjoy that.”
 
Schenck is actually a Quaker from Maryland. Although there’s not much of a Quaker community in New Orleans, he has, through the music, embraced a new community.
 
“I feel like the music really kind of recruited me,” he emphasized. “For me, in some sense, the Jewish community filled in that place in my life where you just kind of have a spiritual home or a sense of a spiritual community, even if I’m not really participating that much.
 
“I feel very blessed and humbled to be graced by the Jewish community here in New Orleans.”
 
After 20 years, Schenck has certainly learned a lot and is well versed in Jewish culture, Yiddish phrases and the musical stylings of Debbie Friedman. He still learns more and more at each wedding, Bar Mitzvah and 
synagogue the band performs. 
 
“If you need anybody to turn off a light switch, we’re happy to do that for you on Friday nights,” he laughed. 
 
Contact: rkurland@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0737
 

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