The group, also referred to as Makhelat Hashachar, meaning “choir of dawn,” is touring the country and will perform at Beth Sholom Congregation on Nov. 1.
The Japan Christian Friends of Israel may not be the first group you think of when it comes to a Jewish choir.
But the organization has been around since 1946, striving to spread peace through song and Jewish music.
They focus on sharing music with the message of a connection to Israel and God. All of the members pray every day for the welfare of the Jewish people and Israel because there is no peace in the world without peace in Jerusalem, according to their website.
The choir first visited Israel in 1971 and has since toured 17 times to Israel and Jewish communities in North America.
The group, also referred to as Makhelat Hashachar, meaning “choir of dawn,” is touring the country and will perform at Beth Sholom Congregation on Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m.
Hazzan Jeffrey Weber at Beth Sholom said he saw them a few years ago in Toronto and was eager to get them to make an appearance in Philadelphia.
None of the singers are Jewish, but they perform “what you think of as Jewish music,” Weber said, like music by Naomi Shemer, Yosef Sarig or even some folk-based songs composed by Japanese artists.
The founder, Rev. Takeji Otsuki, wrote a special composition, Elegy, about his first visit to the Wailing Wall. From the first moment he touched it, he was inspired.
His lyrics were translated into Hebrew for performances.
The choir’s last visit to Elkins Park was in 1994 at Congregation Adath Jeshurun. Weber is thrilled they’re returning.
“One of the really neat connections to this community in Elkins Park in particular is the man that I’ve been working with, Kan Matsumoto, back in in 1994, he was a college student singing in the choir — he’s now one of their organizers — and Rabbi [Seymour] Rosenbloom from AJ had them come out and do a concert,” Weber recalled.
Matsumoto even remembered Rosenbloom and requested his attendance more than 20 years later.
Weber said their arrangements are “so beautifully touching,” and most of members aren’t professional musicians.
“Before I did this, I was an opera singer in New York,” he said. “I was really involved in choral music … and I got involved in Jewish choral music. I’ve been to many churches over the years and saw that there was a connection between so many of the texts in most of the churches, whether it was in Latin or in English or in Hebrew, there are so many texts that are similar.
“Seeing that they as a Christian group have found a way to connect through music — which is such a spiritual way to connect with people and everything — finding that they have realized that and the music is such a wonderful way of connecting with everybody, whether you’re Jewish, Christian or any other religion. I find it extremely touching that they, as musicians, have that sensitivity.”
Weber added that the music goes far beyond the lyrics, too.
“There’s a bigger picture. There’s unity. There’s no reason for it to be us and them. We can all be in this whole world together and even if you don’t agree on all of the details of the bigger picture of life and spirituality, it’s so much more important than worrying about who’s right and who’s wrong.”
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