By Benay Stein
Five groups of college students made a different kind of music Nov. 4 at Beth Sholom Congregation, as the Elkins Park synagogue played host for a second year to the Philadelphia Jewish A Cappella Competition.
Performers this year included Jewkebox from Temple University, Chaimonics from Muhlenberg College, Ketzev from Johns Hopkins University, The Shabbatones from the University of Pennsylvania and Rak Shalom from the University of Maryland, with an added performance from the local post-graduate a cappella group Chai Lights.
Rak Shalom was the winner, with the Shabbatones and Jewkebox coming in second and third, respectively.
The stage for the competition was set up much like a normal Shabbat service, minus a pulpit on the bimah and adding a few amplifiers on either side. The five competing groups sat in sections on either side of the bimah, mostly wearing black, though with a few blue accents
The one major change from the previous year was reducing six competing groups to just five, according to Elliot Miller, who chairs the synagogue’s Ways and Means Committee. He said the competition dragged on a bit last year, so by keeping it to five groups, the competition was completed in two hours.
Each group performed three songs — one in English, one in Hebrew and one of their choice. This included a mix of American and Israeli pop, ranging from old standards like “Fly Me to the Moon” to new top 40 hits like “We Found Love,” and making a pit stop in the 1980s to sing songs like “Jessie’s Girl.”
The groups were judged in several categories, including intonation and tone quality, balance and blend, precision, choreography, and overall effect of their performance.
Beth Sholom Hazzan Jeffrey Weber opened the afternoon with a song called “Olam Chesed Yibaneh,” which roughly translates to “this world is built on love.”
“Singing is like praying twice,” he said, discussing the spirituality of a niggun, a song that is just a melody that can be applied to any words and the idea of the spirituality of music is something that can carry an entire event.
Highlight performances included Jewkebox’s rendition of “Avinu Malkeinu,” and Ketzev’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Benay Stein is a freelance writer.