Festival takes music out to the community

Opening Jewish Music Week concert [Riva Gold photo]

TORONTO — The second annual Jewish Music Week recently brought Toronto eight days of concerts and lectures and featured a wide range of music, from Yiddish folk songs to Brazilian choro music.

Now in its second year, the not-for-profit festival was organized by Judy Jacobs and Aliza Spiro, who decided to bring the festival back after the response to last year’s event. “We originally thought it would be a one-time only event, because the cantor’s assembly happened to be meeting in Canada, but the response was so overwhelming that we decided to make it an annual program,” Spiro said.

This year’s opening event, held at Nathan Phillips Square in front of Toronto City Hall, included performances by cantors, students from the Associated Hebrew Day School and the University of Toronto’s Varsity Jews, an a cappella group.

“It’s not only a chance for Jewish people to enjoy and listen to Jewish music – it’s also a chance to expose the public to all the wonderful contributions Jewish people have made in this arena,” Spiro said.

Throughout the week, the festival also hosted lectures, among them a talk about the development of popular song in Israel.

“We wanted to share the lives, experiences and history of Jewish composers and music,” Jacobs said.

“Whether it was about name changes or pogroms in Russia, we wanted to share the details about musical people, their lives, the history of the Jewish People and how that influenced music over the years.”

During the day, lunchtime and afternoon events held across the city showcased cantorial music, klezmer, Yiddish theatre and Israeli music, as well as the Jewish influence within secular music.

A jazz event at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre featured pianist Ron Davis performing in a room where artwork by children was on display. “We held a contest asking kids to draw Jewish music and what it meant to be Jewish. To be in a room listening to a concert on a Jewish theme surrounded by that art was really amazing,” Spiro said.

Concerts were held at Mount Sinai Hospital, Baycrest, the Toronto Reference Library, Loblaws, the Free Times Cafe and Downsview Park. “We wanted to bring the music out into the community – hospitals, restaurants, assisted living, theatres, libraries. There were really a lot of different opportunities for people to come and share with each other,” Jacobs said.

Programs also took place at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue, Beth Tzedec Congregation, Congregation Darchei Noam and the Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation. “The synagogues were receptive and welcoming to members of the community-at-large, Jewish and otherwise,” Jacobs said. “Music is a universal language. It crosses all kinds of religious divisions in a positive way and helps us see what we share as a community, in terms of our history.”

In the evenings, gala concerts celebrated Sephardi music, Shlomo Carlebach, Yiddish and African-American music, Jewish Hollywood, Srul Irving Glick and Jewish big band music.

“Music is really a uniting force in the community,” Spiro said. “We saw old and young people, men and women, Jews. Something I really like is how the festival has been bringing people together.”