[by Phyllis Shaikun]
You could simply feel the difference when you walked into the sanctuary at Congregation Adath Jeshurun to attend the synagogue’s renowned Adolf and Sara van der Walde and Israel Rosenbloum Music Festival on Sunday, March 18. Far from the usual formality and dress-up associated with the event, folks showed up in spring/summer casual (the temperature was over 80 degrees after all) ready to enjoy an evening with Beth Schafer, cantor at a temple in Orlando, FL, and blessed with a singing style that Cantor David Lipp compares with “listening to Bonnie Raitt singing Jewish music combined with Eagles’ harmonies.”
Schafer came on stage in dressed jeans and ready to get down with the music for a 90-minute program that engaged the audience from the first note and kept them hooting and hollering throughout her incredible performance.
The writes much of her own material including the first number, “In this House.” Imagine sitting in that beautiful sanctuary and hearing Schafer, accompanied by her ever-present guitar, Cantor Sharon Hordes and the denim-clad community adult and junior choirs, singing. “In this house, it all comes together in this House of God.” It is impossible to get the rock beat of that number out of your head even 24 hours later.
The audience was easily persuaded to do a chair exercise routine (hands up, hands down, clapping and doing the “wave”) to a snappy ditty called “Adama” that was quickly followed by a nigun (a Jewish religious song sung by groups) to the Shabbat prayer “V’shamru.” Listeners were more than happy to chime in with “Yadidas” at the appropriate times.
One of the most moving songs was one that Schafer wrote in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Her theme related to the words of Psalm 69, which has lots of water imagery, and she hurriedly got the recording into production in order to raise funds to help the victims. Her efforts yielded $800 in donations for the Red Cross in Louisiana.
Schafer was an American Idol winner six years ago (on the online version) and she told an amusing story about trying to get members of her congregation, most of whom were computer illiterate, to log on to the online site in order to cast a vote for her to win the contest. The two songs she contributed came in first and second and made her aware that a large interfaith community that helped her to win. She let the audience know that communities of faith are far more alike than they are different and we should all be aware of that fact.
“Modim Anachnu Lach” called for audience participation and they did not disappoint. “I will give thanks,” sang Schafer, and then she asked the audience to call out what they were thankful for. She then incorporated those thoughts into the song (i.e., “I am thankful for my husband, my wife, good health,” etc.). The funniest item mentioned, especially at this time of the year, was the fellow who yelled out “basketball!”
The program ended with the adult choir, Cantors Hordes and Lipp and Rabbi Gaylia Rooks singing “Sh’ma Koleinu” from the Yom Kippur liturgy. “Hear our voices, our one and only God. Have compassion on us your children – hear our prayer,” and “Benediction.”
In addition to Schafer’s guitar work, the audience was treated to bass and vocals by Bill “Gif” Gifford and keyboard music and vocals by John Marsden.
A delightfully delicious array of Jewish desserts ended a spectacular evening on a sweet note.