Monday, May 25, 2020

Teaneck—The night of March 12 was stormy and the audience in the TABC Beit Midrash was sparse, but that did not dim the enthusiasm of the participants in the fourth annual a capella competition won by reigning champions MTA and benefiting the Koby Mandel Foundation.

In a pre-show chat, members of the choirs confided the reasons for their interest in singing. “We all love music, and performing together is so much fun,” they admitted, “so much so that we don’t mind giving up some of our lunch periods (and an occasional class) to practice. We perform for our schoolmates and for school dinners and shabbatonim and we are thrilled to be able to have the opportunity to take part in this chesed and raise money for the wonderful work done by the Koby Mandel Foundation.”

The Koby Mandel Foundation (www.kobymandell.com) was established by Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell soon after their son Koby and his friend Yosef Ishran were brutally murdered by terrorists near their home in Tekoa, Israel. The organization provides respite and healing care to families who have been affected by acts of terrorism in Israel.

Lee Lasher, a TABC parent and vice chair of the foundation, opened the show by detailing how he first met the Mandells four months after Koby’s murder and how they were determined to help other suffering families like themselves. Among the organization’s many programs is Camp Koby, a five and-a-half-week summer camp where siblings and children of those affected by terrorism can enjoy a week-long vacation shared by others who have also gone through trauma in their lives. Counselors, many from North America, befriend these children and keep in touch with them throughout the year. In fact, Yeshiva University junior Gaby Novick, organizer of the competition, was one of the 50 American high school students participating in the summer program. He was so inspired by what he experienced that he and friend Jacob Bernstein organized the competition to raise money for the children.

The foundation also runs activities for other family members that include therapy sessions and workshops, hikes and outings, a day camp for underprivileged Ethiopian children, and even comedy tours hosted by noted visiting comics. Mr. Lasher shared a note received by Sherri Mandell from a bereaved mother. “I owe you my life,” she confided. “Now is the first time after my loss that I can live with my pain and enjoy myself.” He reminded the boys and the audience that each of us can change the world.

Then it was time for spirited host, Avi Schwartz, to introduce the boys. The choirs each presented one song for a first performance and one for a second round in front of a panel of illustrious judges; Elchanon Majeski and Shloimie Kaufman(akaPella), Ari Lewis and Ely Shestack, (The Maccabeats), and Mike Boxer (613). During the interval between performances the audience was entertained by talented composer and musician Akiva Tolchin.

The show opened with the Rambam Yeshiva choir singing “Lo Alecha. Their range and rhythm showed great potential but the judges urged them to loosen up and smile. This led to great success in their second performance of “Yofyasifa,” ably directed by group leader Tani Martin.

The JEC choir, the newest choir on the block (only a few weeks old!) sang the next selection, a takeoff on the popular “Radioactive.” It took the boys a few minutes to hit their stride, but the judges complimented them on the way they were soon able to use their voices and their mouths to entertain us with a lively tempo. By the time they sang their second selection, “Rau Banim,” with Noam Shachak of Staten Island at the lead, it was clear that they were really into their performance.

The MTA singers were not only the evening’s most professional group, but certainly the best dressed in their pristine white shirts and colorful bow ties. After listening to their stylistic, lively arrangement of “Adon Olam,” featuring individual, solo vocalists including the talented Ari Mandelbaum, the judges compared them to “a well-oiled machine,” well-rehearsed, with great tempo and style. Although their second selection, “Naar Hayiti,” was much more subdued, they clearly had the beat and the enthusiasm necessary to charm any audience. As an added prize, MTA not only took home a trophy, but an opportunity to record a song for the well-known music producer Jake Antelis.

At the conclusion of the evening the judges thanked all of the groups for their performances and hard work and declared them all “winners.” The boys were encouraged to continue to share their love and passion for music and to keep on singing. One only hopes that these choirs will continue to make beautiful music and that many more people will come out to hear them I”H at VBS 2015.

By Estelle Glass