April 19, 2024
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ZehaKOL: Eleven Schools Join To Record ‘Acheinu Medley’ at Kaplen JCC

ZehaKOL, the musical brainchild of Itzik Weiss in Israel, caught the attention of seasoned music educators and long-time friends Randi Wartelsky and Carey White, rising to a pinnacle New Jersey debut on Monday at the Kaplen JCC in Tenafly.

Following a whirlwind four weeks of planning and logistics, Wartelsky and White collaborated with Weiss to organize a ground-breaking musical recording phenomenon with students from 11 of northern New Jersey’s Orthodox elementary, middle and high schools, uniting their voices in spirit and song. The schools who sent choirs were Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, SAR High School, Yeshivah of Flatbush, Yeshivat Frisch, Ben Porat Yosef, Moriah, Ramaz, Solomon Schechter of Bergen, Yavneh Academy, Golda Och Academy and Yeshivat Noam. Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School and Schechter Long Island planned to come, but were forced to cancel due to the weather.

White shared, “I had been in touch with Itzik for a few years, ever since I saw the arrangements he did. I said, ‘One day we will work together.’ Randi found a few of his videos online and said he does great work with schools. He organizes group singing events like this all over Israel, called ZehaKOL.”

Carey White instructs her small group on their voice part, pre run-thorough.

Weiss came in from Israel especially to collaborate with White and Wartelsky on this specially commissioned vocal and musical production.

Imagine the challenge of uniting several hundred students from 11 different schools. A team of music teachers needed to step in; manage these students, most of whom did not know each other previously; and inspire them to listen, learn and perform their parts in a musical selection with just a two hour deadline. But with Wartelsky and White at the helm, along with their gifted colleagues, they got the job done.

“The objective was to unite as Am Yisrael, sing and send our strength and love to Israel. Randi and I have been friends for 20 years and we have similar visions and hopes for our students.” said White.

“The mission is really to bring schools together to support Israel, and is a way for singers to contribute and give strength to our Jewish brothers and sisters.” Wartelsky added, “We knew we wanted the students to experience a live singing event, so they could feel the togetherness themselves through their singing.”

Small group practice learning their voice part.

ZehaKOL was publicized on the Jewish music teacher’s chat.

Wartelsky explained, “I started a music teacher chat during covid called ‘music teachers unite.’ It was a great way to be in touch and share resources and ideas.” They also reached out to colleagues in other schools, attempting to contact as many school choirs as possible.

White was inspired by working with Weiss. “It was meaningful that Itzik came from Israel for this project—he is bringing it home to show his communities and send a message of love and strength to Israel.

“Also, it was particularly important for me that it was at the JCC, an amazing institution I have been involved in for my entire life, as a child, as a violin teacher in the music school, and now as a parent. To have a place where all different Jewish schools can come and feel welcome as Jews was incredible. Steve Rogers, CEO of the Kaplen JCC, said, ‘Yes!’ from the beginning and Fran Kozser and the entire JCC staff were absolutely incredible and so welcoming. They were with us from the get go and helped with everything. I am beyond grateful that their team was there.”

Summing up the experience, White and Wartelsky remarked about what meant the most to them about the experience.

Adina Mermelstein from Yeshivat Noam instructs her group on their voice part.

“The first time when all three parts came together Every voice part had a portion of the melody and harmony, so we were all equally important, uniting together as schools, singing for Israel. It felt like a mini rally for Israel,” concluded White. “We are stronger together.”

Wartelsky added, “We also want the students to realize that at any age you can use your talents to bring strength to others. We hope the video will bring a sense of solidarity to our brothers and sisters in Israel, so they know we are with them, and to understand and see in real time that we are all one nation: Am Yisrael.”

White and Wartelsky join in thanking all of the school music teachers and administrators for making this happen, and especially the students for giving their time and talents; “for without them there would not have been a program.”

Mordy Major, a ninth grader at Frisch, said, “I found this project to be inspiring and important in two ways. On a smaller scale, this event opened my eyes to the wider Jewish community in the area. On a larger scale, the project enabled us to raise our voices in songs, proving to the world that Am Yisrael Chai. In these dark times, it is important to come together as one people.”

Itzik cues up the group before starting to record.

Kaitlin Levy, 10th grader at Frisch, said, “During these hard times, it’s very important to spread awareness by doing something you are good at and passionate about. The event wasn’t just to spread awareness about the tragedies that happened, but also to remind people that we are all one community and we should stick together.”

Wartelsky is the director of music for ninth and 10th grade at Frisch. She also serves as director of choral studies and the Cougar Chorus.

White is the middle school music director at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, and serves as artistic director of violin ensembles at the JCC Thurnauer School of Music.

White said that they hadn’t yet decided how the music video will roll out, whether via YouTube, on school platforms or other media options. It will also require some time to complete the editing. So watch for the launch of the “ZehaKOL” New Jersey music video “Acheinu Medley,” by the joint Orthodox day school choirs of northern New Jersey, directed by Randi Wartelsky and Carey White, sometime in the near future!

The music teacher staff: Front row: (l-r) Juliana Rappaport (Golda Och), Itzik Weiss (arranger), Janet Chrem Pichotto (YOFHS); Middle row: (l-r) Amanda Saperstein (Ramaz), Chana Salomon (BPY), Randi Wartelsky (Frisch), Carey White (SSBC); Back row: (l-r) Dassi Rosenkrantz (Ramaz), Marsha Motzen (Yavneh), Adina Mermelstein (Noam), Mordy Weinstein (Moriah), Kenny Birnbaum (SAR), Ricky Sasson (YOF). [Not pictured: Delia Nagar, Ma’ayanot]
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