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Shedding New Light on Jewish Traditions

Peggy Mandell Story

Peggy Mandell Remembers

 

Thirty years ago, our young family had recently moved to Wyncote and were looking for a shul to join at the precise moment the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College announced they were starting a congregation. It was one of those happy confluences that launched our family for the next thirty years of spiritual development.

Another happy confluence occurred within a year of our joining when Donna and Barry Brian moved into the area, joined the Congregation of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and founded an all-volunteer choir to sing at services. Having sung in choirs all my life, it was one of the things I missed most as a young working mother, so I jumped at the chance to find a way to bring singing back into my life. So hungry was I for the chance to sing, the fact that I didn’t know a word of Hebrew did not deter me, and I became a great fan of transliteration.

My husband Herb, on the other hand, though he possessed a beautiful singing voice, did not know how to read music but knew much more Hebrew than I did, and this aided him enormously as he memorized bass parts he could not read. So the two of us complemented each other well; or rather, together (although not yet separately), we constituted a complete and fully competent synagogue choir part!

It was tremendously fun and gratifying to become a part of this friendly Havurah during our early years in the Congregation. We were part of a rather large cohort of parents with young or school-aged children. We rehearsed in one another’s houses and our children were always welcome. Some of us joined as couples; in addition to Barry and Donna there were Shelley and Ken Rosenberg and Marc and Marcia Wexler. Many others joined as singles or marrieds with a non-singing spouse and became our life-long friends.

Over the years, we sang at one another’s children’s b’nai mitzvot and other simchas. Choir members left and moved away, others joined, and inevitably many of us with school-aged children became empty nesters. Meanwhile the repertoire expanded. Barry wrote four-part arrangements to many Friday night, Saturday morning, and High Holy Day prayers that were pitched (no pun intended) to the particular abilities and voices of our Makaylah. He introduced many wonderful melodies written by Debbie Friedman, Jeff Klepper, Gil Aldema, and other great contemporary Jewish choral writers. He got our choir involved in the annual Delaware Valley Jewish Choral Festival and arranged new songs for us to perform there, using works performed by other choirs as a platform from which to further expand our repertoire.

 

The number of new pieces we’ve learned during the past thirty years is approaching over one hundred, and we continue to lead our congregation in singing the “old favorites” such as Klepper’s “O Seh Shalom,” Friedman’s “Misheberach,” and Barry’s kavannah to the Mourner’s Kaddish, “To Mark the Years,” based on a beautiful melody by Billy Joel. More recently, choir member Mark Glicksman began composing songs for us to sing. He has become so prolific we refer to our music as “all Glicksman, all the time!”

 

For Herb and myself, the most extraordinary convergence happened when, after years of singing choir music, Herb has begun to be able to read music, and I was fortunate to learn how to decode Hebrew when, nearly a decade ago, I decided to join the Adult B’nai Mitzvah class and worked to prepare for my own Bat Mitzvah, ably assisted by a most generous and capable volunteer Hebrew tutor, Dr. Shelley Rosenberg.

Thirty years later, Peggy and Herb Mandell are now each more fully evolved and perhaps now qualified to sing in a synagogue choir. This came from many years of work, practice, and the experience of simply being a part of the community that happened to be looking for a congregation when we just happened to be looking for a shul. Singing in the Makaylah has been a huge part of our coming of age, from young parents to older retirees. We have been enriched in many ways by being a part of Or Hadash, but in no way more fun and enduring than through our participation in the choir.