Spring forum? What spring? Heavy rain and cold weather welcomed Jewish Senior Alliance’s spring forum that took place at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture May 15. But the forum’s title, With a Song in My Heart, was more than fitting and filled the audience with warmth and, I would add to it, “And a Smile on My Face.”
The first hybrid program of JSA attracted 40 people attending in-person, as well as another 40 people by streaming links. Gyda Chud, co-president of JSA, welcomed the audience and reminded them of the work JSA does in outreach, advocacy and, especially, peer support.
The program featured Wendy Bross Stuart, ethnomusicologist, music director, composer and piano accompanist, and was dedicated to the memory of two musicians of exceptional talent: Claire Klein Osipov z”l and Joan Beckow z”l. Bross Stuart said she was pleased to have been able to engage three superb singers for the performance – Erin Aberle-Palm, Kat Palmer and Chris Adams, who delighted the audience with not only their beautiful voices but also with their charming stage presence.
The program started with the beautiful title song, “With a Song in My Heart,” which is a show tune from the 1929 Rodgers and Hart musical Spring is Here.
Bross Stuart spoke about the Joan Beckow Legacy Project, started by Bross Stuart’s daughter, musician and composer Jessica Stuart, which spotlights works of the brilliant, prolific and totally under-celebrated composer, who died in January 2021. Beckow had been Michael Bublé’s vocal coach, as well as Carol Burnett’s music director. She wrote “Pretending” to capture the sense of wonder provided by “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Burnett learned it in a day and it became part of their production.
The forum performance included the Hebrew song “Tov L’Hodot,” as well as George Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which was most famously sung by Ella Fitzgerald. It continued with my all-time favourite Yiddish song, “Oyfn Pripetshik,” which made me think of my mother, followed by “Rozhinkes mit Mandlen,” which prompted many in the audience to sing along.
“Guided by the Stars” was a conversation between husband (Captain Cook) and wife, who pleaded him to be careful upon his forthcoming voyage. Alas, Captain Cook’s life came to a fatal end on that last journey.
While almost all of us are familiar with the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” how many of us know that it was written by sons of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, who escaped the pogroms to “a land they only imagined in their dreams”? Edgar Yispel (Yip) and Harold Alan wrote the song for The Wizard of Oz, which came out on New Year’s Day 1939, less than two months after Kristallnacht. The music is deeply embedded in the Jewish experience, and the lyrics become more about Jewish survival than wizards.
A medley from Fiddler on the Roof further entertained listeners, followed by Beckow’s “On the Other Side of Nowhere.” Her son, David Beckow, selected his mother’s lyrics to inscribe on her gravestone: “When this life is over, we will meet somehow, on the other side of nowhere, on the far side of now.”
The performance ended with a singalong of “Tum Balalaika” and an encore of “Dona Dona.”
Shanie Levin thanked the performers and spoke of the importance of remembering and honouring Beckow and Klein Osipov.
The next JSA event takes place on June 27, 1 p.m., at Congregation Beth Tikvah, and features tenor Gustavo Herrera. The hybrid event is co-sponsored by Kehila Society and the synagogue; if attending the lunch portion, the cost is $12. Register by June 24 with Toby Rubin, [email protected], or via jsalliance.org.
Tamara Frankel is a member of the board of Jewish Seniors Alliance and of the editorial committee of Senior Line magazine.