Far from the Home I Love: The Jewish Immigrant Story in Song

Posted on November 13, 2018 by Cantor Emily Wigod Pincus

Once again, the TBE Cantorial Concert Committee, led by Jim and Beth Lavranchuk, is laboring to bring another beautiful musical event to fruition. Our subject is a bit deeper this year, and possibly a little darker. But only by descending is it possible to rise: out of the darkness we hope to bring you light.

It’s that time of year….the Cantorial Committee and I are going full steam ahead in preparations for our yearly cantorial concert on Sunday, December 16 at 4:30 p.m., preceded by a “Meet the Artists” reception at 3:30 p.m., where a light dairy menu will be offered. Music brings people together and soothes the soul, and the concert will raise money for the temple through donations and sponsorships. This year’s concert is titled “Far from the Home I Love: The Jewish Immigrant Story in Song.” I had wanted to do something that was relevant to current times and the issues that we now face as Jews and Americans. But I had no idea how timely the subject would be.

The concert will bring many voices together, both young and old, incorporating the talents of Soufganiyot (our junior choir), the Tefillah Band, Kolot El (our adult choir) and our beloved accompanist Kathy Shanklin. One of the special guests will be Vladimir Lapin, who made a spectacular impression on the TBE community with his performances in two cantorial concerts several years ago, while he was still a cantorial student. I am very much looking forward to performing with him again! Vlad has an amazing ability to communicate with an audience through words and music.As a student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, he garnered high-level performance prizes. He is now cantor of Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, New York. Additionally, he has spent several summers as the director of the nature program (Teva) at URJ Camp Eisner in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and returns annually as a faculty member.

Cantor Maria Dubinsky, of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, New Jersey, is the other special guest at the concert. I met Maria while I was in cantorial school, and her artistry and sincerity deeply impressed me. Born in Moscow, Maria immigrated to Israel in 1990, where she graduated from the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem with a degree in vocal performance. As she observed to me, having been an immigrant two times over makes the subject of our concert particularly personal for her. Maria has participated in numerous opera productions of the New Israeli Opera, as well as in a large variety of concerts, recitals, oratorio, chamber music, and opera projects in Israel and abroad. She has also performed in major festivals in Israel and Europe, including International Jihlava Music Festival, Kol Ha-Musica Ba-Galil Ha-Elyon, the Abu-Gosh Festival, Eilat Chamber Festival and Montreal Jewish Music Festival.

I chose the subject for this concert because it speaks to the Jewish condition, and what it means to be Jewish. Since the time of Abraham, we have always been wanderers. Indeed, when it comes time to attend to the needs of the next generation, Abraham sends his servant back to his homeland in Aram to find a wife for Isaac. This is the only acceptable option; under no circumstances is Isaac to marry a native Canaanite. Isaac’s partner must be like him, an ivri/ivriyah (Hebrew, literally one who “crosses over”): one whose spiritual/moral consciousness stems from the soul of an immigrant.

Passion, terror, longing for home, illusions about the new place, heavy burdens, struggle, confusion, dreams that blossom or shatter, not to mention comedy. America as the home for the refugees, Jerusalem as the home for the refugees, hope, loss, danger, wandering, uncertainty. Carrying our sacred heritage and teaching from place to place. Rising to the top of society and then having to leave. What does it feel like to be an immigrant? Always between multiple worlds – the home you left behind, the country you’re in, the place you long to be. Where is home? And as we consider these questions, I hope to foster empathy for those newly minted immigrants we find in our midst. I know that both our guests, being immigrants to this country themselves, will bring a particularly personal, poignant perspective to the topic.

As before, part of the afternoon will be devoted to singing songs from both The Great American Songbook and Israeli song repertoire, with song requests from some of our strong supporters.

The Talmud says: “All Israel are responsible for one another!” (Tractate Shavuot 39A). As always, events at Temple Beth-El are open to all, regardless of financial means, so if you would like to attend the concert but will need financial assistance, please contact me directly to reserve your place. I look forward to seeing you all here, in the home that we love.

Cantor Emily Wigod Pincus


Originally published in the November-December 2018 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.