Willkommen in Berlin!

December 18, 2014 1 comment

We found our bus!


Larry and Mark, Welcome to Berlin!

Zamir is thrilled to have landed safely in Berlin, after a looooong flight through Dublin (with a two-hour layover).  Passport control was very nice:

“Are you in that singing group?”

Many of us had intentions to explore the city before this evening. What happened in my room?


(Under orders of the artistic director.) We needed it.

Concert tonight, then opening program and rehearsal. We’ve already seen a few other choirs in our hotel.  Willkommen in Berlin.  Here we go!

Categories: Uncategorized

We Depart: Chanukkah, Night 2 in the Airport

December 17, 2014 Leave a comment

2014-12-17 17.50.37As Zamir embarks on its journey, we joined together in blessing (and “oo-ing”) as we consecrate the second night of Chanukkah — with a classy electric chanukkiah — in the Boston Logan Airport.  We even were joined by a couple of Jews and non-Jewish spectators in the airport.  What a beautiful musical way to start our journey!

Categories: Uncategorized

Hinda’s article published in the Jewish Voice and Herald of Rhode Island

January 6, 2012 1 comment

Reposted from The Jewish Voice Herald of Rhode Island, published in print January 6, 2012. For the record, this is the first article I’ve written to ever be printed in a syndicated newspaper… Pretty proud of this one.

Hinda with Lewandowski

From Boston to Berlin
by Hinda Eisen
Friday, 06 January 2012 02:30
Strong pro-Jewish, pro-Israel ambience in Berlin

BERLIN – Three times a day, observant Jews pray the weekday Amidah, which includes the words, “v’kabb’tzénu yahad mé-arba kanfot ha’aretz” (“and gather us together from the four corners of the Earth”). The first Louis Lewandowski Festival in Berlin was a taste of this age-old wish come true.

From Dec. 15-18, eight choirs from four continents assembled in Berlin to honor the music and memory of maestro Louis Lewandowski (1821-1894), perhaps the most influential composer of modern synagogue music. Singers from the Zamir Chorale of Boston, representing the United States, gathered with singers from the Synagogal Ensemble Berlin, the Jerusalem Cantors’ Choir of Israel, the Johannesburg Jewish Male Choir of South Africa, the Zemel Choir of London, Les Polyphonies Hébraïques de Strasbourg, France, the Toronto Jewish Male Choir, and the Synagogenchor Zürich of Switzerland.

Our shared experience reminded us that while Genesis says God spread people throughout the earth and made them speak different languages because of the episode at the Tower of Babel, He never unraveled universal musical understanding. Though our choirs may speak different languages, observe Judaism differently, and regularly sing different styles of music, we were able to sing the same compositions in glorious unison and enchanting polyphonic harmony.

Besides walking in the neighborhood of our hotel and the guided bus tour of Berlin that took us to the maestro’s grave in the Weissensee Cemetery, the only Jewish cemetery in Berlin not desecrated during World War II, we had little time for sightseeing, but the opportunity to sing with these people for the Berlin community was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

At the entrance to the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery stands a haunting memorial to victims of the Holocaust. We read the stone monument’s inscription from Lamentations 5:1: “zakhor Adonai meh hayah lanu” (“Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us”). As the 250 singers gathered around the memorial, Cantor Isaac Sheffer of the Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue in Berlin, garbed in old-style cantorial robes and hat, chanted the El Malei, the memorial prayer, for the 6 million Jews who perished. We then spontaneously sang “Ani Ma’amin,” a song associated with Jews walking to their deaths in the concentration camps. As that song faded, someone in the crowd began to sing “Hatikvah,” the Jewish national anthem even before the founding of the State of Israel. Many of us sang through tears.

At the maestro’s grave, the Johannesburg choir sang an El Malei for Lewandowski himself. Members of Zamir, eventually joined by other choristers, sang a life-affirming rendition of Lewandowski’s “Halleluyoh”. But perhaps most potent, a septet of Zamirniks sang Lewandowski’s “Enosh” in the reverberating Weissensee chapel. “Enosh,” one of the pieces Zamir was privileged to perform later in the weekend at the Rykestrasse Synagogue concert, is a piece sung often during the Yizkor service about how fleeting life is, and how all humans are subject to God’s kindness and mercy. Yes, here we were, in the oldest Jewish cemetery in Berlin, singing about mortality and life.

In preparing for this trip, I wondered how or whether Holocaust history has remained in German consciousness; this was a question that stuck with me throughout our tour. The answer? One cannot walk through the streets of Berlin without constant reminders of the tragedy that happened there. As one enters the Tiergarten train station, one sees a list of concentration camps, with a charge to “remember the horrors.” Stolpersteine, “stumbling stones” installed in the ground in front of buildings throughout Berlin and throughout Europe, remind passersby of the Jews who once lived in these places and owned these properties. The Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue’s prominently displayed plaque commemorates its desecration on Kristallnacht (Nov. 9, 1938) and its rededication 11 years later. This city is not in denial.

I was struck by Berlin’s obvious pro-Jewish and pro-Israel ambience. Our festival, coordinated and supported primarily by Nils Busch-Petersen, a prominent gentile businessman involved in Berlin politics, was publicized on beautiful billboards featuring a teddy bear wearing a tallit and kippah. (The bear is the city symbol of Berlin.) Walking to shul on Shabbat, men wore their kippot – which one cannot do safely everywhere in the United States. We drove to a concert down Ben-Gurion-Strasse and passed Yitzhak-Rabin-Strasse near the capitol. Even the hotel’s toiletries were made in Israel.

Zamir was privileged to present three concerts during our tour. The first two featured Zamir alone, in a “pre-opening concert” at a church in the largest hospital complex in Berlin, and another concert at the Jüdisches Museum. The third concert included all eight choirs singing individually and together. The collaborative chorus opened the concert with Lewandowski’s “Mah Tovu” and closed with his stunning “Adon Olam.” In the cathedral-like hall, the forte produced by 250 singers together was enough to happily awaken the long-deceased composer; as for the piano, there is nothing so spiritual as hundreds singing softly together. We were privileged to perform this German synagogue music in the context for which it was specifically composed.

My experience in Berlin with the Zamir Chorale of Boston was incredible. We met so many new people, saw new sights, heard new sounds. Standing among 250 singers filling a synagogue sanctuary with vibrant, godly music, we felt the presence of ruah ha-kodesh (God’s holy spirit). This is not a journey I will soon forget.

Hinda Eisen, ritual director at Temple Emanu-El, is assistant to the conductor of the Zamir Chorale of Boston. Contact her at heisen@teprov.org.

Signing Off: Ich Bin Für Immer Verändert

December 21, 2011 1 comment

Translation: I am forever changed.

Over the past couple of days I’ve been reading over my blog posts and reflecting on the state of mind I remember having as I wrote each of them.

As I read the earliest posts on this blog — the ones that anticipate my departure with Zamir to Berlin — it seems as if someone else wrote them. The person who wrote those posts, just seven days ago, could never have anticipated the enormous impact this past week has had on me. I feel like I’ve had some kind of intellectual growth spurt, that my head is spinning full of new ideas and new emotions. I’ve met so many new people, and I’ve learned new things about old friends; I’ve seen new sights, I’ve heard new sounds. I have stood among 250 singers and filled a synagogue sanctuary with Godly music. I have stood among seven singers and haunted a cemetery chapel, and I have felt the presence of ruach ha-kodesh.

I enjoyed dinner out last night with a group of close friends, but I’m sure they didn’t understand that I was a different person sitting with them. I felt changed even from the person I was just two weeks ago. I’m bursting at the seams to tell friends and colleagues about the experience Zamir had in Berlin, but I know that once I open my mouth to start speaking it’s as if I will never be able to stop. Too much to say; too much to filter; too much still to process.

This blog has been a therapeutic and cathartic medium in which I can express my thoughts and feelings as the week has gone by. It has allowed me to reflect positively on the world around me as it has penetrated my mind, my heart, and my soul. Thank you all for taking this journey with me. It is not one I will soon forget.



December 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Hi all,

Thanks for being patient with my posting. I’ve written a lot by hand the past couple of days, and I was planning to type it up and post tonight… but I’m pooped… so I’ll finish the writing over the next couple days. Feel free to post any recommended cures for jet-lag as comments to this post!


Categories: Tachlis


December 19, 2011 Leave a comment


Stretching on the airplane, found Josh.
Hinda: “Well, this was fun. Ready to be home.”
Josh: (Smiling) “Hard to leave it behind, though.”

Time to destination: 41 minutes. 5:48 PM Eastern Time, December 19, 2011.

I’m feeling farklempt about being home, to tell the truth. This experience, these people. Traveling with the Zamir Chorale of Boston. Who could ask for anything more?

So, a final reflection as I anticipate feeling the plane slowly descending under me from 38,000 feet to land in Boston-Logan airport.

37 minutes left. Still at 38,000 feet. The plane in the zoomed-out map in the AirShow is finally touching the point labeled “Boston”.

Ready to be home. If the experience was any longer, the saturation of emotional and spiritual highs might have been diminished in some way. Yes, we were only out of the United States for five days. I know I keep harping on that point but it’s mind-blowing to think how much I’ve learned, and how much I’ve changed. We will try not to make others feel left out for not having come with us; but how can we keep from them an experience we’re so ready to talk about we’re bursting at the seams?

Nothing more substantial at this point to say that I haven’t said before. Just still basking in the glow that has been Zamir in Berlin. Thanks all for following this blog. I hope you have been enriched by my stories in some way, or that you have been able to understand, even a little, the wonderment that we have experienced at the first Louis Lewandowski Festival.

Final thanks go to Devin Lawrence for his unbridled organization and sweet demeanor; to Barbara Gaffin for being our always-prepared administrator and our tour mommy; to Susan Rubin for being our fearless president; and to Joshua Jacobson, Zamir’s founder and artistic director, who is the glue that holds our unison together.

25 minutes. Electronics off. See you on the ground!

Categories: Emotional, Random Thoughts

Leaving This Place

December 19, 2011 5 comments

Getting ready to leave Berlin and having very mixed feelings. Something magical took place here this weekend, and none of us are left unchanged or unimpressed. This festival has left its mark on each of its participants; it has given us memories we will not soon forget.

In Berlin, Jewish life is beautiful. The synagogues are beautiful. The architecture is beautiful. The davening, emanating from the cathedral-like synagogues, is beautiful. The stained glass is beautiful. The Jews walking in the streets are beautiful. And don’t think for a second that the experience of being able to walk to shul in our Shabbat best, wearing kippot, looking like Jews, in the streets of Berlin, did not add to our goosebumps that chilly morning.

Yes, friends, there are Jews in Germany. Jews, mostly ex-patriots from Soviet countries and from Israel these days, live freely here as Jews. They practice freely here. They are constantly reminded of the historical mortality their Judaism has wreaked on this community, and yet they do not question their status as Jews. They learn from their rebbe, they sing songs, they keep kosher, they daven. They wear modern styles. They live in Berlin. They speak German and Yiddish and Russian and Hebrew. Judaism is alive and growing here.

In Germany, Jewish life is beautiful. The fact that we can say that today without the irony loaded in its original source, is beautiful.