The Reconstructing Judaism movement hasn’t had a convention in more than 10 years – until now. At the center of that national convention in Philadelphia this year will be the musical performances, one of which will be Atlanta’s own Congregation Bet Haverim Chorus.
Now almost sold out, the November convention will be attended by more than 40 members of the chorus. The musical group will offer a 45-minute musical program after the community Shabbat dinner. Chorus Director Will Robertson, Music Director Gayanne Geurin, and Congregation Bet Haverim Rabbi Joshua Lesser will the lead a workshop about incorporating music into communal life.
Funding and travel expenses are being provided, in part, by the Vita Leo Brown Creativity and Arts Fund and, in part, by congregants, donations and fundraising activities. Synagogue members have donated frequent flyer miles to the choir, and some have purchased airline tickets for members themselves. In addition, Reconstructing Judaism is subsidizing some cost for the overall convention and a Shabbat dinner. “There’s a lot of excitement in the Reconstructing Judaism movement,” Geurin said. “We’re looking to make a stronger connection within the movement, and we’re so grateful for all the help we’ve received.”
The choir began 17 years ago as a small group of people at Bet Haverim who wanted to begin singing with Rabbi Lesser. The majority of the group is volunteer, the ages range from 13 to 70, and the choir performs in both Hebrew and English.
As they’ve more than doubled in size, the choir has added a band and a string ensemble. They’ve also created more opportunities and places to play over the years.
They performed as the opening act when musician Paul Simon visited Emory University in 2013, and sang at an interfaith rally at the Center for Civil and Human Rights a few days after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando in 2016.
Last year, the chorus and band performed at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, and a quartet performed in June at the festival’s A World of Jewish Culture coffeehouse.
The performance in Philadelphia, however, may be one of the biggest yet for the congregation, and it may be coming at a key time. “Progressive Judaism and Reconstructing Judaism are at a watershed moment,” said Rabbi Lesser. “This particular convention brings so much of the promise of who we are and what we have to offer the world. It was important for our community to invest in a vision that has been so impactful. And we wanted to show one of the ways that we reconstruct Judaism – through our liturgy and our music.”
The Bet Haverim choir will also have an Atlanta concert on Oct. 20 in preparation for the Philadelphia performance. A longer concert, the Atlanta event will feature original choral work by Robertson as well as more classical, traditionally Jewish, and social justice-oriented pieces. Several songs will feature the string ensemble as well as the band, and the choir has promised a lively performance. Because the Bet Haverim gathering space is small, Ahavath Achim Synagogue has opened its doors and will host the concert.
Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the door. For more information, www.congregationbethaverim.org/event/a-joyful-destination-chorus-concert.html.