Shearith Israel synagogue hosting TCC performance

Concert will mark gay chorale’s 1st-ever appearance at a Conservative Jewish temple

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Turtle Creek Chorale Director Jonathan Palant, left, and Shearith Israel Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker
PLANNING THE PROGRAM | Turtle Creek Chorale Director Jonathan Palant, left, and Shearith Israel Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker discuss details of the chorale’s upcoming concert at the synagogue. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

The Turtle Creek Chorale will perform in a Conservative synagogue for the first time in its history. But the relationship has been developing ever since Jonathan Palant became TCC director.

Four years ago, Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Conservative synagogue in North Dallas, sang the Hanukkah blessing at the Chorale’s Christmas concert at the Majestic Theater.

“About a half a year ago, I came to Jonathan,” Zhrebker said. “I wanted to continue our professional relationship. I asked if it would be possible for TCC to perform at Shearith.”

“And we’re members of Shearith,” said Chorale director Jonathan Palant. He said he and his partner joined the synagogue when they moved to Dallas four years ago.

The show will feature music by Jewish composers, many of whom are gay. Among them are William Finn, who wrote Falsettos, Leonard Bernstein, Jerry Herman and Steven Sondheim.

Although he initially included Harold Arlen in the group of gay, Jewish composers, Palant couldn’t actually identify him as gay. Arlen wrote “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”

“Close enough,” Palant said.

Palant and Zhrebker discussed repeating a Chorale commission called “Our Better Angels,” which brought together five minority communities.

“It demonstrates that oppressed people have the same emotions no matter why they’re oppressed,” Palant said. “The pain is the same.”

The piece brings the groups together by rallying behind the hatred and lack of acceptance rather than the reason for it. The five groups included are Muslins, Jews, African-Americans, Hispanics and the LGBT community.

“The texts tell the plight of each and how we’re similar,” Palant said.

He hopes they will perform this piece at a future concert with the synagogue.

The synagogue’s choir will open the concert with two medleys and the cantor will close with the only piece written by a non-Jewish composer.

“The cantor is a spectacular tenor,” Palant said. “He will sing an aria from Turandot.”

Palant describes this concert as an effort to build bridges into an untapped community rather than to tear down walls.

“We have Jewish members but have done no outreach into the Jewish community,” he said.

He called the concert a sort of show-and-tell.

“This is my synagogue,” he said. “Bringing my work life into my home life.”

Palant said the Chorale has performed at a number of churches over the years, including numerous performances at Cathedral of Hope. He recalled one time that the Chorale was scheduled to perform at First Baptist Church for the American Choral Director’s Association. That church canceled the performance at the last minute, which was hastily rescheduled at First Methodist.

“This is not about tearing down the mighty walls of prejudice,” he said. “It’s about outreach. We have not been to this venue before.”

He said that Shearith is a member of the Chorale’s Partners in Harmony program that has signed an “all people are created equal” statement.

He pointed out that the term Conservative refers to the service, not social issues. The Conservative movement ordains woman as rabbis, just as Reform does.

“Just in the last five years, the rabbinic assembly approved the ordination of gay rabbis,” he said. “That gives them the liberty to give honors to gay Jews.”
The honors would include calling a same-sex Jewish couple up to read from the Torah or to marry.

Zhrebker called the Chorale’s performance a gift and has been promoting the concert to church choirs across North Dallas. Other synagogues in North Dallas have been promoting the event as well.

“I’m looking forward to taking this relationship into the future,” Zhrebker said.

Palant is excited about the concert for one more personal reason as well.  “It’s made my mother the happiest Jewish mother ever,” he said. “She’s kvelling.”
“Kvell” is a Yiddish word that means beaming with pride, usually by a parent over a child’s achievements.

Turtle Creek Chorale Concert at Congregation Shearith Israel, 9401 Douglas Ave. Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. $15. $12 for students and seniors. 214-361-6606.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens