Montclair Jewish Congregation Turns to Making Pandemic Music Videos, Debuts with Cover of Bill Withers’ Lean on Me

Tapping its vocal and instrumental talent to produce a debut cover of the late soul legend Bill Withers’ Lean on Me, Bnai Keshet in Montclair is making pandemic music videos to connect with the community, deal with loss and celebrate the coming holidays.

Senior Rabbi Elliott Tepperman hatched the idea of doing music videos in this time of COVID-19 on a jog with congregant Craig Levine after Withers died of heart complications March 30. Levine, who served as impresario for the project, assembled the musical and vocal talent and Tepperman recruited Associate Rabbi Ariann Weitzman and former Bnai Keshet rabbis to sing vocals.

The final challenge for Levine was finding a project engineer-producer. He mentioned it at home, and his daughter, Isabel “Izzy” Levine, a senior at McGill University in Montreal, who was in Montclair early in the pandemic, suggested her cousin Joey Farber, a senior at Berklee College of Music in Boston, for the job, and he agreed.

Bnai Keshet community taps its musical and vocal talent to produce a series of pandemic music videos, debuting with a cover of Bill Withers’ Lean on Me. Clockwise from top left: vocalists Dahlia Reynolds and her mother Aviva Patz, saxophonist Marty Fogel (former BK congregant now living in Colchester, VT), bassist/arranger Marc Gidal, drummer Craig Levine, and keyboardist Ben Morss.

The final product, arranged by congregant Marc Gidal and posted on YouTube August 14, https://youtu.be/1PXhVGjrROw is an heartfelt rendition Withers’ inspirational 1972 anthem of hope about a country boy’s loneliness in the big city that once again in these troubled times has resonated more deeply and poignantly than ever in the wake of the beloved American songwriter’s passing.

Tepperman was deeply moved by the final product, by seeing how great it is for the community to be able to sing together when it cannot sing together.

“I have so missed singing with our community at Bnai Keshet,” he said. We are a great singing community even if we aren’t all great singers. Speaking for myself, I know my own voice is lifted up by others. When I first saw us all singing together, albeit virtually, I was unprepared for the emotional impact. My heart was as filled with love as my ears were with song”.

Says Levine: “It was great fun to work on the project. I could tell some amusing stories about the widely variant levels of computer sophistication among congregants but that would be telling tales out of school. I’ve received lots of feedback from people –participants congregants, people in the larger community—and it’s all been raves”.

A second Bnai Keshet music video, a rendition of Rabbi Sheffa Gold’s Ozi v’Zimrat Yah, a spellbinding chant about balancing will and surrender during a time of loss, was posted on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqK4IhNghmI September 4th.

And two more music videos featuring the Bnai Keshet choir are in the works for the High Holy Days, which begin, via Zoom, Friday, Sept. 18.

Reconstructing Judaism in and around Montclair, Bnai Keshet invites the larger community to attend its events via Zoom. For more information, visit www.bnaikeshet.org or call 973-746-4889.

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