Kids skip Passover break to sing for pope
The last two weeks have been hectic for 10-year-old Matthew Lipschitz. He and 19 other students at Park East Synagogue Day School on the Upper East Side have been rehearsing practically non-stop for a choir concert this Saturday.
But its not just any choir concert. The guest of honor at this one will be the pope.
Its an honor really, said Lipschitz, who has played the piano for five years but has no formal vocal training. He and the other children were selected a few weeks ago after a teacher asked them to write down their names if they were staying in town for the schools break during Passover. In exchange for forgoing vacation, they will get to meet the pope.
Tuesday morning, as reporters and camera crews walked past, Lipschitz sat with 10 other elementary and middle school students on the lobby floor just outside the sanctuary of the synagogue, a congregation on the Upper East Side that has played host to Hillary Clinton and Binyamin Netanyahu.
Just before 11 a.m., Rabbi Evan Hoffman, who has served as their choir director for the past two weeks, gave them a pep talk. You guys know this, you know the songs, Hoffman said, kneeling to be eye level with the kids. Dont worry about that, he added, referring to the camera crews, who were there to film the rehearsal.The youngsters then filed into the synagogue and a representative from a public relations firm lined them up, shoulder to shoulder.
The students stood ready to sing, staring at the cameras with tense, wide-eyed half smiles usually reserved for school pictures. Before they could rehearse, Park Easts Rabbi Arthur Schneier first asked them a series of questions about faith and peace. Are there countries in the world where this could not take place? Schneier asked. The kids nodded, but none raised a hand to answer. You dont have to name them, said Schneier, who has received a Congressional gold medal for his work in religious freedom.
Asher Elbaz, a 12-year-old seventh grader, said he was very excited for the popes visit, and not at all nervous. Elbaz hoarsely explained that he sings in a group at Julliard, but lost his voice last week.
The students started their rehearsal with Hevenu Shalom (We bring greetings of peace to you!), sounding the way a schoolchildrens choir should, just slightly off key and out of sync.
Schneier said that the synagogue decided to use children instead of a professional choir for the popes visit because children are the future, and he wanted to make sure they grasped the message of understanding.
Most of the students echoed the same sentiment when the talked about why they were excited to meet the pope. He helps our religion. He helps the Jews and he doesnt just help Jews, he helps everyone, said 10-year-old Jonathan Czyzyk.
Elbaz said he was excited and stunned when he found out why his teachers wanted to know if he would be in New York during break. Seeing the pope, its just a wow factor, he said.
-- Emily Meredith