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My Jewish Identity by Polly Lehman

When Yachad asked me for a fun fact about myself, I readily reply that I’ve sung at Carnegie Hall. They ask, “Was it a solo?” That’s when I smile, remembering the 350 other singers who sang with me on that stage. HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir is just one of the many communities to which I belong.

HaZamir is a network of small chapters of singers across the United States and Israel that gives Jewish teens an advanced musical experience in a Jewish setting. HaZamir is a non-denominational group and provides an opportunity to forge close friendships while uniting in a common goal: music.

Each week, HaZamir chapters meet to rehearse a shared repertoire before coming together for regional, national, and international events. There, chapters meet, rehearse, and create friendships before the season ends with the Annual Gala Concert at a major performance venue in New York City.

In the past I had thought my Jewish identity was mainly made up of other Jewish youth groups, time spent at the synagogue, and the ridiculously large and delicious family dinners I attend on every holiday. I had never considered something as simple and seemingly non-religious as singing to become part of my Jewish identity. Now, HaZamir is a large part of my Jewish identity.

The music we sing in HaZamir is written by famous cantors, composers, and HaZamir singers themselves. The text we sing varies from daily prayers to rabbinic teachings to verses from the Torah and the Song of Songs. Knowing the meaning behind the words I sing makes the whole experience more meaningful and enables me to connect to the songs on a personal level. Singing will forever be a part of my Jewish identity.

For the last two years I have served as the Teen Leader of the Minneapolis/St. Paul chapter. My goal as a Teen Leader is to model leadership at chapter, regional, and international events, and to support my local conductor and plan social activities throughout the year. I work to build a strong sense of community in my chapter and bring them closer to the international community. In addition, this year I was given the opportunity to serve as the International HaZamir Teen Leader Co-Chair. As Co-Chair, I work to build community within the Teen Leader Committee, lead a Teen Leader Orientation and a Teen Leader Weekend Retreat.

HaZamir allowed me to sing on the stage of Carnegie Hall, but it wouldn’t have been the same if I wasn’t surrounded by the community of singers around me.  HaZamir Minneapolis/St. Paul is a course offered through Yachad (yachadmn.org) and meets at the JCC on Sunday afternoons. If are at all interested please feel free to contact me (lehmpoll@gmail.com) or Cantor Audrey Abrams.

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