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Yiddish singer and two cantors reunite for fundraiser

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Cantor Simon Spiro

Chai Lifeline is bringing three Jewish superstars back to Roy Thomson Hall for one night.

The charity, which has been helping seriously ill children and their families since it came to Canada 10 years ago, is reuniting Yiddish singer Mike Burstyn and cantors Itzhak Meir Helfgot and Simon Spiro for Sing for the Children: British, Yiddish & Kiddush Part 2 for its 10th annual fundraiser.

The show is a followup to last year’s event, when the trio of entertainers shared a stage for the first time in a historic occasion in the world of Jewish music, raising about half a million dollars for the Donald Berman Chai Lifeline Canada.

Mike Burstyn

Burstyn, a Yiddish entertainer who cuts across musical genres, has portrayed Al Jolson on Broadway to critical acclaim. Helfgot, considered the Pavarotti of the cantorial world, has performed a solo concert at the Metropolitan Opera House with the New York Philharmonic. Spiro, the “British jazz singer,” is  an accomplished pop vocalist who’s sung with Elton John, Shania Twain and Phil Collins.

Cantor Itzhak Meir Helfgot

The performers will be accompanied by the 60-piece Sing-for-the-Children Orchestra. The ensemble will be led by internationally renowned Australian conductor Russell Ger, who has previously collaborated with Helfgot.

Acclaimed singer Thom Allison will return as the show’s narrator.

The program was conceived and written by director Aliza Spiro, cantor Spiro’s wife. Her narrative for this year’s production weaves together a fresh selection of Broadway, pop and Yiddish songs, as well as cantorial and classical tunes. It also includes some comedy.

“What was interesting last year is that we took Helfgot, who’s known as a cantorial soloist and he’s always put in a box, and we sort of pushed him,” Aliza said. “Because I write a lot of comedy and I get my performers to do a lot of shtick. So we worked with Helfgot and got him very far out of his comfort zone. He was doing some comedy things he’d never done before.

“He loved it, so this year there will be more of Helfgot doing shtick, and with Simon and Mike, too.”   

READ: GOLDEN AGE OF YIDDISH MEDIA REVEALS JEWISH TRENDS

Aliza added that the show is family-friendly and appropriate for anyone over the age of 12. “It’s a great way to bring your teenager to see quality entertainment in the world of Jewish music.”

Israel (Yummy) Schachter, a member of Chai Lifeline Canada’s board of directors, launched the organization’s Roy Thomson Hall concert series 10 years ago. Schachter said the group is “very quiet” about who it helps in order to protect the privacy of its clients, and therefore remains under most people’s radars despite assisting more than 400 families with the aid of its 535 volunteers. The charity gets attention through the annual concert, he said, or if a family it’s helping takes it upon themselves to let people know how they were supported.

Although many of Chai Lifeline’s services are geared to the Jewish community,  anyone who reaches out, regardless of their religious affiliation, will get help. Over the past year, it has expanded its services for children with an ill parent, including offering support to preschool- and elementary school-age children.

“Chai Lifeline has become the go-to place for any child that’s affected by serious illness,” Schachter said.

This year, Chai Lifeline honours Toronto Mayor John Tory, who will be the special guest at a post-concert reception for sponsors over $5,000. “He’s been an incredible champion of human rights in Toronto and a steadfast supporter of Israel and our community,” Schachter said. “It’s a great opportunity for our community to show our appreciation.” n

For tickets to Sing for the Children: British, Yiddish & Kiddush Part 2 at 7:30 p.m. on March 30 at Roy Thomson Hall, visit www.chaiconcert.com or call 1-888-416-CHAI.

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