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Toronto cantors to hold hurricane benefit concert

Volunteers and staff pack supplies at the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, to be delivered to flood victims in Houston on Aug. 29. CHABAD.ORG/HURRICANE

When Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas in August, the ensuing tropical storm that hit Houston and the surrounding area caused catastrophic flooding that affected thousands of residents, including some 2,000 Jewish households.

In a telephone interview, Taryn Baranowski, chief marketing officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, told The CJN that the storm has displaced thousands of people in the community and has caused extensive damage to a Jewish community centre, a seniors centre with an assisted living section and two synagogues – United Orthodox Synagogues and Congregation Beth Yeshurun, one of the largest conservative congregations in the country.

She said that it will cost an estimated US$30 million ($38 million) to repair the homes and the facilities. So far, US$18 million has been raised, half from the Houston Jewish community and the rest from Jewish communities throughout the United States.

And now Toronto will be doing its part to help the Houston community: a group of cantors from a number of congregations will get together to perform at Yachad (Together), a benefit concert to help the Jewish communities that have been devastated by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The concert will take place on Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Beth Radom Congregation (18 Reiner Rd.) and will feature Cantors Jeremy Burko, Simon Spiro, Charles Osborne, Sidney Ezer, Tibor Kovari, David Edwards, Benjamin Maissner and cantorial soloist Lindi Rivers.

Piano accompaniment will be provided by Jewish music maven Charles Heller and Robby Burko, the cantor’s brother. Maissner is also helping to direct the production.


Burko said the concert will be a mix of group and solo performances of classics and crowd-pleasers. “This is not high art. We want to have as much fun as we can muster,” said Burko, of the Beth Radom Congregation.

Expect to hear Broadway tunes, Yiddish and cantorial classics, comedy routines, as well as Israeli and rock songs. “We’re giving the cantors an opportunity to strut their stuff. I said, ‘Do what you love,’ ” he said.

Burko said that Beth Radom usually holds a cantorial concert at this time of year, so when he heard of the devastation caused by the hurricanes, they decided to turn the event into a benefit.

“As soon as I sent out the email to the other cantors, the sign-ups were immediate. There was a lot of support from the cantors to donate their time and talent for this concert,” he noted.

Burko said the involvement of Beth Radom’s bnei mitzvah class in various tikkun olam projects inspired him to organize the benefit concert.

He proudly pointed out that the youngsters have raised money for games and entertainment, in order to improve the quality of life of the patients at The Hospital for Sick Children.

“We espouse the belief that, as a shul and a community, we must always be vigilant to support those in need. When there are people in need, we can always do something,” he said.

Baranowski said that on behalf of the Jewish community in Houston, she is grateful for the support from Toronto. “It means so much to us. We’ve seen how, in this devastating time, that events like this make us feel so valued,” she said.

“Hopefully we can do the same and help the next community that needs assistance.”