Park East Synagogue – 133 Years Young

Park East Synagogue – 133 Years Young

This weekend was truly a “Shabbat of Legends.” We welcomed Shabbat in with a packed and energetic davening, followed by a sold-out, Young Professionals dinner, hosted by our very own Izzy Karten, with over 350 people in attendance. That morning the energy continued with an inspirational Shabbat Bar Mitzvah, and culminated that evening with The Most Beautiful & Memorable Selichot service.

Weekends such as these remind us of the incredible vitality and reach of our community. Our doors were wide open to young professionals, newcomers, long-time members, families, loyal friends, and Jews from every walk of life.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier opened the evening with a captivating and timely State of the World Jewry Address, which was broadcast live simultaneously

Our beloved and world-renowned Chief Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot was joined by the Park East Synagogue Choir, led by Maestro Russell Ger and assisted by guest conductor Yossi Schwartz (the new musical director for our day school), in an absolutely stunning performance. One of the most poignant moments of the evening came when child soloist Motti Kalisch joined Cantor Helfgot in a soul-stirring duet. The golden-age musical Chazzan and his young protege moved the crowd of close to 700 to join them in singing, creating an electric buzz of community and togetherness throughout the Sanctuary. Where words end, music begins. 

On Shabbat morning, a large crowd gathered to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of Michael Trokel. Our Bar Mitzvah boy mesmerized the crowd with a beautiful Torah reading and speech. The entire congregation joined in the singing and celebration of a unique “made for Park East” Bar Mitzvah. We were graced by the presence of many notable dignitaries and guests, including Dr. Jacob Frenkel, Chairman of JPMorgan Chase International and former Governor of the Bank of Israel.

The Sanctuary and Ballroom were overflowing on Friday evening with attendees of the sold-out black-tie Shabbat Young Professionals Gala with over 350 young singles. Many members, as well as first-time guests to the Synagogue, enjoyed this memorable evening in a vibrant and elegant style.

*Photos were taken prior to Shabbat

As Selichot so beautifully ushered us into the high holiday season that is now upon us, support our Kol Nidre campaign and start the year off by ensuring we can continue to offer our world-renowned inspirational programming and help grow our community from generation to generation.


Opening a Window Into an Exquisite Service

We are only one month away from The Most Beautiful Selichot service at Park East Synagogue. Chief Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot has stunned audiences with his powerhouse voice leaving everyone feeling inspired. One individual’s perspective of this most astonishing performance could be considered the “best seat in the house.” This is reserved for the talented Maestro Russell Ger, who gives us an inside look into what it means to conduct such a historical service.

How long have you worked with Park East Synagogue as a conductor?

I started at Park East towards the end of 2011, so I have been there for more than a decade.

What makes Park East Synagogue’s Selichot service so special?

I think that the quality of the voices and musicianship of the singers is totally unique in the Jewish world. I have conducted many choirs in Australia, Canada, and the USA, and Park East is a cut above the rest. Cantor Helfgot has an instrument that is exceptional for its power, range, and stamina and so any ensemble that performs with him has to be top-notch. That special combination of his voice matched with a superb choir is something to behold.

Do you have a meaningful moment from a previous year’s service you would like to recall and share?

The first time we rehearsed Halben in 2013 was very special because Cantor Benny had asked me only a few days beforehand to create a brand new arrangement of this beautiful piece. (I think it had only existed as a cantorial work with organ accompaniment.) The choir sight read my challenging arrangement with characteristic aplomb. I complimented them and said that very few choirs could read something like that at sight. I said I was very proud to work with them. Cantor Helfgot then said he was proud that Park East had a choirmaster who could compose an arrangement like that in a couple of days. So when we performed it for the first time a couple of days later, [we] all felt part of something special.

How would you describe Cantor Helfgot’s take on the repertoire usually performed for this service?

Cantor Helfgot is a throwback to the golden age of Chazzanut, where many Cantors were classically trained tenors with great range and power.

During the service, how are you feeling as you conduct the choir and Cantor Helfgot?

Having done the Selichot service with Cantor Helfgot more than ten times, I know how he phrases and breathes and shapes everything. This gives me the freedom to be very present and spontaneously respond to whatever he is doing vocally and musically. My favorite is when the music does what is called “tone painting,” where the composer paints the text in sound – for example, there is a phrase in Shma Koleinu “Al tashlicheinu milfanecha”, where the prayer beseeches Hashem not to cast us out from His presence. The word milfanecha – “Your presence” – is written up very high and loud for the whole choir, which creates the sense of celestial majesty of G-d’s being. I always find moments like this stirring and uplifting.

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