Annual concert honors memory of influential Cherry Hill rabbi
Gilah Lewis Sietz, daughter of longtime
Cherry Hill Rabbi Albert Lewis (pictured
at left), reveals the dedication
sportswriter and author Mitch Albom made
to her father in his 2009 book “Have a
Little Faith.” Lewis’ life, legacy and
love of music will be celebrated with a
choral performance by a group named in
his honor, on June 23 at Temple Beth
Sholom on Kresson Road.
Lewis’ impact to be feted by chorale and local piano virtuoso.
By Bob Herpen for the Cherry Hill Sun
POSTED: June 17, 2019
Hill Rabbi Albert Lewis might have departed the Earth more than 11 years
ago, but his legacy and, most importantly, his love of music, live on.
And so, on
Sunday, June 23 from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., the annual Rabbi Lewis
Memorial Concert will take place at his former house of worship, Temple
Beth Sholom on Kresson Road. It will feature a local choral group called
“Al’s ChorAL,” started by his daughter, Gilah Lewis Sietz, as well as
13-year-old piano player/ composer and Cherry Hill native Jeremy Radin.
after the rabbi’s passing, Al’s ChorAL is a choir designed
for the older adults of the community, who come from a wide range of
faiths, beliefs, singing experience and musical talents. Its repertoire
runs the gamut of musical genres. The nonprofit group meets weekly and
is not solely performance-based, but it is led and organized by a
professional musical director, Anne-Marie Mendonca and accompanied by
Philadelphia-based pianist Alex Ayala.
“I wanted to
combine the interfaith community, his love of music and his love of
humanity. That’s why I looked for people of all faiths together, and
music, and seniors. He worked with seniors all the time. He was the one
that started at the JCC, the Jewish Relations Council years ago, to
bring all the men of faith together to discuss how it is to be a
shepherd, how it is to be the leader of a religious community,” said
Lewis Sietz on the rationale behind the chorale’s makeup.
over Temple Beth Sholom for many years, and was a key figure in the
early life of Detroit-based sportswriter and author Mitch Albom, who
wrote about Lewis and his request that Albom deliver the eulogy at his
funeral in the latter’s 2009 work, “Have a Little Faith.”
Lewis Sietz, her father loved music in virtually all its forms, but to
entertain the audience, the chorale promises to bring unique versions of
modern hits to life.
“He made up
songs, he hummed, he walked over to the preschool in the synagogue and
made things up with the kids, he loved to sing. And he taught us things,
mnemonic devices to remember stuff in high school, make up songs to
remember things. He loved music: classical, Jewish music, he loved
Broadway shows and he thought music was a universal language. So when I
came up with the idea to do something to honor him in the community, I
wanted it to be with music,” she explained.
it came time to plan for the concert, I said ‘we’re going to stay away
from religious music, traditional choral pieces, we’re going to have it
be all rock-and-roll.’”
Some of the
artists expected to be featured by the chorale are Queen, the Beatles,
the Rolling Stones, Coldplay and Adele – naturally adapted for the
performers’ range and comfort.
“My father was
as genuine as you could get, and when he was looking at you, he saw you
and he heard every word that you said. He was listening, not just with
his eyes, but with his heart. He was beloved because he made everybody
feel equally important. He never allowed his position in the community
to be used in any way other than in the service of God and humanity. I
think his legacy speaks for itself in the people he left behind who talk
about him to this day,” Lewis Sietz added.
Doors will open
at 1:30 p.m. and cost for attendees is $10. Refreshments will be
provided. For more information, or to join the group, visit
the chorale’s website at http://alschoral.org.
Cherry Hill Sun full article
Seniors Rock Out in Cherry Hill
Every Monday night, a group of seniors meets at Temple Beth Shalom in
Cherry Hill for choir rehearsal. But you won’t hear hymns or prayers –
you’ll probably hear rock ‘n’ roll.
“Rock ‘n’ roll can speak to the heart, you know,” says Gilah Lewis
Sietz, who started the group known as Al’s ChorAL six years ago. She
ticks off bands the choir covers: Queen, The Beach Boys, The Beatles,
The Civil Wars, even Pharrell’s “Happy.” “I prefer music from artists
like Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd and Guns ‘n’ Roses, but we do what the
group wants,” she laughs.
The choir is aided by director Anne-Marie Mendonca and
pianist Alex Ayala
It’s no ordinary band of seniors, and Al’s ChorAL is no ordinary choir.
Sietz organized the choir in memory of her father, the late Rabbi Albert
Lewis. “He was a giant in the community,” she says. “When he first came
to South Jersey in 1948, he was shocked that there was no interfaith
council. ‘How will we make this a strong community if we’re not speaking
to one another?’ he asked. After he passed, I wanted to do something to
honor his legacy.”
Knowing her father’s fondness for music, Sietz formed Al’s ChorAL for
seniors – no auditions required. You only have to enjoy singing.
That was good news for Marlton’s Jean Slover, who joined in January.
“I don’t even sing in the shower,” she says. “I think I sound better
when I’m singing with people!”
Slover, who comes from a Methodist faith background, was attracted to
the idea of an interfaith choir, where religion could be discussed, but
was never the focus.
“It’s a family of interfaith people,” she says. “At first it was
something for me to do. But we’ve become a family organization. It
allowed me to make new friends and learn something new about my old
friends I never knew before.”
The 35 members of Al’s ChorAL (a number always in flux) act like a
family too – they organize rides and carpools to make sure everyone can
make it to rehearsals and shows. The group performs at festivals and
retirement homes, where sing-a-longs are a hit. Sietz says she’s happy
the group is carrying on her father’s legacy of graciousness and
“We like to share the love,” she says. “We like to give them a feel-good
feeling about themselves. We try to create a wonderful environment in
sjmazine.net full article
‘Al’s ChorAl’ an ongoing tribute to the legacy of Rabbi Albert Lewis
By SALLY FRIEDMAN For the Voice
POSTED: January 22, 2014
There were, suggests Gilah Lewis Sietz,
three things that her late father, Rabbi
Albert Lewis, held dear. They were
music, interfaith understanding and
seniors in a community.
Rabbi Lewis was the legendary longtime
spiritual leader of Temple Beth Sholom,
president of the Rabbinical Assembly and
vice president of The World Council of
Synagogues. He also was the inspiration
for best-selling author Mitch Albom’s
nonfiction work, “Have A Little Faith,”
which clearly established the rabbi as
an iconic spiritual leader. Albom
actually delivered the eulogy at Rabbi
Lewis’ funeral in 2008 at the rabbi’s
So determining a proper perpetual legacy
and tribute was undoubtedly challenging
for his daughter.
“My father had dedicated his whole life
to the betterment of humanity,” said
Sietz, a well-known local Hebrew school
teacher who also has worked for 25 years
with the Adult Department of the Katz
Jewish Community Center. Her challenge:
To find the perfect synthesis of his
passions as a perpetual tribute and
Enter “Al’s ChorAl,” an interfaith
singing group composed of seniors who
love to sing, and who are not barred
admittance by tension-producing
auditions or the need for formal
training. The repertoire, as outlined in
a mission statement, will run the gamut
from folk, jazz, gospel, rock and even
rock ’n roll.
“I want people to know and enjoy and see
the value of music,” said Sietz, who saw
the dream become a reality in January
2012, when a Meet and Greet launched
Al’s ChorAl with about 40 singers. That
included Sietz’s own mother, Sarah
Lewis, who recently passed away. “She
could not see or hear very well, but she
enjoyed coming every week and loved
being surrounded by members of the
That choir has quickly grown to 100
voices raised in song, and on a recent
evening, those voices seemed to fill the
entire interior of Temple Emanuel. In
four part harmony, the singers,
obviously relishing the sheer joy of
their time together, even raised the
roof with Beatles songs. There were
smiles all around, and the timeless
pleasure of music eclipsed everything
Last year, the group, which has a
volunteer board to oversee choir
operations, offered its first Rabbi
Lewis Memorial Concert to the public,
and on Thursday, Feb. 6, a second
concert will be co-sponsored by the Katz
JCC Adult Department.
The choral group is not without its
requirements. Singers meet every Monday
night. The choir formerly met at the
JCC, “but they ultimately outgrew the
space, which is a very promising sign,”
said Marcy Lahav, JCC Adult, Cultural
and Judaic director. “Now, because of
its size, the group rehearses at Temple
Emanuel,” said Lahav, who is delighted
that a group like this for seniors
But not without effort. The choral group
members work with professional
musician/conductor Julia Zavadsky, a
native of Israel. Zavadsky, who leads
choirs at Temple University and
Rutgers-Camden, and also at Temple
Emanuel, delights in the hard work—and
the wonderful results—of the choir’s
“Our singers are learning melody and
text and how they come together,” said
Zavadsky, who also sees the important
social connections that have developed
among the members. “The choir has most
definitely become a caring community!”
Annette Fein, a Pennsauken widow, hadn’t
really concentrated on singing in her
adult life, although she always enjoyed
it. “Now, Monday nights are the best—
I’m at a stage of life when things get a
bit lonely, and being part of this group
is such a warm and welcoming experience.
I can’t wait for Monday nights.”
For Dr. Roy Levinson, a busy internist
at Cooper Hospital, serving on Al’s
ChorAl Board is a special privilege.
This physician sees his participation as
“…the most fitting way I can think of
honoring the memory of Rabbi Lewis, a
man whose life had to be honored by
something more than a plaque. The joy in
the music has already made a difference
in so many lives.”
Recognizing all of that, and remembering
how his beloved childhood rabbi sang his
way through life, Mitch Albom was one of
the group’s first donors. Others have
joined in donating, but the need is
still great, explained Sietz.
The sweetest reward of Al’s ChorAl, said
this proud daughter, is to make choral
members feel appreciated, valued and
“I also want them to remember and think
of my father with grace and admiration,
and to take his example and pay it
The second annual Al’s ChorAl Concert
will be on Thursday, Feb. 6 from 7-8
p.m. at the Katz JCC, 1301 Springdale
Rd, Cherry Hill. Tickets are $10.
JCC Voice full article
People of all faiths gather in rabbi's honor to sing
Gilah Lewis Sietz searched her soul for
a way to memorialize and continue the
good works of her late father, Rabbi
Albert L. Lewis. For the 60 years he
served as spiritual leader of Temple
Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill, he had an
uncanny ability to communicate with
people of all faiths.
But most vividly, she remembers him
singing. "And oh, did he love to sing,"
she said. "All the time."
So when more than 70 people - all
faiths, not all singers - showed up for
the first rehearsal of Al's chorAl, an
interfaith, choral group she lovingly
organized, Sietz knew she was right on
Member Ann Harrison is a 62-year-old
Roman Catholic from Cherry Hill, who
says singing in a choir that honors a
rabbi brings her closer to God. The
former hospital chaplain, who relies on
a walker, has sung all her life, in
church and professionally.
There's also Miriam Unterweiser, 87, of
Voorhees, a first-time singer for whom
the choir offers a vibrant social
network. "This is the best thing that
ever happened to me," said the former
legal secretary. "I feel good when I go
and I feel even better when I leave."
Sietz, 54, the youngest of the rabbi's
three children, came up with the idea
two years ago after watching Young
@ Heart, a film about a traveling
group of singing seniors.
She knew what she had to do: Start a
choir for anybody older than 50. There
would be no auditions, no fees, no
regular attendance requirements - just
the desire to sing. "You can show up
anytime," said Sietz.
A high-energy Hebrew teacher and mother
of two, Sietz recruited a 16-member
volunteer board to oversee choir
operations, and then sought financial
support for rehearsal space and
conductor and pianist fees from former
congregant Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays
with Morrieand Have
a Little Faith, a book he based on
the lives of Lewis and a black Detroit
pastor, Henry Covington.
"It was a fast yes," said the author,
who grew up in Haddon Township, the
original location of the synagogue.
Albom clearly remembers his childhood
rabbi's love of song and how he used
singing to communicate. Even in sermons.
"He would sing the phone book," said
Albom. "He would make up melodies of
Now the choir, which gets its funding
from grants and donations, will present
its first concert Thursday, the fifth
anniversary of the rabbi's death at age
90. Albom, who delivered Lewis' eulogy
in 2008 at the rabbi's request, will
attend the concert.
Every Monday evening, the 52-member
choir (an additional 20 come less
regularly) gathers at the Katz Jewish
Community Center in Cherry Hill. A
piano, played by 26-year-old
professional musician Stanley Fink, sits
front and center. Some of the singers
are sprightly, while others grip their
walkers, moving slowly. Many have
previous choir experiences and others
had never sung a note. But what they all
share, they say, is the music that
allows them to forget their worries for
an hour and a half.
Unterweiser sings praises for the
choir's artistic director and conductor
Julia Zavadsky. "She is a little bit of
a woman but she knows her stuff."
Zavadsky, 41, barely, 5 feet tall,
handily controls, cajoles, and conducts
the group with savvy and a sense of
humor, often making jokes about
remembering the words to the songs. But
she remains serious about the music,
which includes show tunes, country, pop
and soul, and some gospel, with no
connection to a religion. "We all
believe in something and we are all
connected through music," says Zavadsky.
Zavadsky, who holds a doctorate in
music, is pleased with what she hears.
"Somehow," she said, "we are making
Somehow, she says, because the last time
members like Alice Reisman sang in a
group was more than 50 years ago in high
school. Now, the 68-year-old from
Pennsauken, a technical support person
for Camden County Library, sings every
She heard about the group from her mah
jongg buddies but nobody wanted to join.
"So I went alone," she said. From casual
friendships grew deeper ones. "I don't
want to leave at the end of the session.
Singing makes me happy, more confident.
Sam Zwetchkenbaum, 51, came to Cherry
Hill from Michigan, where he also sang
in a choir. Here, he's bonded with other
men in the group, and that has led to
new friendships, often difficult for
guys, he said. "But here making friends
Albom said that if Lewis could be there,
he would be smiling - and knowing the
rabbi as well as he did, Albom is sure
he would say thank you with a song.
Contact Barbara Sorid at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Link to Philly.com full article
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