Farewell concert honors cantor at Temple Sholom in Greenwich
GREENWICH — On Sunday Cantor Asa Fradkin conducted Hannah Bein’s soprano voice as she sang “Shehecheyanu,” with the Temple Sholom Teen Choir, a slow song of prayer thanking God for bringing people together for a joyous occasion.
The more stately performance was followed by an upbeat singalong of the gospel tinged hymn “Joyful Joyful,” sung by the Second Congregational Church youth choir and a performance of several original songs by Cantor Randy Herman, who spent time in Israel with Fradkin while Fradkin was studying at the the H.L. Miller Cantorial School in New York City.
Herman sang an original song based on Genesis Chapter 12, dedicating it to Fradkin. The chapter tells the story of Abraham following God’s order to leave his home to, “make a great nation” and become the father of Israel.
“I think it is appropriate as Cantor Fradkin leaves the home he knows and goes somewhere new,” Herman said.
On Sunday, Fradkin bid Temple Sholom farewell with “Songs to Celebrate New Beginnings,” the final concert of his 10-year run as cantor at the synagogue on East Putnam Avenue.
The “Kosher Gospel” concert alternated performances by choirs from the Greenwich Second Congregational and Trinity churches, two frequent collaborators on public concerts with Fradkin, and the three temple youth choirs Fradkin started. In June Fradkin will take a position with a large synagogue in Bethesda, Md., with more than 1,100 member families.
“I’m so excited to welcome all of you to this farewell concert,” Fradkin said before the concert. “… This is not a polite concert. You’re supposed to make noise and get excited and sing.”
“Let’s go cuties,” Fradkin wisecracked as he summoned the temple’s youth choir to perform. “In other words, the Temple Sholom Youth Choir are coming up, and boy are they adorable.”
Before singing the first of two duets with Fradkin, “Hashkeivenu,” with Lisbeth Lloyd, director of the youth choir program at Second Congregational Church called Fradkin a, ‘spiritual brother,’ and remembered an emotional moment when Fradkin explaining the history behind the November 1938 outbreaks of violence against Jews in Austria, Sudetenland and parts of Nazi-annexed Czechoslovakia referred to as “Kristallnacht.”
“I have known him for almost the last 10 years, and what I love is that we worked together to bring these interfaith concerts together,” Lloyd said. “Just doing things together was so wonderful and Cantor Asa is like a spiritual brother to me; the love goes both ways.”
Beyond broadening the depth and breadth of the musical repertoire, and forming the temple’s teen, youth and young youth choirs and adding elements like harmony singing to the temple’s music, the 36-year-old Old Greenwich resident said he most values a sense that his relationships with congregation members of all ages.
Fradkin said the community also had embraced his wife, Sarah, and later, his two children, daughter, Dafna, 6 and son Noam, 4.
“I think the community has been a real blessing to us, and we’ve made a lot of friends and put down roots, had children and seen them grow up a little bit,” the 36-year-old said. “We are so appreciative of everything we’ve been given here and our time. It is hard to leave good friends and something that has been so good to you even when it is time to move on.”
Senior Rabbi Mitchell Hurvitz, said Fradkin had surpassed his original expectations to expand the temple’s musical programs which were, “at zero,” when Fradkin arrived. Hurvitz credited Fradkin’s motivation to make cooperative concerts with Second Congregational and other churches the norm, forging closer relationships between the synagogue and Christian churches.
“When he came 10 years ago he was the most talented seminary candidate we were very fortunate to land,” said Hurvitz, who has been at the temple 22 years. “He came with great strengths and built on his own talents over the years to develop meaningful growth in our sacred music culture in the temple.”
“He is going to be very missed but we’re always excited for people embarking on new chapters,” Hurvitz said.
During his decade at the temple, Fradkin instituted the temple’s teen choir, youth and young youth choirs — venues in which he has worked to use music to deepen the Jewish life of the adolescent singers taking part.
“I think music is a language and a language that helps us connect with each other just like Hebrew is a language,” Fradkin said. “Even for kids that aren’t comfortable with Hebrew, they can feel comfortable with music, and even for people who don’t read music, they can hear music. It becomes this unbelievable way to connect the community.”
Before leading the teen choir through “Oseh Shalom,” Fradkin thanked the teen group for their hard work and accomplishments over the years. In recent years, the group’s ability had been acknowledged with invitations to sing at temples in south Florida and Los Angeles.
“For nine years they have given me so much meaning at this job,” Fradkin said of the choir. “They’ve done something not many choirs do, Jewish or not by singing in their temple, putting their heart into it and uplifting their community.”
Bein, 17, said Fradkin’s commitment to his choir students set an example for her and other singers resulting in a stronger and more musical unit. More skilled singers learned to work with their peers, Bein said.
“He’s very passionate about each and every member of the choir reaching their fullest musical potential,” said Bein. “I’ve been involved for quite a while and seen it evolve. This choir is definitely very open and for people of all different skill levels.”