The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach is opening its doors this holiday weekend to a world-renowned Jewish musical group, the Zemel Choir of London.
The 37-member choir, along with a 10-person crew, will be performing at the house of worship this Sunday, May 26, as part of its first American tour in 25 years. During its two-week tour, which kicked off Tuesday at Temple Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Massachusetts, the group will visit six of the country’s most prominent synagogues.
Sunday’s free performance at the Sunset Avenue synagogue begins at 7:30 p.m. and is open to the public.
According to Anthony Cohen, the marketing manager for the England-based choir, the group has been planning the trip for more than a year, and is excited about making the trip to the states.
“It is a big thing,” he said. “In recent years we have been across the English Channel and into Europe, we have gone to Israel, but America is a bigger deal.”
Hampton Synagogue Assistant Rabbi Ari Korenblit said his house of worship is thrilled to be hosting the group. He said their performance will kick off the synagogue’s summer season, which will include other shows and discussions with leading Jewish figures. He added that the plan for Sunday, weather-permitting, is to open the synagogue’s large glass front doors so people can sit outside and enjoy the show.
“We have a phenomenal program over the course of the summer,” he said this week. “Memorial Day weekend is the first weekend where we are launching all of these programs. We wanted to launch it with a bang.”
The Zemel Choir, which was established by Dudley Cohen in 1955, is unique because it is a mixed voice ensemble, meaning it highlights both men and women. Traditionally in Orthodox Jewish culture, Mr. Cohen explained, men and women are not allowed to sing together. Orthodox doctrines dictate that a man should not hear the voice of women singing because it will distract the man from his prayers.
The restriction has prevented the group from being able to perform in several locations in England, but Mr. Cohen said the ban has been lifted in recent years in places like Israel and the United States. That is what makes performances at Orthodox Jewish synagogues—like the Hampton Synagogue—more special, he said.
Mr. Cohen did note that group members cannot perform during a religious service, but can be showcased during a concert as long as it does not fall on a religious holiday.
“In this modern world it is a very old fashion for such a strict doctrine to apply,” Mr. Cohen said. “So, we welcome the new ways of the Hampton Synagogue.”
The concert is expected to be approximately 90 minutes long, and will include about two dozen songs from the choir’s 45-piece repertoire. The songs range from religious to secular pieces, and are sung in several languages, including English, Hebrew and Yiddish.
The choir will be conducted by Benjamin Wolf, with Michael Cayton accompanying on piano. There will also be two soloists, Robert Brody and Richard Newman, according to Mr. Cohen.
“We are very excited,” Mr. Cohen said. “For a few of our members, this is their first time ever going to the United States, so this is a big thing for us.”
For a complete list of upcoming performances and discussions, visit www.thehamptonsynagogue.org.