Craig Taubman, the singer/composer/maestro known for bringing large-scale cultural events to synagogues and other venues across town, is hoping for an audience of 2,000 for his upcoming interfaith concert at Sinai Temple on Nov. 15.
Billed as a “multifaith celebration of Israel,” this second “Unity in Concert” features an array of artists from various cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds performing songs, dance, music and poetry. The aim is to transcend differences through art, Taubman says. “Inspiration is not limited to any one religion, any ethnicity or race, or any one age bracket,” he said.
The lineup includes platinum-selling Israeli musician David Broza; Israeli-Arab singer and actress Mira Awad; Neshama Carlebach, daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach; Ethiopian-Israeli singer Aviva Desse; Christian gospel singer Ericson Alexander Molano and others. All proceeds will benefit Ariela U.S., which advocates for Israeli youth of Ethiopian origin. Tickets are $10-$36.
Additional speakers, community leaders and performers are slated to appear, including actor-comedian Larry Miller, Sinai Temple Rabbis David Wolpe and Nicole Guzik, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel, African-American civil rights leader the Rev. Cecil Murray and, of course, Taubman.
The Sinai Temple Israel Center, an Israel-awareness program and resource center, is presenting and funding the event produced by Craig N’ Co, Taubman’s independent label/production company.
The inaugural “Unity” concert was held in 2010 and coincided with Israel’s Independence Day. Although this time the concert falls later in the year, Guzik emphasized a strong connection to Israel, saying it shows the power of “unity between religions and ethnicities, but the core foundation of the concert, and that was same mission two years ago, is unified support for Israel.”
Prior to 2010, the event had several names, including “Let My People Sing” and “Faith Jam.” The events date back as much as 10 years and have been held in churches, synagogues and even once at an Islamic cultural center. Sinai Temple became an exclusive partner in 2010, rebranding the event as a “Unity” concert.
This year’s concert theme, around which the evening will be structured, is “alone we are strong, together we are stronger,” Taubman said. Instead of a headliner who plays longest, each artist will perform two songs, and, for at least one of them, is required to collaborate with another artist from another walk of life.
Broza will perform one song with BODYTRAFFIC, a Los Angeles-based contemporary dance company. Co-founded by Tina Finkelman Berkett, a congregant at Sinai, the dance company helped launch this year’s season of the Los Angeles Philharmonic with a performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall last September.
Broza and Awad will perform together, as well. The daughter of an Arab physician father and a Bulgarian mother, Awad, who is an Israeli citizen, garnered international attention — both positive and negative — when she and Israeli-Jewish singer Noa performed as a duo representing Israel at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest.
Additionally, Neshama Carlebach, a star in the world of Jewish music, will perform with the choir of Christ Our Redeemer African Methodist Episcopal (COR-AME). Murray, the John R. Tansey chair of Christian Ethics in the School of Religion at the University of Southern California and his protégée, the Rev. Mark Whitlock of COR-AME, also will appear, offering words of inspiration.
Another collaboration will bring together the special-needs children’s choir from Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services and the gospel LIFE Choir, which has performed with such greats as Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and others.
The event demonstrates the ongoing collaboration between Taubman and Wolpe. Together they created Friday Night Live, a monthly musical Shabbat service at Sinai that has been drawing large crowds for more than 14 years.
Taubman’s experimentation with the “Unity” concert, of bringing together Jewish and Muslim voices, caused a minor backlash following the 2010 concert, when a performer’s chanting of “Allahu Akbar” upset some attendees. The performer chanted in Arabic, alongside a cantor chanting in Hebrew and a Christian woman chanting a psalm.
Soon after the concert, one of the attendees wrote a letter saying that he was offended by the Arabic chant and that it did not belong in a celebration of Israel. The letter found its way onto the Web site of a blogger in the Pico-Robertson Jewish community and circulated via e-mail.
Taubman, who scripted the chant into the 2010 performance, has cut “Allahu Akbar” from this year’s program, out of sensitivity to the feelings of as many people as possible, he said.
Controversy aside, approximately 1,000 tickets had been sold to this year’s concert as of Nov. 2.
As a way to encourage attendance by a multifaith audience, Taubman has given away approximately 150 tickets to leaders of different faith communities, including Whitlock, who is bringing people from his church, Irvine’s COR-AME. The First African Methodist Episcopal Church and Latino artist Molano will also be bringing people to join the crowd.
In order to raise funds, Ariela U.S. is selling VIP tickets to its benefactors at a higher cost. Additionally, community organizations and synagogues can purchase higher-cost tickets, which buys them a table at the event to promote their programs, and two tickets.
Taubman said interfaith events show how far the Jewish community has come, recalling how, approximately 10 years ago, it was radical for a Conservative synagogue to come together with an Orthodox synagogue. This “is the next step,” he said.
“Not that we all have to be the same,” he added. “I don’t expect Orthodox to become liberal or a liberal Reform Jew to become Conservative — that’s not the agenda. But I do see the value of collaborating and coming together and sharing what it is we all have in common.”
“Unity in Concert” takes place at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles on Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. For more information about the event, visit craignco.com or call (818) 760-1077.