The sounds of Sephardic Spain will fill the sanctuary of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County on Saturday evening, Jan. 23, as the Conservative Bethesda synagogue puts on a concert titled “Sephardic Journeys: Music of the Spanish Jews.”
For some in attendance, the music will be a preview of what will be heard upon landing in the Iberian Peninsula as they explore the Jewish history and celebrate the Sephardic culture of Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and other cities in Spain this summer on a trip organized by the Cantors Assembly, the Conservative movement-affiliated international association of chazzanim. The mission takes place July 3 to 14.
The 7:30 p.m. show will feature Beth El Chazzan Matthew Klein and Chazzan Ramón Tasat, cantor of Shirat HaNefesh (Song of the Soul), an independent Jewish community serving southern Montgomery County. The William & Mary Middle Eastern Music Ensemble also will perform. The concert is produced in partnership with the College of William & Mary and SHINDC: Sephardic Heritage in DC.
Klein says that in putting together the concert he wants to honor the synagogue’s members who are of Sephardic descent, of which he says there are “quite a few.” His aim is to “diversify the sense of what Jewish music is” for members of Ashkenazi ancestry who may be more familiar with Yiddish than Ladino.
“People are thinking very globally nowadays about Jewish communities — in Spain, in the Middle East, and beyond,” Klein says. “And so I wanted to feature some Jewish music from that part of the world, from the Middle East and especially from Spain and the Sephardic experience.”
The trip to Spain is the third organized by the Cantors Assembly; Beth El has participated in all of them.
The other missions were to Germany and Poland. Each trip celebrates the Jewish music and culture of that country. Klein and Beth El Chazzan Emeritus Abraham Lubin will lead the synagogue’s delegation.
“To celebrate and examine the Jewish heritage of Spain is new and neat and we’ve had a lot of interest of this trip, probably more than on past trips,” says Klein.
“I think already 200-plus people nationally were signed up by the early-bird date.”
There is a personal connection to the concert for Klein. He attended the College of William & Mary; Tasat was the cantor at his bar mitzvah, held at the Conservative congregation he grew up in, Agudas Achim in Alexandria.
UPDATE: Due to the winter storm forecasted this weekend, the concert has been postponed to Sunday, Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m.