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Ozzie Nogg

When it comes to creating Jewish memories, researchers say camping ranks up there with education and Israel experiences as factors most likely to connect kids to Jewish identity, faith and community and lead them to choose Jewish lives as adults. To ensure that Omaha youngsters have the opportunity to add these essential connections to their lives, Beth El Synagogue presents “Jaffa Road to California Street: A Concert to Benefit the Seth Rich Memorial Camp Scholarship Fund.” The event is scheduled for Sunday, May 5 at 4 p.m. at Beth El.

In the summer of 2016, Seth Rich, a rising star in the Democratic National Committee, was the victim of a still-unsolved homicide in Washington, DC. At the time of this death, Seth was the DNC Voter Expansion Data Director, tasked with the development of a computer application to help voters determine their voter registration status and locate polling stations. “The years Seth spent at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin taught him to to work with others and respect and value their differences,” said his parents, Joel and Mary Rich. “Camp helped make Seth who he was — a young man committed to making a difference. Helping others became a natural outgrowth of his Jewish camp experiences. Jewish summer camps give children an opportunity to experience living Jewishly with other children of their own age,” Joel continued. “We provide scholarships to Ramah Wisconsin, Herzl and Sabra, plus Israel Experience Trips, where kids have a chance to learn the values and beliefs that will be important to them as they become Judaism’s future leaders. Their ties with Judaism help them give back to Beth El and to be mentors to younger children. The enthusiasm they bring back is infectious.”

Monies raised from the Seth Rich Memorial Camp Scholarship Fund provide resources so every child in the Beth El Synagogue family — regardless of need — can receive a camp scholarship in return for a pledge to provide a service to the synagogue when they return. The services include reading Torah and leading prayers, helping out with the Religious School, and assuming leadership roles in USY and Kadimah Youth Groups. The proceeds from last year’s concert granted scholarships to over 25 youngsters. “The funds raised at the May 5 Jaffe Road to California Street concert will help ensure that our youth continue to receive pivotal Jewish camp experiences,” said Hazzan Michael Krausman.

Phoenix and Sophia Mavropoulos, children of Karen Klingberg and Dimitrios Mavropoulos, have attended Camp Ramah since 2014. “Ramah has been a great experience for my kids,” Karen Klingberg said. “For the past five years, they’ve had fun, strengthened their Jewish identity and made connections with friends that will last a lifetime. They come back from camp and can’t wait to go again. As a parent, I can’t think of a better way for them to spend the summer. The camp scholarship opportunities given to these kids is invaluable.” Sophia, who turns 14 in a few weeks, said, “Ramah is like home to me. I love it. I have lots of fun, experience new things and have made great friends. Camp is my happy place.” Phoenix, 15, shares his sister’s enthusiasm. “Every year at Ramah I learn something new and get to do all the activities I like,” he said. “Every summer, I look forward to connecting with my camp friends.” For Joel Rich, this is what the Cantor’s Concert is all about. “The kids,” Joel said. “It’s all about the kids.”

Jaffa Road was formed in 2005 in Toronto, Canada. The quintet includes Aaron Lightstone on guitar and oud; vocalist Aviva Chernick; saxophonist and flautist Sundar Viswanathan; percussionist Jeff Wilson; and bassist Chris Gartner. The band’s name alone suggests an interest in the long arc of human history. The Jaffa Road is one of the oldest streets in Jerusalem, and the band is influenced by Jewish roots, jazz, Indian and Arabic music and ancient Hebrew poetry. “This kind of idea of cultural fusion music was probably happening 1,000 years ago on the Silk Road,” Lightstone said. “When the musician from Eastern Europe made his way to southern India, there would have been music somewhere mashed up in there.”

Jaffa Road plumbs the history of diverse cultures for inspiration, even reviving protest songs — discovered in wax cylinder recordings made in Turkey in 1907 — written to oppose the conscription of Jews into the armies of the Ottoman Empire. “We take what is old and bring it forward so it can be seen in a new light and appreciated in a new way,” Chernick said. “And breathing new life into it, too,” Lightstone added. “So it’s not like museum music.”
Jaffa Road’s debut album, Sunplace, received a Juno nomination in 2009 for world music album of the year. When their version of Lo Yisa Goy won the 2009 John Lennon Songwriting Contest grand prize in the world music category, Lightstone said, “It was validation that you can do world music in Hebrew.” Their second album, Where the Light Gets In, was released in 2012 and won the World Music Group of the Year at the 2013 Canadian Folk Music Awards. According to a review in the Canadian Jewish News, Jaffa Road creates a unique sonic landscape that takes listeners on a journey that is at once ancient and modern, acoustic and electronic, sacred and secular. “We are lots of different strains that come together,” said Lightstone. “Hopefully the sum is something new.”
“We’re very excited to have Jaffa Road perform at our May 5 Seth Rich Memorial Camp Scholarship Fund Concert,” Hazzan Michael Krausman said. “Providing service grants and Jewish camp scholarships in Seth’s name is only possible through the generosity of the members of our Beth El family and our friends in the Omaha Jewish community and beyond. We thank you for your support.”

Jaffe Road to California Street will include the voices of BESTT and Beth El Hebrew High students. A dessert reception follows the concert, giving audience members a chance to meet the guest artists.

Chairmen for Jaffa Road to California Street: A Concert to Benefit the Seth Rich Memorial Camp Scholarship Fund, are Mary and Joel Rich and Pam and Bruce Friedlander. For information on individual ticket pricing and sponsorship opportunities, please visit the Beth El website at http://bethel-omaha.org or call the synagogue office at 402.492.8550. All giving levels include at least two concert tickets at no extra charge. Donations are tax deductible.