Preparing the "Cantorial Soloist" toss is Beignet Yisroel (from left: Cantors Michael Shochet and Jordan Franzel with Rabbi David Bockman. Victoria May is in the foreground.)
Getting ready for the 61st birthday of Israel is not that hard if you go by the English calendar. It's always the same date, May 14, which is the date that the State of Israel was announced by David Ben Gurion in 1948. But the date on the Hebrew calendar is almost always the 5th of Iyar (Yom Ha'atzmaut) and always follows Israeli Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron). If the 5th of Iyar falls on a Friday or Saturday, the celebration is pushed back to the preceding Thursday with Yom Hazikaron held on Wednesday. If the 5th of Iyar falls on a Monday, the celebration is pushed forward so that it occurs on a Tuesday. This is to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath, which won't allow a sad day of memorial to run directly after it ends. So, Israeli Memorial Day must fall on a Monday after an interceding day between it and the Sabbath. This year the date of Yom Ha'Atzmaut was May 3 on the Gregorian calendar and, while the celebrations were not as pronounced as those for the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state, they were held in earnest and with gusto. This year a number of former New Orleanians gathered to make the celebration even more special by appearing on stage at Conservative synagogue Shir Chadash. This was the singing group Beignet Yisroel composed of two cantors, a rabbi and a cantorial soloist. Beignet (pronounced BEN-yay) is a term for a famous New Orleans delicacy, a square donut without a hole that is covered in confectioner's sugar. Typically sold at tourist havens like Cafe du Monde, beignets are best served hot like the group named after them. Beignet Yisroel was formed in the 1990s when its members were all working in New Orleans. Cantor Michael Shochet was the cantor at Temple Sinai, a Reform synagogue. Jordan Franzel was the cantor at sister Reform temple Touro Synagogue, while Conservative Rabbi David Bockman was a trumpet player who loved to perform at Chevra Thillim. Shochet has moved to Falls Church, Virginia, where he is presently employed as the senior cantor at Rodef Shalom. Franzel moved to Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania where he now works as Congregation Or Ami's cantor. After leaving New Orleans, Bockman moved away to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he served as pulpit rabbi for several years. Now he makes Temple Beth Shalom of Teaneck, New Jersey his home. All three came back for a performance with Cantorial Soloist Victoria May of Congregation Gates of Prayer. May more than holds her own as the sole member of the distaff side of singers and performers. In the time since Bockman, Franzel and Shochet moved away, Chevra Thillim merged with Tikvat Shalom to become Shir Chadash, where their concert was held. Beignet Yisroel performs Jewish music with heavy influences from New Orleans music. It's great to see these Jewish spiritual leaders and musicians return to their former haunt to entertain the city's community for whom they apparently still have many feelings.