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First Presbyterian sings in the spirit of celebration

Church honors Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah

POSTED: September 19, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Church celebrates with music

First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville celebrates the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah with a concert of English and Hebrew songs.

TOM REED/The Times

The First Presbyterian children's choir practices a song in Hebrew for a Rosh Hashana celebration at the church.

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With the blowing of the shofar and traditional music, Rosh Hashanah will be celebrated in an interesting place this weekend - at First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville.

In celebration of the Jewish New Year, music director Mike Henry has organized a special concert honoring the Jewish holiday.

Several things came into play when Henry decided to put on "Simply Awesome: A Musical Celebration in the Spirit of Rosh Hashanah."

"One day — this was back in the summer, when I was making plans for the coming year — and I was looking at the calendar and I was looking when the Jewish New Year was," he said. "Also entering into it was one of the composers that is into this, Ernest Bloch. This is the 50th anniversary year since he died; he was a major American Jewish composer."

The concert features a mix of songs in English and many others in Hebrew, and even includes a Grammy-winning artist among its performers.

The Jewish New Year celebration began at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Sunday.

Rosh Hashanah is also the start of the Days of Awe, he said, which come to a close on Yom Kippur, or the Jewish Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Sept. 27 and ends at nightfall on Sept. 28.

The Rev. Paul Evans, an associate pastor at First Presbyterian, said it is important to know the background of Jewish and Christian holidays.

"In recent years Christianity has really rediscovered its Jewish roots and seeking to honor those roots by exploring them," he said. "Jesus was a Jew and would have celebrated these festivals."

Performing in the concert will be the children's, youth and Chancel choirs with guest musicians Richard Clement, Kaitlyn Costello, Craig Kier, Brent Davis, Heather Strachan and the First United Methodist Youth Choir.

"Everything is in Hebrew except for the Benjamin Britton ‘Abraham and Isaac'; that's in English," Henry said.

The "Abraham and Isaac" performance will be sung by Grammy winner Clement of Atlanta, performing with Costello.

According to Henry, violinist Strachan will play Bloch's "Baal Shem: Scenes from Hasidic Life."

The children's choirs will sing two anthems — one, "Sh'Ma Yisrael," is based on a foundational belief of monotheistic theology, and the other anthem is a rendering of Psalm 133:1.

The combined youth choirs of First Presbyterian and First United Methodist will sing a prayer for peace, "Ose Shalom."

Other pieces that will be performed include "Hava Nagila" and "Avinu Malkeinu."

Guest cantor Brent Davis' baritone solos will be featured with the Chancel choir. He said he is excited about the unique performance.

"I also sing the High Holy Days at the temple in Duluth, Temple Emanuel, so it is a very special time in the Jewish faith," said Davis, of Cumming. "The key to this is to show how similar we are. This is our history as Christians, the foundation of our faith. It will be a really interesting concert."



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