By Krissy Harris
The Hoff Theater at STAMP Student Union was filled with excitement on Saturday night. It was Maryland Hillel’s Arts Showcase, celebrating the Jewish community at this university.
Lively chatter echoed through the theater, as an audience of about 300 people from this university’s Jewish community took their seats.
The Hillel Arts Showcase was held in memory of the late Marilyn Allswang Eisenberg. Eisenberg was an accomplished pianist who dedicated her life to the Jewish community. Several of her grandchildren have attended this university.
“She strongly encouraged higher education, and she very much believed in Jewish continuity,” said Roni Allswang, one of Eisenberg’s grandchildren and a junior marketing major at this university.
“I hope you will all find as much meaning in tonight’s showcase as my family will,” he added.
The featured performance acts were four a cappella groups: Kol Sasson, Shir Madness, Mezumenet and Rak Shalom; and Avirah, this university’s Israeli Dance company.
First up was Kol Sasson, which has been performing for the Jewish community at this university since 1997, and is made up of student singers of all backgrounds and disciplines.
Their performance included covers of the pop songs “Dangerously” by Charlie Puth and “Money on My Mind” by Sam Smith, and a Jewish melody, “Chelek Mimeni” by Gad Elbaz.
The voices of the performers moved smoothly through the lyrics, projecting a bright, connected energy.
Shir Madness took the stage next. The group came to perform at this university from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (JDS) in Rockville, Maryland.
Jonathan Morris, a junior at JDS, has performed at previous Hillel showcases with Shir Madness.
“It’s kind of exhilarating to work for, like, months at a time on these songs… and then to finally bring it together with all your friends, [and] have it be there for everyone to see,” said Morris.
The performers’ bubbly energy lit up the stage as they moved through groovy step touches and sways, while singing Israeli liturgical and pop songs.
Their closing piece was the popular “HaShem Melech,” arranged by Craig Resmovits. It was deeply connected in voice and spirit, and the audience shared their enjoyment by clapping along.
“I am not nervous about our future, if that’s any evidence of what’s going on in high schools today,” said Maryland Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Ari Israel after Shir Madness’s performance.
Israel introduced a short film about the Hillel Center’s positive impact on the Jewish student community at this university. The film also described Hillel’s future expansion to a new, much larger “entrepreneurial center,” slated to open in 2021. Rabbi Israel also introduced Hillel’s new logo, which he described as “a brand new logo for a brand new building and a brand new era.”
The third act of the night was Mezumenet (or “Mez” for short). They are this university’s all-female Jewish a cappella group.
Rachel Shovmer, a junior chemical engineering major, has been performing with Mez since her freshman year. “I really liked their character, I liked that it was all female,” said Shovmer about when she joined the group. “They just seemed spunky and I really liked that about them.”
This year was Shovmer’s third time performing in the Hillel Arts Showcase.
“It’s great to get everybody together,” she said. “I feel like the Jewish a cappella groups don’t get together as much as we’d like to. This is a really great way to do that.”
Mez’s performance included a mashup of pop songs, a traditional Jewish melody, and an original parody of “Thank You, Next,” by Ariana Grande.
The parody replaced some of Grande’s lyrics with light-hearted puns about the Jewish community, such as “he brought me a bagel with lox” and the use of the names “Ari” and “Rabbi.”
Rak Shalom was the final a cappella group of the night. This award-winning cohort of Jewish student singers released their 7th studio album, “Ember,” last week.
Throughout their performance, the singers were incredibly attuned to each other’s vocal nuances and internal energies. This manifested in an eclectic and captivating performance of American pop and traditional Jewish songs.
Before the ultimate act of the showcase, students came out on stage to share their thoughts on being a part of Hillel’s community.
“One thing that’s great about Hillel is the ability to create community. Hillel does a great job of empowering us,” Aryeh Roberts, a philosophy and Jewish studies major, said. “It’s been a really amazing experience.”
“Hillel’s really been with me for every step of the process, I couldn’t be more grateful,” said David Rosenstein, a senior marketing and management major.
Avirah, this university’s Israeli Dance company, closed out the evening with lively Israeli folk dances in colorful costumes. The 12 dancers twirled, swayed and leaped around the stage. Their two very different choreographies emphasized group unison and traveling patterns, as well as a few moments of dancing in partners.
As the Hillel Arts Showcase came to a close, the audience energetically greeted all the performers in celebration outside the theater, continuing the sense of community felt throughout the night.