Annual concert honors memory of influential Cherry Hill rabbi

Lewis’ impact to be feted by chorale and local piano virtuoso.

Gilah Lewis Seitz, daughter of longtime Cherry Hill Rabbi Al Lewis (pictured at left), reveals the dedication sportswriter and author Mitch Albom made to her father in his 2009 book “Have a Little Faith.” Lewis’ life, legacy and love of music will be celebrated with a choral performance by a group named in his honor, on June 23 at Temple Beth Sholom on Kresson Road.

Longtime Cherry Hill Rabbi Al Lewis might have departed the Earth more than 11 years ago, but his legacy and, most importantly, his love of music, live on. 

And so, on Sunday, June 23 from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., the annual Rabbi Lewis Memorial Concert will take place at his former house of worship, Temple Beth Sholom on Kresson Road. It will feature a local choral group called “Al’s ChorAL,” started by his daughter, Gilah Lewis Seitz, as well as 13-year-old piano player/ composer and Cherry Hill native Jeremy Radin. 

Founded shortly after the rabbi’s passing, Al’s ChorAL is a choir designed for the older adults of the community, who come from a wide range of faiths, beliefs, singing experience and musical talents. Its repertoire runs the gamut of musical genres. The nonprofit group meets weekly and is not solely performance-based, but it is led and organized by a professional musical director, Anne-Marie Mendonca and accompanied by Philadelphia-based pianist Alex Ayala. 

“I wanted to combine the interfaith community, his love of music and his love of humanity. That’s why I looked for people of all faiths together, and music, and seniors. He worked with seniors all the time. He was the one that started at the JCC, the Jewish Relations Council years ago, to bring all the men of faith together to discuss how it is to be a shepherd, how it is to be the leader of a religious community,” said Lewis Seitz on the rationale behind the chorale’s makeup.   

Lewis presided over Temple Beth Sholom for many years, and was a key figure in the early life of Detroit-based sportswriter and author Mitch Albom, who wrote about Lewis and his request that Albom deliver the eulogy at his funeral in the latter’s 2009 work, “Have a Little Faith.” 

According to Lewis Seitz, her father loved music in virtually all its forms, but to entertain the audience, the chorale promises to bring unique versions of modern hits to life. 

“He made up songs, he hummed, he walked over to the preschool in the synagogue and made things up with the kids, he loved to sing. And he taught us things, mnemonic devices to remember stuff in high school, make up songs to remember things. He loved music: classical, Jewish music, he loved Broadway shows and he thought music was a universal language. So when I came up with the idea to do something to honor him in the community, I wanted it to be with music,” she explained. 

“However, when it came time to plan for the concert, I said ‘we’re going to stay away from religious music, traditional choral pieces, we’re going to have it be all rock-and-roll.’” 

Some of the artists expected to be featured by the chorale are Queen, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Coldplay and Adele – naturally adapted for the performers’ range and comfort. 

“My father was as genuine as you could get, and when he was looking at you, he saw you and he heard every word that you said. He was listening, not just with his eyes, but with his heart. He was beloved because he made everybody feel equally important. He never allowed his position in the community to be used in any way other than in the service of God and humanity. I think his legacy speaks for itself in the people he left behind who talk about him to this day,” Lewis Seitz added. 

Doors will open at 1:30 p.m. and cost for attendees is $10. Refreshments will be provided. For more information, or to join the group, visit the chorale’s website at http://alschoral.org.