belt Jewish tunes to sway all generations
March 28, 2004
By Yoav Gonen
A group of tuxedo-clad Russian boys belting out Jewish
show tunes might sound a
bit unorthodox. But for the Hebrew Alliance-Friends of
Refugees of Eastern Europe, a Jewish Orthodox synagogue
in Brighton, the choral group seemed like a natural project.
|The boys, ages 6
to 11, are (back row, l.-r.) Rabbi Avrohom Okonov, Boris
Rukiter, Isaak Liberman and Rabbi Okonov Sr., who support
the group because it shows Judaism is "alive, fun
"It shows people Judaism is alive, it's fun and it's
interesting," said Rabbi Avrohom Okonov, 26.
The M-Generation, as the choral group is known, was formed
in 2002 by Boris Rukiter, 55, a Russian-born musician. The
idea was to teach the largely nonreligious Russian community,
especially the children, about their Jewish roots.
"We try to build a bridge to what Judaism is all about,"
In creating a repertoire for the seven boys, Rukiter originally
searched for Russian Jewish songs with a modern vitality
to them. He immediately ran into an obstacle.
"I couldn't find one," Rukiter said.
So he created his own songs by combining original show-tune
music with simple sing-along lyrics, and tapped into a sound
that young kids could appreciate.
The members of M-Generation, who range in age from 6 to
11, were selected from auditions of hundreds of aspiring
young singers in Brooklyn. The boys, some of whom were born
in Russia, have been rehearsing two or three times a week
over the past year.
"In three months, I accomplished a lot," said
Benyomin Lerner, 10, of Borough Park. "My singing changed."
The boys were also transformed from a forest of rooted
trees into a troupe of nimble performers by Rukiter's technique
of having them sing while kicking a soccer ball around.
Now, when the boys perform, they tap their toes and swing
their arms to the beat. When they solo, they move and sing
with the fervor of contestants on "American Idol."
And judging by their performance at a major competition
- the Golden Hanukiyah International - in Berlin in December,
their enthusiasm can be contagious.
"You can't imagine what kind of effect they have on
people," said Okonov.
In fact, none of them was prepared for their effect on
the audience in Berlin. During a performance of "Sabbath,"
a song about the traditional celebration of the Holy Saturday,
older members of the crowd were moved to tears.
"It was a big surprise for the kids," said Rukiter.
"They asked me, 'Why are they crying?' They didn't
Crowds in Brighton also are responding to the music, with
each performance drawing more and more people to the 77-year-old
The M-Generation is currently recording a CD with 15 tracks,
sung in a combination of Russian, Yiddish and English. Despite
the growing hoopla, however, the boys still appreciate the
simple pleasures of performing.
"When people clap for us, that makes us happy,"
said 6-year-old Mitchell Sapoff, the youngest member of
The next M-Generation concert is today at 5:30 p.m. at
2915 Brighton 6th Street. It will be a joint performance
with the Moscow Synagogue Choir, a celebrated adult choir
from Russia. The concert will honor the 102nd birthday of
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who passed away 10 years
ago after a life dedicated to education and philanthropy.
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