A simple Sunday-school song born in Seattle, “I Have a Little Dreidel,” barely begins to spin the big story of its composer, Samuel E. Goldfarb.
Goldfarb’s enormous legacy, in this city’s Jewish community and beyond, will be celebrated in song and story on Sunday afternoon, June 10 at Temple De Hirsch Sinai by the Washington State Jewish Historical Society. Thousands of lives were touched by this powerful personality, not only in the Reform temple which brought him to town, but also through Hillel and the Sephardic Orthodox community, among children and adults alike.
Music director at Temple (as the natives call Temple De Hirsch Sinai) from 1930 until 1967, “Mr. G.” nurtured not only Jewish singing voices but also Jewish identities. “Goldfarb kids” who have grown up to take their places as some of Seattle’s most influential Jewish leaders are looking forward to the June 10 event as both reunion and concert.
Their names read like a directory of communal service: Rabbi Dan Bridge, UW Hillel Executive Director Emeritus; Althea Stroum, philanthropist; Laurie Warshal Cohen, Washington State Holocaust Education Research Center Co-Executive Director; Lucy Spring, Kline Galland Home Volunteer Coordinator. Spring credits her 25-year association with Goldfarb as the inspiration for her life’s work; it was Spring’s vision that laid the groundwork for this concert. The composer’s grandson, Seattle performer David Goldfarb, will emcee.
According to WSJHS Executive Director Lisa Kranseler, an extensive museum-quality archival exhibit of Goldfarb memorabilia will complement the live musical performances. The program will include a PowerPoint slide show by Sephardic choir alumnus Dave Azose, and reminiscences from Goldfarb protégés and family, including sons Michael and Alvin.
“People just light up when you mention him,” says Kranseler of native Seattleites from the Goldfarb era. Rabbi Jim Mirel of Temple B’nai Torah and his wife Julie Mirel, working with choir alumna Kathie Alhadeff Barokas and former Goldfarb accompanist Myrna Cordova, have planned a show that represents Goldfarb’s legacy not only as a composer of delights like “Dreidel” but also of serious liturgical music and more.
As a singer of both cantorial and classical music, Julie Mirel comments, “What intrigues me is what a sophisticated musician he was — in harmonization, for example — even though some of his work is so sentimental.”
Added Rabbi Jim Mirel, “In an era when Reform Judaism was in conflict over Zionism, he wrote deeply Zionistic music.”
Samuel E. Goldfarb was born in New York in 1891. He worked in Tin Pan Alley — that legendary New York world full of creative Jews, where youngsters like him would serve the music business by playing new songs on the piano for potential buyers.
With his brother, Israel Goldfarb, he composed and arranged volumes of music, including collections of Jewish melodies still used around the world. Some of this music includes the stately, soulful “Shalom Aleichem” tune, famously sung in homes and synagogues around the world, from Reform to Orthodox, every Friday evening.
Visiting Seattle for a wedding, he accepted the invitation to move here and become music director at Temple De Hirsch. He developed a system of music education that included multiple choirs, for whom he wrote and arranged music. He also served as temple organist.
Pianist Myrna Cordova, whose credits include Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society productions, will accompany many of the musical selections. Seattle songstress Gina Funes, whose singing career began in the Goldfarb choir, will be among the soloists. Audience members will be encouraged to sing. Indeed, hundreds of Goldfarb choir alumni are expected to turn out for this celebration of Seattle Jewish history.
Steve Pruzan has contributed major fundraising energy on behalf of WSJHS. Soloists will also include Cantor Isaac Azose, with the Ezra Bessaroth men’s choir.
Lucy Spring and Kathy Barokas have promised to reprise a beloved duet based on Goldfarb’s now-classic kids’ Hanukkah song. They last performed “Dreidel on Tour” together at the Goldfarb Choir Reunion of 1987.
TDHS and WSHJS are co-hosting this concert, which will include a kosher catered reception.
Perry Spring, son of Lucy, carries the Goldfarb legacy into a new generation, stretching it west to Port Townsend, where he leads services at Bet Shira.
“I stood by my mom’s side working with Mr. G. from the time I was 3 until he died, when I was 10,” says Spring, who remembers Goldfarb’s “very rich sound” as a pianist.
Comparing Goldfarb’s worldwide Jewish legacy to that of Shlomo Carlebach, Spring remembers how Goldfarb “very quickly earned people’s respect. He was a classic educator. His melodies came from a deep sense of community. Whether he was composing or arranging this music, I have to believe there’s something deeper he drew it from.”