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Singing Their Hearts Out

Meir Wolfson

When the music starts, the young men in the Seeach Sod choir are no longer mentally challenged adults trying to navigate a confusing world around them. Microphones in hand, their voices emerge from a deep place in their soul where barriers no longer exist.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Did Reb Shlomo Carlebach envision this moving rendition of his “Tov L’hodos LaShem” when he wrote his classic melody to those words so many years ago? If you were sitting at the Siyum HaShas in Jerusalem’s Binyanei Hauma on Sunday, August 5, you might have been one of those who burst into spontaneous clapping and rose to dance to the electrified beat. Among flashing cameras and stage lights, the excited ten-man Pirchei Seeach choir opened their act in perfect sync, and then gave way to the clear, sweet voice of their star soloist, “Avremel,” whose powerful notes and perfect harmony transfixed the crowd. At that point, you might have taken a second look at the stage to remind yourself who Avremel is.  

Avremel is a severely autistic young man in his 20s, so uncommunicative that he cannot respond to any verbal instructions — even from his beloved choir leader, the indefatigable Chaim Sofer. One of the only windows into Avremel’s soul — and those of his fellow choir members — is music.

Seeach Sod in Jerusalem cares for 650 children and young adults with disabilities that range from slight emotional difficulties to 100 percent autism and Down syndrome, mainstreaming them and letting them shine in their own way. And although all of the members in Seeach Sod’s Pirchei Seeach choir thrive on music, Avremel’s story is particularly moving. At the age of two, although he couldn’t talk and still can’t until today, he was already singing songs he heard in his home. By the time he was six, his family would play tapes of intricate Gerrer marches — some of which are difficult for accomplished singers to learn — and he would pick up the songs and sing along even though he could not communicate in any other way. “Avremel inherited the musical genes in my family,” explains his mother. “But it was in the Pirchei Seeach choir that his talent really developed.”

Even now, Avremel can’t follow verbal cues. When staff members want him to move from one place to another, they have to either take him by his hand or wave vigorously until he moves. When Chaim Sofer began to work with him, he couldn’t follow any musical instructions; today, he can only learn a song if it is recorded for him exactly as he is supposed to sing it, and he listens to the recording repeatedly until he performs it exactly as it was recorded. Yet Avremel has been gifted with a startlingly professional and compelling voice that makes you want to hear him sing over and over again.


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