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Sue Shifron
Hillel Center

Judah Cohen
Borns Jewish Studies Program

George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Thursday, December 7, 2006

IU students to perform at White House Chanukah lighting ceremony and party

Dec. 7, 2006

EDITORS: This release may focus on students from your area. Several rehearsal sessions and a performance in Indianapolis are planned before the singing group performs at the White House on Dec. 18. Contact George Vlahakis at 812-855-0846 or if you would like to attend one as part of your newsgathering efforts.

HooShir image

Photo by: Hillary Demmon

Singing group HooShir rehearses at Indiana University Bloomington's Hillel Center for an upcoming performance at the White House.

Print-Quality Photo

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Two words in Hebrew -- "Hoo" and "Shir" -- come together to phonetically sound like Indiana University's and the state's treasured nickname, "Hoosier." Appropriately, for a group of IU students who will sing later this month at the White House, the words also mean, "it is a song."

Eighteen IU students recently formed a Jewish a cappella singing group called HooShir and will give the biggest performance in their brief history on Dec. 18 when they perform at the White House Chanukah party.

"There definitely is a buzz going around," said HooShir member Andrew Landau, a junior from from Northbrook, Ill., majoring in psychology.

The group is associated with the Helene G. Simon Hillel Center at IU and is being advised by Judah Cohen, the Lou and Sybil Mervis professor of Jewish culture in the Borns Jewish Studies Program and an assistant professor of folklore and ethnomusicology. Several of the students also are members of the popular campus a cappella groups Ladies First and Straight No Chaser, which have been in existance for about a decade with the support of the IU Alumni Association.

The White House invitation came as a result of the Hillel Center's Indiana Campus Super Star project, a statewide music competition, where IU students Stephani Parker and Hannah Farahan first tasted success. Later, when Parker and Farahan performed at an international Hillel event, they were such a hit that its Washington staff recommended IU when it was contacted by the White House, said Rabbi Sue Shifron, director of IU's Hillel chapter.

In September, Hillel held auditions for the new group and attracted about 40 students. Nothing was said about the possibility of performing at the White House until after the auditions had concluded. "We did that intentionally so we could really get passionate singers," Landau said.

"We had already been in the process of forming a Jewish a cappella group anyway," Shifron said. "It's becoming increasingly popular."

Cohen, a native of Maplewood, N.J., also helped to start an a cappella group at Yale University in the early 1990s. Today, there are more than 50 Jewish a cappella groups across the country. He only is aware of two other groups that have performed Jewish a cappella music at the White House -- Kol Sasson at the University of Maryland and the West Point Chapel Choir.

While Landau said he enjoys the popular songs that he sings with Straight No Chaser, it is more meaningful that he now has an opportunity to perform traditional Jewish music. His mother is a cantor in his synagogue near his home in Northbrook, Ill. He grew up with the music and he has been a song leader at Jewish camps in recent years.

"There is a different kind of passion that goes into it," Landau said. "There is a different kind of feeling when you're singing with Jewish singers and there is a shared culture. It makes it extra special."

Another member, Samantha Field, a sophomore from Northbrook, Ill., majoring in special and elementary education, added, "Music and Judaism are two things that have been a very important part of my life. I love that I get to share these passions with people who may not know them the way that I do."

They will perform two songs -- Hatikvah and Ma'Oz Tsur -- at a private candlelighting ceremony with the president, the first lady and a small number of invited guests. They will then sing three songs, including a doo-wop arrangement of I Have a Little Dreidel, for 200-300 guests at the party.

Other members of HooShir are:

  • Andrew Appel, a junior majoring in business from Huntington Woods, Mich.
  • Joshua Davis, a senior majoring in cognitive science from Chicago
  • Joel Dinin, a junior majoring in Jewish studies from Los Angeles
  • Miriam Drumm, a freshman majoring in music and Jewish studies from Concord, Calif.
  • Benjamyn Ellerin, a senior majoring in music from Greenwich, Conn
  • Lauren Freiman, a sophomore majoring in psychology from Randolph, N.J.
  • Corey Frye, sophomore majoring in voice from Indianapolis
  • Rachel Harrison, a sophomore majoring in music and Jewish studies from Niwot, Colo.
  • Joanna Jacobs, a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and theater from Northbrook, Ill.
  • Iva Litvak, a senior majoring in anthropology and folklore from Millburn, N.J.
  • Zach Miller-Frankel, a freshman majoring in theater and philosophy from Rye, N.Y.
  • Rebecca Schatz, a freshman majoring in music education from Los Angeles
  • Sarah Schmidt, a senior majoring in elementary education from Villa Hills, Ky.
  • Micah Adam Stulberg, a senior majoring in telecommunications from Chagrin Falls, Ohio
  • Tyler Trepp, a senior majoring in telecommunications from Urbandale, Iowa
  • Tara Trent, a graduate student studying Hispanic literature from Tuscaloosa, Ala.

With Straight No Chaser, Landau has performed at Lincoln Center in New York City and wondered then how he could "one-up" that experience.

"Now I'm singing in front of the president," he said. "I don't know what's next, the Dalai Lama?"