Arts and Culture | Local | Upcoming

Chanukah Cantata will bring together voices from across the Jewish community

Robert Lopez-Hanshaw is the organizer of the Chanukah Cantata (Debe Campbell)

The Tucson Jewish Community Center is hosting a Chanukah Cantata on Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. that will feature cantors and other vocalists from multiple congregations across Tucson and the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra in a special telling of the Hanukkah story.

Robert Lopez-Hanshaw, musical director at Temple Emanu-El, organized the event, writing all the music for the production and rehearsing the ensemble as well as conducting it.

Inspiration for the cantata came from Lopez-Hanshaw’s wish for a performance of the Hanukkah story meant to unify the different synagogues in Tucson.

“At the Hanukkah event [last year] at Temple Emanu-El, I got that idea that we should do something like that but for the whole community,” Lopez-Hanshaw says.

But this telling of the story with live musical accompaniment will be something audiences are not used to seeing.

“It is a very different exploration of the story of Hanukkah,” Lopez-Hanshaw says. “It is very far removed from the candles and latkes for the kids.”

Lopez-Hanshaw found inspiration in various places, with the intent to go deeper into the story of Hanukkah.

“What it really was about was interacting with all of the text sources, because I chose different texts that are in Hebrew or Aramaic, some very old, some very new,” Lopez-Hanshaw says. “All touching on different aspects of the story: the military side, the mystical side, the side of sacrifice, the side of a miracle.”

The approach to the production was to understand the different aspects of a community united by the same faith but separated in methods of observance.

“It’s an exploration and celebration of the diversity of viewpoints within the Jewish community both in this time and across time,” Lopez-Hanshaw says.

“I think that it does have the potential to bring communities together, diverse Jewish communities together,” he says. “That is something that is sometimes hard to do.”

Featured soloists include Rabbi-Hazzan Avraham Alpert of Congregation Bet Shalom; Cantor Janece Cohen of Congregation Or Chadash; Cantorial Soloist Marjorie Hochberg of Temple Emanu-El; Cantor David Montefiore; Cantorial Soloist Nichole Chorny of Congregation Anshei Israel; Cantorial Soloist Diana Povolotskaya of Congregation Chaverim; Cantorial Soloist Sarah Bollt of Or Chadash and the Institute for Judaic Services and Studies; Cantorial Intern Emily Ellentuck of Congregation M’kor Chayim; and Dale Whitmore, chorus manager of the Southern Arizona Symphony Chorus as well as former cantorial soloist of Congregations Ner Tamid and Kol Simchah.

Choir member Herb Cohn has been a big supporter of Lopez-Hanshaw’s vision.

“I am very much for building our community, I feel it has been splintered for too long,” Cohn says.

As for the music, Cohn appreciates the liberty Lopez-Hanshaw took to create something that examines the story in a different light.

“Robert has taken the composer’s pen, the conductor’s baton and the magician’s wand and made something wonderful,” Cohn says.

The Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona is pleased to sponsor the cantata, along with the congregations and the Tucson J, says Stuart Mellan, JFSA President and CEO.

“We hear time and time again how thrilling it is when our diverse community comes together for special occasions,” says Mellan. “And so it’s wonderful that one of our community’s Hanukkah celebrations this year will bring so many of our cantors and vocalists together for this unique creation.”

Jennifer Selco, director of Jewish life and learning at the J, has acted as the liaison on the center’s side of things.

“We see ourselves as the town square and enjoy the opportunity to host events like this,” Selco said.

Selco helped arrange the security for the cantata and arranged for local youth groups to sell concessions during the event.

Donations for the cantata can be made to the Federation.

After all of the costs for the event are paid, any remaining funds will be divided among the participating synagogues and the J.

Tickets are $18. Ticket sales are being handled by the J; call 299-3000 or visit