Synagogue celebrates music ‘Hand in Hand’

A special concert honors Cantor Marcelo Gindlin’s 10-year tenure with the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

The Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue’s annual Chanukah Concert will honor Cantor Marcelo Gindlin’s 10-year anniversary with the congregation this Friday, with a special presentation involving the children who attend the new afterschool program that the cantor implemented, Hand in Hand.

Hand in Hand offers opportunities to children who have physical or learning disabilities that might prevent them from speaking like other children, but which doesn’t impair their ability to sing or otherwise make music.

“Hand in Hand integrates children with special needs and other mainstream children in the community,” Gindlin said in an interview with The Malibu Times. “We start with music, we make art projects or cooking activities and we end with music.”

Gindlin earned two degrees in music therapy from El Salvador University and worked with severely ill people in physical and psychological rehabilitation, using music to reach the most damaged psyches. He said he wanted to start a program like Hand in Hand since he first came to the synagogue, but felt he needed to master English first (he is a native of Argentina).

“I had a dream to start a program like this here and now it has come true,” Gindlin said. “We start and finish our afternoons with music and it brings the children together. Because the sooner we expose these children with special needs to the mainstream kids, the sooner we integrate them into a reality where you learn that everyone is different. In a sense, we all have special needs.”

Hand in Hand is co-directed by Lisa Szilagyi, a special education teacher at Malibu High School, and Janet Hirsch Ettenger. The group meets Thursdays after school at the synagogue and is open to Jewish and non-Jewish children.

Szilagyi has been a proponent of music as therapy for years. Her own daughter, Emily, has participated in music therapy and her mother believes it is liberating.

“Emily can’t always speak words effectively, but she can sing lyrics,” Szilagyi said. “Music accesses a different part of the brain, and music affects kids neurologically and physiologically in ways that other therapies can’t always reach. Hand in Hand is really wonderful. The kids don’t think of it as therapy at all. It’s more group activities that allow them to work together and socialize. Music is the great equalizer.”

Typically, the afternoon starts off with the cantor taking up his guitar and teaching a song to the group. Then they work on seasonal art projects, such as decorating pumpkins or baking treats to take home to the family. Music brings everyone together again at the end of the afternoon.

“For special needs children, the earlier they start in music therapy and realize that this is an effective way to communicate, the more it impacts their life skills,” Szilagyi said. “Meanwhile, with Hand in Hand, they’re socializing with other kids [who] they might not normally socialize with.”

Linda Ellrod agrees. Her daughter, Kristina, has a developmental disability that slows her motor skills. But she also has perfect pitch and is able to transpose a song at the piano from, say, a C Minor key to an F Major in an instant.

“It is really amazing how someone with intellectual disabilities can do so much in other areas of their brains,” Ellrod said. “Kristina can’t really bathe or dress herself, but she can do things on the piano that others can’t do. And in Hand in Hand, everyone is learning tolerance and patience while they are having fun.”

At Friday’s concert, the Hand in Hand group will perform with Cantor Marcelo, along with bands, choral groups and “Russian magicians who have a quick-change act,” Gindlin said.

“Chanukah is a festival of light and music makes everything shine brighter,” the cantor said. “With Chanukah, the miracle is that the light lasted eight days. I think that our Hand in Hand children show that we must appreciate the miracle of everyday.”

The Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue will celebrate its annual Chanukah concert Friday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. and is open and free to the public. Cantor Marcelo urges everyone to arrive early.

Related Articles



Latest Articles

%d bloggers like this: