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The Hebrew letters: bet, gimmel, daled, kof, pay, and tav may not mean much to you, unless you are a Hebrew grammarian or, better yet, a fan of American Jewish music. To a grammarian, those are the six Hebrew letters that take a dot (or dageish) when they appear at the beginning of a Hebrew word.

The acronym is pronounced Beg-ed Kef-et. To Jewish music fans, those letters form the name of Beged Kefet, a musical tzedakah project now in its 22nd year!

Beged Kefet began in the city of Jerusalem in the Fall of 1982 when its founding members were students of Hebrew at HUC-JIR. The first-year rabbinic and cantorial students were required to undertake a tzedakah project to benefit the community in which they were living. Six students decided to take their love of Jewish music to the people of Jerusalem, and so they performed American and Israeli music all over the City of Gold. They called themselves Beged Kefet, using the mnemonic device described above, to remind themselves and their Israeli audiences that they were beginners when it came to the Hebrew language. But their music was far from basic. Their songs (primarily in Hebrew and English) featured original compositions, as well as other American and Israeli songs, in sophisticated vocal arrangements by the group’s members. The singers accompanied their vocal harmonies with guitar, piano, flute, tambourine, and tof (hand drum). One of their singing engagements would change their lives and many others forever. In the poorest section of Jerusalem, they met Myriam Mendilow, a retired schoolteacher and founder of Lifeline for the Old in Israel. Myriam dreamed of making all people her partners in the preservation of human dignity and the promotion of understanding, tolerance, and respect for the elderly and the disabled. She deputized the members of Beged Kefet to take her dream back to the United States, and to become her musical ambassadors for her special cause.

For the last 22 years, Beged Kefet has answered Myriam’s call, raising funds and consciousness for the benefit of the elderly and disabled. The members of Beged Kefet are Cantor Riki Lippitz of South Orange, N.J.; Cantor Benjie Ellen Schiller and Rabbi Les Bronstein of White Plains, N.Y.; Cantor Ellen Dreskin and Rabbi Billy Dreskin of White Plains, N.Y.; and Beth Sher and Cantor Leon Sher of Livingston, N.J. They have performed concerts for audiences of all ages all over the United States and in Israel, at synagogues and conferences from Boston to Houston, from Los Angeles to Long Island, from Jersey to Jerusalem.

Beged Kefet has also produced and sold thousands of copies of two recordings, available on CD: Beged Kefet: The First Album and Go Out in Joy. Through their concerts and recordings, Beged Kefet seeks to awaken human hearts and minds to the uniqueness and value of every human being, and to raise funds that support programs here and abroad that translate this dream into reality. To that end, all the money that Beged Kefet raises through its performances and product sales are donated to Myriam’s Dream, Inc., so that they, in turn, can make other peoples’ dreams a reality. Beged Kefet is immensely proud of the tens of thousands of dollars it has raised over the years by partnering with synagogues, educational conferences, clergy groups, summer camps, and other Jewish musicians. Eighteen years, seven successful careers, and eleven children later, Beged Kefet continues to serve as the musical ambassadors of Myriam’s dream, helping to raise the funds that are distributed around the world through Myriam’s Dream grants. They continue their mission to make Myriam’s dream of dignity and tolerance for all people a reality at home and abroad.

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