Nigunim Chorus preparing for Hanukkah coming-out party

The 40-singer Nigunim Community Chorus is about to bring its show to a wider audience.

The chorus, which meets weekly on Monday evenings at the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, will participate in the Hanukkah Community Celebration on Dec. 23 at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley.

“We’ve gotten a lot more professional over time,” said chorus member Ann Manheimer.

The group will perform alongside violinist David Chernyavsky, vocalist Renee Benmeleh, klezmer poet artist Jake Marmer and the Kvetchy Cowboys Gerry Tenney and Arje Shaw. This is the first time the choral group has performed at such a large venue (490 seats) — a move made possible by the choir’s growth.

“At some points it was 10 or 11 people,” said Ann Manheimer, 65, who has been singing with the choir since its formation in 1998. “We’ve gotten a lot more professional over time, and we’ve put on some really lovely concerts.”

Nigunim is specific in its mission: to preserve traditional Jewish folk music while also learning contemporary tunes, focusing on folk songs and music of the Jewish people from the diaspora. Achi Ben Shalom, director and founder of the choir, defines folk music by “how long it’s been around and the lyrics that are valuable.” This year, all the songs the group performs will be by female songwriters — including Naomi Shemer, Carly Simon and Carole King.

Ben Shalom started the chorus as a way to create a local community around Jewish folk music. Ben Shalom, who grew up in Israel and says he was always the “kid with the guitar” as a teenager, is a trained music teacher and runs four choral groups in the Bay Area. He says Nigunim is the largest and most diverse.

“The choir creates an outlet for people seeking community, where they don’t have to be anything other than people who love to sing,” he said. “In addition to that, there’s a wider community of the family and friends of our singers — I have about 700 people on my list of ‘friends of Nigunim.’ It’s very special.”

Manheimer likens her friends in the choir to family.

“There are all ranges of experience and we all really support each other. It’s been terrifically fun — both the community that has formed and the songs that Achi finds for us to sing. He is a treasure,” she said.

Nigunim Community Chorus performs at 8 p.m. Dec. 23 at Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley, CA. $25-$27. thefreight.org/hanukah-community-celebration

Hannah Rubin

Hannah Rubin is a writer at J. She can be reached at hannah@jweekly.com.