Created in 2003, Makhelat HaMercaz Jewish Choir of Central New Jersey is the brainchild of two local cantors, Anna West Ott of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick and Sheldon Levin of Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen. Under their direction, the group has attracted over 50 singers from Middlesex, Monmouth, Mercer, and Somerset Counties. Dedicated to nurturing appreciation of and building community through Jewish music, Makhelat HaMercaz continues to broaden its musical repertoire spanning centuries and continents – religious, secular, classical, jazz, pop and folk tunes sung in Hebrew, Yiddish, English, and Ladino.
The choir was featured as an emerging guest choir at the 2006 North American Jewish Music Festival, held in upstate New York in July, 2006. That same month, it received a grant from The Karma Foundation of Princeton, New Jersey, whose mission is to support the development and enrichment of Jewish life, in addition to arts and culture. We were also one of about 50 local arts groups to receive a 2007 grant from the Middlesex Cultural and Heritage Commission. One of 10 first-time recipients to make it through the MCHC’s highly competitive review process, Makhelat HaMercaz was just one of two Jewish organizations in Middlesex County to receive this honor.
Makhelat HaMercaz Jewish Choir of Central NJ, Inc is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
Our programs have been made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, through a grant provided by the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commision/Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Cantor Anna West Ott
Cantor Ott, ordained in May 1998 from the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York City, has been the Cantor at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick since July 1999. She had a diverse career in central New Jersey as a singer, pianist, educator, and choral director long before she came to the cantorate. She grew up in Metuchen, attended Hillel Academy in Perth Amboy and Bruriah High School in Elizabeth, graduated with honors from Douglass College with her BA in Music Education and Piano while taking advanced courses in the Hebraic Studies department, and obtained her MA in Vocal Performance from Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey). She taught vocal music for ten years in the public schools of Piscataway Township, NJ and taught private students in piano, guitar, voice, and B’nai Mitzvah studies. Her performing career has integrated her varied talents as singer, pianist, and guitarist in settings ranging from opera and oratorio to musical theater, folk, jazz, madrigals, and cabaret.
Cantor Ott’s great love is choral directing and producing memorable performances of Jewish music of all styles. Under her direction, Anshe Emeth’s music program now includes its Junior Choir, Jew Directions (teen ensemble), Kol Emet (adult choir), and the Awesome Band made up of student guitarists and other talented instrumentalists from the congregation. In the past she has directed Kol Halayla, the Jewish a cappella ensemble of Rutgers University, was the founding director of what is now HaZamir Central Jersey, and founded the Anshe Segulah Men’s Chorus, which has sung at Yom Hashoah observances. She currently sings with the New Jersey Cantors Concert Ensemble. Together with pianist Dave Schlossberg she has performed at area libraries, senior centers, the New Jersey Jewish Historical Society, and as part of the Rutgers University Life Long Learning program. As an impresaria of Jewish music, Cantor Ott also curates and produces the Ohavei Tarbut concert series at Anshe Emeth.
Hazzan Sheldon M. Levin
Hazzan Sheldon Levin is well known as a cantor, conductor and educator. In 2002, he co-founded Makhelat HaMercaz. From 2001 until 2003 he served as the President of the Cantors Assembly. For twenty-five years, he was the cantor and educational director for two congregations in Philadelphia. Since 1999, he has been the hazzan at Neve Shalom in Metuchen, where he also is the Adult Education Director. Under his direction the Neve Shalom Adult Education program was honored with the Gold Solomon Schechter Award by United Synagogue for its performing arts programming.
Hazzan Levin holds degrees in Opera, Voice, Hebrew and a Masters Degree in Choral Conducting. He has edited seven books on Jewish music and education and Bar and Bat Mitzvah training books for every Torah portion. Prior to coming to NJ, he directed the Arbel Chorale in Philadelphia for eighteen years and for many summers has been on the staff of the North American Jewish Choral Festival. Currently, he directs the NJ
Ensemble and has arranged hundreds of Jewish Choral pieces.
He was given the “Ateret Kavod” award by United Synagogue of the Delaware Valley and the Moshe Nathanson Conducting Award and the Samuel Rosenbaum Award for Creativity and Scholarship by the Cantors Assembly. The JCC of Middlesex County honored him with a Community Leader award and the Jewish Theological Seminary awarded him an honorary doctorate. He and his wife, Nita Polay Levin, were honored by Israel Bonds with the Crown of Jerusalem award.
ACCOMPANIST: Dave Schlossberg
Dave Schlossberg is a pianist, arranger, and composer from Monroe, New Jersey.
He is now the accompanist for many groups: the acclaimed New Jersey Cantor’s Concert Ensemble, the Jewish Choir of Central New Jersey, and the Jewish Community Choir of Metro-West. He works at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick as its official accompanist for all services, concerts and special events. He also serves as the musical director for the Music Theater Program of Middlesex County Arts Middle School. He accompanies the Stonebridge Singers of Montgomery, the Monroe Township Chorus, and the Monroe-based Concordia Chorale. He is a founding member of Tsu Fil Duvids (“Too Many Daves”), a Highland Park Klezmer band. Dave's compositions of Jewish choral music have also won acclaim.
Dave's greatest strength is his ability to improvise inspired accompaniment for vocalists, instrumentalists, and choirs. He possesses a deep
knowledge of the Great American Songbook, and is a gifted improvisational pianist. He credits much of his passion for the piano to his teacher,
the late Wally Selick, a highly-regarded pianist from the New Brunswick
area. Dave counts Harry Connick Jr. and Dave Brubeck among his
Dave has released his award-winning debut album, A Place Beyond Words, which features solo piano improvisations on melodies from the Jewish liturgy. More information about Dave Schlossberg can be found at his website, www.daveschlossberg.com.