An Irelander in Andover

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An Irelander in Andover

Idan Irelander strums an oud.

MAY 18, 2017 — On a recent morning in an Andover coffee shop, Idan Irelander closed his eyes when he was asked about his upcoming trip to Israel.

“For me, it will be like inviting people into my home to spend time together,” he said.

Irelander, who grew up in Israel, has served as the cantor and music director of Temple Emanuel in Andover since 2012. Next month, he plans to take 26 members of the congregation to Israel – including fivechildren who will celebrate their bar and bat mitzvahs at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The congregants will tour the country and also visit Petra in Jordan.

Irelander’s journey from Netanya to Boston began in 1997 when he enrolled at the Berklee College of Music. A gifted bass player, he recorded and composed music. By 2000, he felt the pull of the melodies he heard as a child in synagogue, and was hired by Temple Emanuel to oversee its children’s and adult choirs. Nearly 6,000 miles from home, he decided to stay in the US with his wife Einat. He earned a master’s in Jewish education from Hebrew College, and also became a cantor. In 2012, he was named the temple’s cantor.

For a guy who plays numerous instruments and has sat in with Israeli stars like Yehoram Gaon, singing Hebrew songs, arranging choirs, and teaching kids their haftarah portions is part of the natural thread of life as a Jew.

“It’s in my DNA,” said Irelander, whose father served as a personal driver for David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. “My mother taught Bible and Hebrew literature for 40 years and I watched her light Shabbat candles every Friday night. It’s always been part of who I am.”

Irelander, who is 45, always seems to have a tune in his head. Besides teaching kids to read the Torah, he arranges the music and performs several times a month at the temple. During Friday night Shabbat services, he’ll play guitar and sing with Gitit Shoval. He also arranges the music for The Abbas, and The Soul Sisters, two groups of congregants who play one Shabbat at month at the temple. On the High Holidays, he brings in a group of Israeli musicians who play cello, flute, bass, violin, clarinet and piano and perform traditional Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur melodies.

And, on Friday mornings, he can be found in the middle of the temple’s preschool leading a Shabbat program for the children. It lasts just 15 minutes, but about 100 parents, grandparents and other relatives of the toddlers squeeze in to hum along with the Hebrew prayers.

“That shows you the power of music,” he said. “It connects, it brings families together; it’s a bridge. When you’re with your family and you see your kids enjoying Hebrew songs, it’s a great feeling.”

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