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Jewish collegiate a cappella students compete in local songwriting contest

Are you a fan of the show Glee or the Pitch Perfect movie franchise? Then Ilu Finu is for you.

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ShireiNU, the Northwestern University Jewish a cappella group at their fall show called ShireiNU Presents: Shireinger Things.

Are you a fan of the show Glee or the Pitch Perfect movie franchise? Then Ilu Finu is for you.

Ilu Finu -- the Jewish Collegiate A Cappella Songwriting Competition -- is named for the first two Hebrew words of a Jewish prayer that beings, "If our mouths were as full of song as the sea…"

For the meet, The Cantor's Assembly has voted on newly composed songs submitted by Jewish a cappella groups from across the country. And on Saturday night, Jan. 20, the winners will be chosen on stage at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park (NSSBE).

Many of the finalists will be performing their original material that night: HooSHIR (Indiana University), Staam (Washington University), and ShireiNU (Northwestern University). Some acts could not make it in from the coasts -- namely Kaskeset (Binghamton University), Ketzev (Johns Hopkins), and Rak Shalom (University of Maryland) --  so Jewop (University of Wisconsin-Madison) will be performing their material in their stead.

The audience will then vote for two $500 award winners: Best Song, and Most Prayerful Song, a category sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary's H.L. Miller Cantorial School. Judges -- other cantors and synagogue music directors from the coasts -- will vote in the other categories, covering entirely new songs for Friday Night and Shabbat Morning services, and newly arranged melodies for those services' existing liturgies. Some $12,000 in cash prizes will be awarded the night of the show.

The project is being co-chaired by its initiator, Hazzan Matthew Klein, of Akron, Oh. The other co-chair is NSSBE's own Hazzan Benjamin A. Tisser. Hazzan Steven Stoehr of Northbrook's Congregation Beth Shalom will emcee. Sponsors include JUF, the Cantors Assembly, NSSBE, Congregation Beth El (Bethesda, Md.), and Adat Shalom (Farmington Hills, Mich.).

Aside from giving such groups "another major platform to share their art," Ilu Finu's producers wanted to encourage the creation of new material. But for Tisser, the show is about more than the music: "The competition shows how bright our future is because these talented, gifted students are in it."

The competition will take place after Shabbat, and is part of a larger weekend celebrating NSSBE's 70th anniversary and Rabbi Vernon Kurtz's 30th anniversary is its rabbi. John Lowenstein, JUF's Vice President of Campus Affairs and the Executive Director of the Hillels of Illinois, will discuss Jewish life on campus. Before the competition, there will be an information fair on Jewish resources on campus. 

And members of the a cappella groups -- collectively, some 60 students from across America --will be serenading the congregation all weekend long. 

More information about the concert can be found at Tickets can be purchased at; admission is $18, those under 18 are free. For more information about the weekend's other events, contact Anna Igornov at  

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