Congregants at Beth Shalom raise money by keeping their voices down

Irva Gavin
Irva Gavin won in the category for adults for her lip-sync performance of “The Wellerman.” (Screenshot)

By Isabella Lefkowitz-Rao

Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia recently raised $4,000 thanks to congregants who like to sing but aren’t necessarily good at it.

The Conservative congregation held a lip-sync battle, which pitted videos submitted by congregants against each other to see who could receive the most votes for performing a song that someone else was already singing.

“You don’t have to be brilliant or super talented,” said Susan Kuning, the congregation’s vice president, explaining the draw of the contest. “It was fun no matter what.”

Congregants submitted 13 videos in three categories: adult, family and age 10-13. The divisions were important, said Kuning, who lip synced to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” “in celebration of my retirement.”

“I didn’t want to be the one that had to compete with a cute 6 year old,” she said.

Kuning received more than 500 votes, but didn’t win in the adult category. The victory went to Irva Gabin for her rendition of the sea shanty and TikTok sensation “The Wellerman.”


There once was a ship that put to sea

The name of the ship was the Billy o’ Tea

The winds blew up, her bow dipped down

O blow, my bully boys, blow (huh)


In her video, Gabin lip synced five vocal parts on a divided screen, with different backgrounds and costumes for each. One part even called for pantomime violin playing.

Gabin’s family helped in the production of her video. Her husband was behind the camera and her son did the editing. But producing the video was only half the challenge. To win, Gabin had to get the word out.

“I energized my base,” she said. “I emailed all of my first cousins and my siblings and told them to email their friends and they did. That’s the way you generate the income.”

Each vote cost a $1 donation to the synagogue, with a $5 minimum, Kuning said.

Gabin suggested the lip-sync battle to the synagogue. She had heard about it in an online training course about fundraising. She said she wasn’t going to enter the contest, until she discovered “The Wellerman.”

“I found the song and I loved it,” she said.

The highest vote total went to the Caplan family and their video “Eat a Sandwich,” by Parry Gripp, which received 845 votes. The family dressed as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and ate sandwiches.

In the age 10-13 category, the Bursteins won for “Harry Potter in 99 Seconds.”

“There was some good creativity,” Gabin said of the entries. “Everybody who participated did such a great job and seemed to have so much fun. We all had a good time, which is part of the point. We’re hoping that next year we could do a live one with a real audience.”

Isabella Lefkowitz-Rao is an intern for Washington Jewish Week, an affiliated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

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