Jules Frankel: Translating Music Into Community

Jules Frankel

Jules and Susan met in the basement of BJ in the 1960s at a rehearsal for the national Israeli folkdance festival. They were just 14 and members of a prominent Israeli dance troupe. Little did they know at that time how important BJ would be to them.

About 18 years ago, Jules attended Hava Nashira, a Jewish song-leading institute that would change his life. Inspired, he started a havurah in his New Jersey home. The members met often and each Shabbat Shira came together to join in song. Beginning with 40 people, this last Shabbat Shira they celebrated with hundreds in attendance. Jules is also a leader in the New Jersey Jewish community, spreading his love of music and song to many organizations, including local schools. For Israel’s 60th anniversary celebration he led over 2,000 attendees in song as the Artistic Director for the Jewish Federation of Middlesex County.

Michael Kessler, a member of the havurah, told Jules that every time he closed his eyes and listened to the music, he felt like he was at BJ. Jules knew he had to check BJ out. Subsequently, Jules regularly made the trip to BJ for spiritual nourishment.

Jules is a CPA, MBA, and shareholder at Wilkin & Guttenplan, P.C., where he services hundreds of condos and co-ops in both New York and New Jersey. In 2002, when many of their friends were buying houses at the Jersey shore, Jules and Susan decided that their second home would be in New York City: They had two stipulations 1) that it be close enough to BJ so Jules could walk there and 2) close enough to Lincoln Center so Susan could walk to the ballet.

Since then, everyone in the Frankel family has been active at BJ. Jules and Susan made many friends at BJ and felt that they found a spiritual home. Their children, Leora and David, became involved too. Leora was a rabbinic intern in the Youth and Education Department, and she leads a Rosh Hodesh group. Many families know David as the infamous Bim Bam leader and one of the regular musicians at BJ children’s services.

Jules began wondering how he could translate music into community at BJ. Two years ago he started “BJ Sings.” With friends Joe Antenson and Donna and Tom Divine, they created a group that gathers on the third Shabbat of the month. Jules teaches and leads the group. Whether the music is from Debbie Friedman, a”h, Craig Taubman, or Jules’ original compositions, the group always has a wonderful, communal experience. Each week one member shares their own Jewish journey—how they came to Judaism and BJ—and this has created even deeper connections between participants. BJ Sings is open to everyone and is currently putting together a Shiron (a song book).

We are truly fortunate to have the Frankel family in our congregation. Their contributions—particularly of music—brighten and enlighten our community. We know that Jules will continue to spread his love of music and Judaism not only within BJ but throughout the Jewish world.

Years after they met, Jules and Susan returned to the basement of BJ, which had since been named “Frankel Hall.” This is where their daughter Leora married Andrew Sage last year and where David met his fiancée, Donielle Lavintman. “As soon as we returned to BJ and saw that it was named ‘Frankel’ Hall,” Jules said, “we knew it was beshert.”

For more information about BJ Sings, please contact Jules.