Musician keeps time to a sacred beat

April 19, 2002|BY KATE COLEMAN

Akiva - that's Peter Wharton's Hebrew name - will perform some of his compositions during services tonight at Congregation B'nai Abraham in Hagerstown.

Artist-in-residence at Temple Beth El in Huntington, N.Y., Akiva plays and sings in synagogues and is the accompanist for the Long Island Cantor Society. He has accompanied Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary folksinging fame.

Akiva, 56, has been playing hand drums and tambourines since he was 5 years old. His musical focus is writing and performing prayers and songs, something he started a few years ago. "People seem to like it," he says.


Congregation member Carol Mendelsohn heard Akiva perform at a bar mitzvah in New York. She calls his music "enchanting."

"This isn't about me," Akiva says. "I write prayers and songs, but it's not enough to say how I feel," he says.

He uses a verse from one of his songs to illustrate his point:

"There's water flowing under every shoe

Water flowing under me, flowing under you

This water is God's Great Love"

In the songs - Akiva's as well as the traditional songs - there are little chapters or portions called parshas, Akiva says.

Every day, Jews all over the world are on the same page of the Torah - the Jewish religious literature.

At this week's services, Jews in America, China, South America, will be reading the same parsha - little chapter - of the songs.

Akiva studies the sacred texts, books going back thousands of years.

"What did Ezra think?" he asks. "It's tradition," he says.

Akiva - Wharton - has day jobs.

He's a physician's assistant, working part time in family medicine, part time with adolescents recovering from drug and alcohol abuse.

He tries to help them understand why they are angry with God.

Does he use his songs?

"Always," he says.

Akiva hopes that people from the community, people who are not members of the congregation, will come to services tonight.

Everybody may have their own well, he says. "The water is really the same."

If you go

Akiva Services begin tonight at 8

Congregation B'nai Abraham

53 E. Baltimore St.


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