YOM KIPPUR 5780 TBE- CANTOR’S SPEECH
I am truly honored and humbled to stand up here as your Shaliach Tzibur. I want you to know how magnificent a view we have up here, how beautiful you all look, radiating with the light and power of prayer, reflection, and divine energy. Singing with you and leading you is like being plugged into the most massive electrical circuit. I know that I feel the energy pass through me and have been thrilled to hear that many of you are also finding your way into the flow, letting the prayer wash over you, and surrendering to the power of these days of awe.
I know there are many of you who know me, but there are also many of you who don’t, so I wanted to share a bit of the journey that has lead me to this moment here and now with you.
I grew up in Rutland, Vermont where I had a wonderful Jewish upbring and was mentored by Rabbi Solomen Goldberg, zichrona livracha. My parents, who have joyfully joined the TBE community for these holidays, instilled a passion for Judaism, singing, and tradition in my life at an early age. One of my fondest memories as a young child involved accompanying my mother to Sliechot services, held as tradition had it, at midnight. I remember having dinner at home and going to sleep in my fancy dress for synagogue, and then having my mom wake me up a few hours later to accompany her to the late night, spiritually stirring service. I didn’t know it then, but there was something about that service, the energy, the mystical quality, the “special-ness” of it all that stayed with me. I guess I’ve been chasing it ever since. . . .
I left Vermont to pursue a Bachelors of Music in Vocal Performance in New York City. Thrilled to embrace the city that never sleeps, I threw myself into singing, vocal studies, and opera training. Following school, I went out to San Francisco to partake in an opera program, but I left behind a charming young man I had met in the NYU Bookstore. So, when the program was finished, I realized that my life was back in Connecticut and I moved to Stamford to join Eric.
Shortly thereafter, I looked at Eric and said, “we need to find a synagogue.” We weren’t married yet, but I knew that we needed to find a community in which we could pray and grow together. It was 16 years ago, when we first walked through the doors of Temple Beth El. We came to a summer service, held right outside here and as we walked in, my jaw hit the floor as I sat in awe listening to the first female cantor I had ever really heard, Deborah Jacobson. She had a tambourine and we all held blue shaker eggs, and she sang so beautifully, and something inside of me woke up. . . . . the little girl from the Sliechot service opened her eyes and caught a glimpse of who she could become. . . . I wasn’t sure how to make it happen, but I knew I wanted to do that. . . I started a journey inward that has taken me over a decade, with countless circles, twists, and turns.
Shortly thereafter, Rabbi Hammerman and Deborah Jacobson married me and Eric in the only wedding ceremony that they ever co-officiated together in Vermont atop Killington (yes we all ski!). I taught private voice lessons, earned my Masters in Music Education, taught choir at St. Luke’s School, and sang with regional opera companies, while our family grew with the addition of Ethan (now 10) and Vivian (6). In the most challenging and rewarding role of my life thus far, being a parent has opened my eyes and heart in ways unimaginable and taught me great patience, resilience, and empathy.
Patience has been an important lesson to learn, because it has taken time for my path to unfold. Juggling the demands of full time work, study, school, and parenting, has not only prepared me to stand before you today, it’s gotten me ready to go on tour with the circus. Over the most recent portion of my life, I’ve been taking classes at the Academy for Jewish Religion where the little girl inside me has been lit up by study of the Zohar and the mystical texts of Kaballah. I’ve attended the Davennen Leadership Training Institute through Aleph and learned to pay careful attention to the arc of the service and the journey we embark on together in prayer. And, I’ve had the privilege to study privately with outstanding Cantors and Rabbis who have graciously taken me under their wings to help me soar.
Among these have been the supportive and inspiring leaders from Temple Beth El: Rabbi Hammerman and Cantors Sydney Rabinowitz, Deborah Jacobson, George Mordecai, and Magda Fishman. They have all inspired me and encouraged me to explore the path in front of me with an open mind and an open heart. It is extremely rare when you find someone who believes in you unconditionally. When you do find those people, hold on to them, thank them, love them, and cherish them. Sometimes it takes someone outside of ourselves to hold up a mirror and help us see who we are truly meant to be.
All of these Rabbis, Cantors, and teachers have helped to shape me into the prayer leader that I am, and I thank them, along with Carl Weinberg and the Board of Trustees, for lifting me up, entrusting me, and accompanying me on this journey.
And now, thanks are hugely due to the immensely talented Beth Styles, with whom I’ve spent countless hours preparing for these services. Her artistic and creative composing and arranging skills brought forth new music and arrangements that have lifted us to new heights. We are truly blessed to have her warmth and music provide us with a comforting nostalgia and a breath of fresh air at the same time. She prepared many arrangements for the choir and helped to truly connect us all through song. We’ve really created something very special together.
And this fabulous choir. . . . you sing with such ruach, heart, and soul. I’ve loved praying with you and you truly make our spirits soar. Thank you for greeting me with warmth and kindness, being open to new music, and engaging in conversations about the meanings of the prayers. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Inspired by the twists and turns of my own journey, I will conclude with this:
- Let’s always behave as if little eyes and ears are watching and listening.
- Take the time out of our busy lives to mentor someone who wants to learn.
- Remember, that an outstretched arm lifts us all.
- Let’s tell loved ones how much they mean to us, particularly those who always hold us up, even when we aren’t sure where we are going, or we can’t stand on our own.
- Let’s look for the good, share the credit where it is due, and remember the happy times spent together.
- We may not fully comprehend the role we are playing in another person’s journey, but we are most certainly all connected and our actions ripple outward far beyond what we can sense and feel.
- Let’s keep propelling each other forward and holding hands together as we ride this wild roller coaster of life.
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