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Installation Address, 12/21/18

12/28/2018 04:11:31 PM

Dec28

Thank  you to all of you who helped make my installation service so special. For those of you who missed it, these are the words I offered in honor of the occasion:

It seems Beshert – meant to be – that I have landed here at Temple Israel. As many of you know, my first Jewish home was a different Temple Israel – Temple Israel of Great Neck, to be exact. It was there that I developed the foundation of what has shaped me into the cantor I am today. Since then, my time in Boston, Israel, at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in NYC, Milwaukee, and Hartford have each brought additional colors to my work. I am honored that people from many different legs of my journey are here tonight as I am officially installed as cantor at Temple Israel of Northern Westchester.

Our Torah portion, Vayechi, begins with our patriarch Jacob on his deathbed. At this point, Jacob had lived in Egypt for 17 years. He asks Joseph to make sure that he is taken out Egypt upon his death so that he can be buried in the land of Israel, his homeland, his namesake. Jacob’s time in Egypt was significant enough that the Egyptians themselves wept over him for thirty days, acknowledging the blessing that came to the Egyptians when Jacob arrived in Egypt – the famine ended; the waters of the Nile increased. But the previous 130 years that Jacob spent in Israel – yes, he lived to the ripe old age of 147 – dominated. Israel was his home.

Similarly, while I am grateful for the gifts and experiences that I gained while journeying away from home, I am thrilled to be making Temple Israel my spiritual home while also returning home to the NY Metro area. I am especially excited to watch Alex grow up here at Temple Israel of Northern Westchester.

This week’s Torah portion also includes a passage that is particularly significant to Dan and I. Jacob offers a blessing to his grandsons Ephraim and Menashe. Alex’s Hebrew name happens to be Ephraim Dov, after both of my grandfathers, and I sang these words to him at his bris:

“May the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths. May they carry on my name and the names of my ancestors, Abraham and Isaac, and may they grow into a multitude on earth.”

Jacob’s blessing to Ephraim and Menashe is an expression of his desire that they pass Jewish traditions to future generations, in spite of the fact that they were raised in an assimilated society in Egypt. On Shabbat, as parents continue to bless their sons in the name as Ephraim and Menashe (and their daughters in the name of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah), we remember how Joseph’s sons carried the inheritance of their grandfather, Israel, to future generations of the Jewish people. This is my hope not just for Alex but for everyone I have the opportunity to work with here at Temple Israel of Northern Westchester.

 My vision as a cantor is deeply intertwined with the fact that I have been fortunate to be part of many sacred and supportive communities. I feel compelled to create opportunities for people to express their Judaism in ways that hold personal meaning within the context of a larger, shared community. As Jews, we are lucky to have a vast history of unique rituals, teachings, and customs. As a member of the clergy, it is my honor and privilege to help my congregants find new meaning in Judaism and to ensure that our light endures for generations to come.

I would like to conclude by sharing a few pieces that are significant to me and my cantorial journey.

Samachti was one of the first pieces of Jewish choral music I was ever introduced to. When I learned it as a high school student in Hazamir, the International Jewish Teen Choir, I did not fully appreciate what a gift it was to have the piece conducted by its esteemed composer, Cantor Charles Osborne, right around the time it was first published. Since then, Samachti has been included in many significant events over the course of my career, in pretty much every Jewish community I have been part of. I am thrilled that it has become one of Hallel B’Shir’s signature pieces and am excited for them to sing it tonight as part of my Installation at TINW.

(Sing Samachti)

My original setting of Sim Shalom, which I am proud to say will be published in the 9th Volume of Transcontinental Music’s Shabbat Anthology this winter, is representative of my relationship with both Rabbi Goodman and Cantor Schiller. During my final year of cantorial school, two of my classmates and I participated in an independent study in composition with Cantor Schiller. At the time, I was the student cantor at Union Temple of Brooklyn with Rabbi Goodman.  Each Shabbat morning, we would alternate between two settings of Sim Shalom – neither of which, in my opinion, adequately captured the message of the prayer for me. I examined several different setting before deciding that my project for Cantor Schiller’s class would be a setting of Sim Shalom that I would gift to Union Temple in honor of my ordination.

Cantor Schiller suggested that my classmates and I use the voice memo function on our phone to record snippets of melodies that came to us. The chorus of Sim Shalom was born on the subway on my way home from HUC, which I quickly recorded once I got back to my apartment. My goal for the piece was to craft a tune that was easily picked up by the congregation nestled between verses set to different yet related melodies that evoke the thematic content of the liturgy. It is simple, lyrical, and intentionally repeats the word aleinu (“upon us”). Peace is one of humanity’s deepest desires, and it is upon us to make it happen. When bridged by the refrain, we realize that our collective goals are best achieved by working harmoniously.

We have sung this setting of Sim Shalom here on Saturday mornings during B’nai Mitzvah services, and now I’d like to take the opportunity for Hallel B’Shir to help me teach this piece to all of you. You can follow along in Mishkan Tefilah on page 140.

(Sing Sim Shalom)

I’d like to conclude with Jonathan Comisar’s setting of Modim Anachnu Lach – We Give Thanks. Cantor Comisar was another one of my teachers at HUC as well as an accomplished composer. In Modim, he weaves original English narrative in between phrases of the traditional liturgy. The imagery in this song gives us deep appreciation of the extraordinary beauty that we find on an ordinary day. I sing this  piece to you, my Temple Israel family, out of gratitude for how lucky my family and I feel to be part of the extraordinary TINW community.

(Sing Modim)

Sat, December 7 2019 9 Kislev 5780