2014 Cantorial Ordainees
Following are the personal statements of the 2014 graduates of the School of Jewish Music at Hebrew College:
Hinda Tzivia Eisen
La-Shir, Le-Zamér, Le-Halél, Le-Ranén, Le-Shabé’ach, Le-Romém, Le-Varékh,
Le-Nagén, Le-Hitpalél, La-’Avod. Lachan. Nusach, Ne’imah. Manginah
Hebrew has so many beautiful words that tie music and worship together — and this, for me, is the essence of my work as a cantor. To work, to worship, is to have music. In Mishna B’rachot 9:5, our Sages ask us to consider what it means to love God "be-khol me’odekha," often simply translated as “with all your might” or “all your ability.” "Bekhol midah umidah she-hu modéd lekha hevé modeh lo bim’od me’od": “With each and every measure that He measures out to you, you should thank Him very much.” (Notice this statement’s elegance and also its puniness in the original Hebrew.)
Pesikta Rabbati 25:3 tells us, “If your voice is pleasant, and you are sitting in the synagogue, stand and honor God with your voice.” Between these two prescriptions, what choice do I have but to be on this path? I am blessed to be part of a profession that I find stimulating, captivating, and above all, honors the gifts that my God has given me.
I joke that I didn’t know I wanted to be a cantor until I was already in cantorial school. Some choose their career paths; my path found me long before I ever knew I was on it. I have been deeply blessed by the loving support of my family, my colleagues, my mentors and my classmates. I take this opportunity to recognize my ever-supportive parents, Susan and Steve Eisen; my siblings, Avi and Sara Eisen; and my loving fiancé, Bob Labovitz, for lifting me up and enabling me to reach this incredible day. I wish my classmates, Becky, Rick and Lisa, success, harmony and presence in their new endeavors. Mazal tov!
Rebecca Wexler Khitrik
Vayl ikh bin a yidale,
zing ikh mir dos lidale
vayl ikh bin a yid
zing ikh mir dos lid.
Because I am a Jew, I sing a little song. Because I am a Jew, I sing.
I came to the School of Jewish Music at Hebrew College with a background in klezmer music and Yiddish song. After a weeklong intensive "niggun" and composition workshop in Weimar, Germany, I knew that I would always be playing and singing Jewish music.
During my admissions interview, a professor asked me how I would plan to juggle my two careers of cantor and klezmer clarinetist. My answer: in a happy marriage, of course! Klezmer and Ashkenazic cantorial music share deep roots.
I see myself as a gatekeeper for the traditions of nusach, cantillation, and the sounds of the old klezmorim. I look forward to a cantorate that preserves these old traditions, while keeping them alive, relevant and exciting for my congregation. Above all, I intend to nurture my community with vibrant singing and joyous playing.
Many thanks to my learned and supportive professors, my wonderful colleagues and my beloved husband, Alex.
One role of the cantor is to be a guiding force in the spiritual and musical life of the synagogue. Together with the rabbi, the cantor offers a link to Jewish liturgical and ritual tradition through practice and education. Among other duties, (tutoring, leyning, creating services and divrei Torah, pastoral visits, and choir rehearsals), the cantor shares music to support the heart of the community.
Every congregation has music rooted in memories evoking strong, spiritual emotions, i.e., "Kol Nidre," versions of "Adon Olam," a "niggun," a Yiddish or Ladino song. Educating the community about the origin of these melodies and sharing them can serve to affirm our understanding that we belong to a rich heritage.
These melodies, though not familiar to all, can serve the same spiritual purpose if learned in the present, given their historical link to melodies that originated thousands of years ago.
These sounds have shaped our collective experience of Shabbat, festivals and High Holy Days. They are meaningful offerings and inspire emotional interaction between the Divine and one another.
Specific melodies have accompanied our people in celebrating birth, naming, coming of age, and mourning. Now, a new generation of tunes is becoming part of the canon. Without music to guide us, our communal, spiritual sensibility is incomplete.
When voices rise together in song, they unite different perspectives. I hope to offer a rich array of ancient melodies and those by living composers because I believe music holds the potential to inspire meaningful engagement and bring us home.
In the summer of 2005, I was working as the assistant music director on Star Island, a Unitarian Universalist retreat center in the Isle of Shoals. During a conference, both of the conference leaders stopped me as I was walking, and asked me to lead the music for a Unitarian Shabbat service. After the service, a woman came up to me and said, “I really enjoyed the service. When you started singing the music, your entire face lit up.”
Those words became a call to action that I could not ignore, and they irrevocably changed my life for the better. I had been struggling finding a way to combine my passion for music and my interest in Judaism, and her words gave me the answer; I needed to pursue the cantorate. As I looked at schools, I found that Hebrew College’s emphasis on pluralism would provide for me the academic environment to best explore my Jewish identity. I regularly thank the woman I met on Star Island in my heart, but most importantly, I want my actions to be thanks for what she did for me.
As a cantor, I see myself as a source to help others find ways to bring meaning to their lives, whether it be through our received tradition or a brand new creation. In congregations I’ve served, the music that we make creates stronger bonds between us that in turn give us the chance to better serve others. If I can help facilitate these kinds of connections with my new community in Cleveland, I feel I will have begun to say my thanks to the woman who helped start my cantorial journey.
She is but one of many people who have helped me over these past years. I’d like to thank all of my many teachers at Hebrew College (which includes my classmates) and my mentors. In particular, I’d like to thank Cantor Annie Rose, who over her many years as a cantor in Ann Arbor, Mich., has shown me the difference a cantor can make in the lives of others. Most importantly, I’d like to thank my family for all of their love and support.
I’m honored to be ordained alongside Hinda Eisen, Becky Khitrik and Lisa Kipen-Hershenson, and I’m eager to see the future that we will build together. May we all go from strength to strength.
Rabbi Daniel Klein
Director of Admissions