Alumni

Alumni Profiles


cantor hinda tzvia eisen labovitz

Hinda Tzvia Eisen Labovitz '14
Cantor/Educator
Ohr Kodesh Congregation
Chevy Chase, Md.

What was your motivation for pursuing cantorial training?

I always knew that I wanted to do something that combined Judaism, education and music. I had thought that I would have to choose only two of my passions for my vocation and pursue the third as an avocation, but in the cantorate I found that I could do all three. Becoming a cantor was also a natural extension of the things that I was already doing — working as a ritual director of a synagogue, serving as an assistant cantor, singing in the Zamir Chorale, conducting and teaching Jewish studies.

What do you hope to bring from your cantorial education to your professional life?

In a word: everything. I know it sounds like an exaggeration, but it's true that all of the knowledge we gained in cantorial school will be taxed just in the first year of pulpit work: from "nusach" (traditional Jewish liturgical chant) to congregational melodies, from communication skills to professional development. And it isn't just five years in classrooms; even outside curricular education we were constantly learning from our mentors, our teachers and our colleagues, and sometimes those lessons were just as or more important than the concrete material we had learned.

To your personal life?

Your personal life is part of your professional life when you’re a cantor. The dignity, compassion and kindness with which we act as cantors are essential characteristics of who we are personally, as well.

From whom, or from what, do you draw inspiration?

Our tradition (in Pirké Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] 4:1) encourages us to learn from each and every person and, by extension, from each and every experience. I'll admit, I struggle at times with finding inspiration in music or ritual that is outside my comfort zone, and I am learning to draw inspiration even from and through my discomfort. When I lead services or interact with people in my capacity as clergy, I try to keep my ears and mind open to all of the stimuli around me — voices, emotions (my own and those of my congregants), current events, even furniture and lighting. Often the answers to your unasked questions are already around you, waiting to be let in.

Can you reflect on one internship or student work experience that was particularly moving?

Before and during my first years in cantorial school, I served as ritual director of Temple Emanu-El in Providence, R.I., during which I was privileged to work with the School of Jewish Music's dean, Cantor Brian Mayer. Effectively serving as his cantorial apprentice, I sat to the right of his "shtender" every Shabbat and every holiday, and came to deeply appreciate the intentionality and skill with which he approached his davening. By paying close attention to every choice he made, I learned that great spirituality emerges when the cantor, while leading services, not only focuses on his (or her) communion with God, but also on his relationships with individuals in the community.

What parts of the Hebrew College SJM experience were most valuable in preparing you for your new pulpit?

The entire experience was valuable. The ways that we were prepared and tested before being sent out into the world was so thorough that there can be no question that we’re prepared when we leave. It was particularly important that we study in a pluralistic environment. We entered from such different places, and then as we learned from each other we developed a real appreciation and respect for our clergy partners across denominations.

What was it like to incorporate a master’s degree into your course of study?

The master’s study and the ordination study dovetailed so nicely that they can’t be separated. The research and intellectual investigations led directly into the professional skills, and vice versa. The programs really intertwined.

What advantages of being in Boston, whether in the Jewish community or the Boston music scene, did you value?

I came to Boston as an undergraduate, and spent almost 10 years there. There were so many opportunities to participate in synagogue life, opportunities to “do” and not just watch. Public transportation was a great bonus, as it opened up many communities to explore. Both religiously and musically, there were many people willing to cultivate new talent. The Boston music scene is incredible, with the Pops, the symphony and the Zamir Chorale, which is acclaimed as the premier Jewish choir in America. Additionally, all of our faculty are active participants in both the local music scene and the synagogue scene, which creates opportunities for students to be exposed to many ways of living and creating music.

What advice would you offer students just starting out studying cantorial arts?

Keep yourself open. Allow each and every moment, even the unexpected or the difficult moments, to be learning experiences; you never know what you'll draw upon later. Further, be careful of assimilating the biases around you, even from people you hold in high regard. Listen, acknowledge and then make sure you are making your own informed decisions about what is ultimately worth your respect or attention. 



richard lawrence

Richard Lawrence '14
Cantor
Temple Emanu El
Orange Village, Ohio

What was your motivation for pursuing cantorial training?

I always knew that I wanted to do something musical, but I wanted to incorporate music into creating personal relationships with people, into getting out and serving a community. The idea of becoming a cantor took hold when I was participating in a conference on Star Island, N.H., and was asked to provide music for a worship 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. As a cantor, I see myself as a source to help others find ways to bring meaning to their lives, whether through our received tradition or through a brand-new creation. In communities I've served, I've seen the music that they make create stronger bonds between them, which in turn give those
communities the chance to better serve others.

What do you hope to bring from your cantorial education to your professional life?

I feel the most valuable piece of wisdom I've received from my education is the ever-present and important tension that exists in our liturgy between “keva,” (that which is fixed/set) and “kavannah” (intention). To me, this pull between keva and kavannah is understanding how we can honor, cherish and utilize our vast received tradition while at the same time ensuring that what we do with our tradition is infused with meaning in today's world. I believe that both keva and kavannah have contributed, and continue to contribute, to Jewish continuity.

To your personal life?

I hope to continue to explore, to keep open to people and ideas, and to keep listening. I have learned that when I grow spiritually, myself, I am better able to guide others along their own spiritual paths as well.  

From whom, or from what, do you draw inspiration?

I like to leave myself open to inspiration, since I've found that sometimes it comes at the most unexpected times. I feel it is important to see every person I meet and every piece of music I hear as a potential source of inspiration.

Can you reflect on one internship or student work experience that was particularly moving?

There have been so many moving moments in my time here, so I’ll reflect on two. For the past couple of years, I have led High Holy Day services for the joint communities of Temple Israel of Nantasket and Temple Beth Sholom in Hull. After Kol Nidre this past year, a congregant came up to me and thanked me, telling me that he had gotten chills, and felt a deep connection during the recitation of “Kol Nidre.” That is precisely the impact I’d like to continue to have on my synagogue community. On another occasion, I had the opportunity to sing Max Janowski's “Avinu Malkeinu.” A high-school senior came up to me with watery eyes and told me it was the most powerful spiritual experience she had ever felt, and that others in the congregation had been similarly moved. That moment made me feel truly blessed.

What parts of the Hebrew College SJM experience were most valuable in preparing you for your new pulpit?

The SJM structure encourages students to take the learning that they get in the classroom and go into communities to apply it. Whether through High Holy Day pulpits, or through supervised internships, students are able to use their education and skills and then return to campus to process the experience with teachers and advisers.  

What was it like to incorporate a master’s degree into your course of study?

The coursework flowed very nicely, and the education studies were invaluable for someone going into the clergy. Clergy are all teachers, whether they recognize it or not. It was also great to move between the varied types of study; it kept my mind limber.

What advantages of being in Boston, whether in the Jewish community or the Boston music scene, did you value?

Boston is a great city, both musically and Jewishly. I love the character of the city and would love to move back here in the future. The Jewish community is strong and diverse. The music scene is similarly varied, with opportunities to become involved in early music, classical, concert series and more. The character of Boston is vibrant but not hectic. Plus, it has a great public-transit system.

What advice would you offer students just starting out studying cantorial arts?

I think what was most important for me was keeping an open mind and heart. I came to school with a particular Jewish background, and was introduced to text study and prayer settings that were not a part of my prior communal experience. By keeping an open mind, I was able to find what resonated with me and took those elements as a part of my own practice. My experience at Hebrew College has enabled me to feel not as a particular type of Jew, but rather as a Jew in the worldwide Jewish community.

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