Music has been a part of my life since my earliest childhood. My grandmother was a singer on the Yiddish stage. She passed her love of music to my father and he, in turn, passed it to me. There were not many Jews in Nova Scotia, Canada, where I grew up, but my house was filled with Jewish music recordings. It was also filled with songs of the 60’s, symphonic music, opera and everything in between. I loved music and I loved to sing, and it did not matter what kind of music it was. It fulfilled me and gave me a sense of peace and contentment.
I also grew up in an area of Canada that could be overtly anti-Semitic. There were times as a child when I felt ashamed to be Jewish, and I hid my religion from as many people as I could. Though it was difficult, it shaped who I am today. My experiences with anti-Semitism help me in my Cantorate to relate to people who struggle with spiritual ambivalence. My own path to spirituality is always changing. I find God in nature, on the faces of my children, in the relationships that I form, and in the music that I sing. Most of all, I find the search is the most satisfying.
After graduating from Peabody Conservatory with a Graduate Degree in Opera, I pursued a life of singing. During that time, I took a job as the alto soloist at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York. It was there that the music of the Cantorate took hold. I had a visceral connection to the modes and melodies of Jewish music that I had never felt before. I hungered for its haunting and beautiful sounds, and knew that I needed to make it a part of my life.
As I began my journey at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, I was nervously excited. Being reared as a cultural Jew with little Jewish education, I was afraid that everyone would know more than me. In the end, it did not matter. I was a sponge, and soaked up everything that came my way. I found a passion for Jewish learning I had never felt before. When I combined this new Jewish knowledge with my musical background, I knew I had found my life’s path.
I cannot imagine another career. I find such joy and fulfillment in my work. I know how to create rich and meaningful relationships with people through personal outreach, radical inclusion, pastoral care, life-cycle moments and music. My compassion, approachability and desire to learn alongside others helps enrich our shared experience.
Being warm and welcoming to others is a critical part of my work. Hospitality is essential in creating a great congregation. Welcoming can be hard! In my current congregation, I created “Shalom Corps,” an initiative to teach congregants how to welcome others into their Temple home. I have also served as the co-Chair of the Membership Committee of the American Conference of Cantors, whose mission is to help Cantorial colleagues feel supported, valued and heard.
Music is spiritually transcendant. It gives life to words and uplifts the soul. I help people experience this through our Jewish musical tradition. I transport people from the mundane to the sacred through music. My warm and engaging presence on the bimah makes me accessible and inviting.
I often think of my grandmother when I sing. She died when I was young, but the photos and the stories of her echo with my own experience of music. She struggled with anti-semitism, she made life through Jewish music, spirituality and ritual, she valued her community and she was a compassionate woman. I hope she would be proud of me. And I am grateful that the values that she held live on through my Cantorate.