וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָֽאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ.
God created the human in their image; in God’s image, God created them. (Genesis 1:27)
לְאֵל בָּרוּךְ נְעִימוֹת יִתֵּנוּ.
To blessed God, they sweetly sing. (Morning Liturgy)
I didn’t expect to become a cantor. I simply wanted to make a difference in the world. I wanted to make the world a better place—what we call tikkun olam, “repair the world,” a term that is about spiritual work as much as temporal justice. What greater purpose is there? And I had a lot of faith in Jewish tradition to guide that work.
Standing in front of the room doesn’t come naturally to me. For a large part of my adult life, I avoided it. As I kept seeking my path, I eventually realized I was going to need to challenge myself to take on more visible leadership roles, including as a teacher and as a singer. Going back school has been a significant transformative experience, more than I ever expected. A lot looks different than it did a few years ago, and I’ve learned as much about myself as I have about the liturgy.
There are two big lessons I’ve learned while at Hebrew College. One is the meaning of “blessing.” As a cantor, my work is reciting blessings. What does that even mean? To bless means to empower, to recognize the strength inside someone or something. We bless God to recognize a power that in the universe that is beyond us as individuals. More importantly, we ask for God’s blessings for us, and so bless each other, affirming that each one of us is good and special and powerful. That’s what it means to be made b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image.
The other lesson is that by studying texts, we are learning to listen. That’s why learning is at the heart of Jewish practice. Here’s a secret: being a spiritual leader isn’t about talking, it’s about listening. To the texts, to your innermost voice, and, most importantly, to the people you encounter. Judaism believes that each person matters, and we get to elevate their voices. For those of us who serve as cantors, literally so, in meaningful song, as means to improving the world.
I feel privileged for being able to complete this program of study. I am also grateful for the caring of many teachers, friends, and family over the past few years. Finally, I want to acknowledge my children, Hannah and Max, who as young adults have already embarked on their own paths of tikkun olam work. They are an inspiration who give me boundless hope for the future.