Why I’m becoming a cantor

This fall, I’m going back to school at Hebrew College, in the Cantorial Ordination for Spiritual Education and Leadership (COSEL) program, a unique, intensive track offering ordination as a cantor along with a master’s degree in Jewish education.

Judaism has always been important to me, including sharing it with others. As Rabbi Tarfon said, “the day is short, the labor vast.” A few years ago, I’d have said I could contribute to the Jewish community just as well as a lay leader. While I had a Jewish studies degree and some experience working in a religious organization, I also had a secular career and could pay synagogue dues and preschool tuition to support the work of talented clergy and educators, and surely my computer skills would be useful to some volunteer project.

In that mode, I learned Torah trope from my cantor, filling a gap in my skills. I signed up for a class with Rabbi Art Green at Hebrew College; his authentic and positive approach to Judaism, and how it influenced their new pluralistic rabbinical school, resonated with me. I also had a backlog of ideas for Jewish ed-tech projects that, frustratingly, never gained traction. I found I enjoyed teaching and leading prayers more than committee meetings, and the more I did, the more I wanted to learn.

Two things drew me to the cantorate. First is the range of disciplines involved. There are technical skills, like nusach and vocal technique. There’s rabbinics and scholarship, education and pedagogy, leadership and art. Second, public prayer is the central activity of religion. More than an intellectual pursuit, ritual inspires people to receive sacred truths, and a cantor is the professional making it relevant, meaningful, and beautiful—in the classroom, the sanctuary, or at a life cycle ceremony. Especially in the 21st century, a hazzan’s job will include, but not be limited to singing, and I believe COSEL will help me make an impact.

I’m really excited to spend more time on this important work, and honored to serve the Jewish people. Keep an eye on this blog for occasional thoughts from this new chapter of my career.

See you in services!

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