When he was a teenager, my husband David thought that he wanted to be a congregational rabbi. He was inspired by the example of the rabbi at his neighborhood’s Conservative synagogue. This rabbi gave excellent, elucidating sermons. David thought that giving sermons and teaching comprised the main activities of a congregational rabbi.
After college, David began his rabbinical studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. At JTS, David discovered that a congregational rabbi does much more than deliver sermons and teach Torah. David told me: “When I learned that rabbis have to go on hospital visits I thought – wait, I have to go to the hospital? And I’m not even sick?” With this new insight, David knew that the congregational rabbinate was not for him.
Rabbis do much more than preach and lead services. We are supposed to be spiritual leaders, pastors, counselors, ritual and program directors, educators, administrators, fundraisers and occasionally even politicians. But unless you work at a synagogue, it is understandable that you would get the impression that the most public part of a rabbi’s role reflects his/her primary responsibilities.
This is also true for cantors. If you ask the “average congregant” what a cantor does, the likely answer is: a cantor sings. In fact, some synagogues hire soloists with good voices to sing at services and call these soloists “cantors.”
But like rabbis, ordained cantors do much more than sing. In fact, cantors should be able to do almost everything that rabbis do for a synagogue. In the Reform movement, rabbis and cantors are both ordained clergy; cantors have special expertise in music, and rabbis in Jewish texts. While the rabbi is the primary spiritual leader of a congregation, the cantor is his/her trusted colleague and is vital to the overall health of a congregation. And like rabbis, cantors touch many lives with their work.
In the six years that Cantor Devorah Avery has been at Temple Israel, she has elevated our music program to one that is far beyond the reach of many congregations our size. Cantor Avery has also worked with a diverse group of b’nai mitzvah students, enabling each individual to do his/her best. She has also comforted our members in times of sorrow and celebrated with us in times of joy. We will miss her beautiful voice and her warm presence. Mark your calendars for Friday, June 19th, as we pay tribute to Cantor Avery and her legacy with a special musical Shabbat at 7 PM followed by a special oneg.
Cantor Avery’s successor, Cantor Ben Ellerin, will join us on July 1st. I am looking forward to working with Cantor Ellerin and believe that he will serve our congregation in an exemplary manner. On July 3rd, Cantor Ellerin and I will lead a brief service at 6:00 PM, followed by a potluck/barbeque supper. Please plan to attend and welcome our new cantor to Temple Israel.
May summer hold many blessings for you and your loved ones,