Philadelphia cantor’s former house guest charged in his murder


A former house guest was charged in the fatal stabbing of Ronald Fischman, an ordained cantor, in Fischman’s Philadelphia home.

Jonathan Williams, 33, was arrested Thursday — two days after the stabbing — and charged with murder, burglary and other offenses, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Williams had been a house guest at Fischman’s northwest Philadelphia home but had been asked to leave, according to police reports obtained by the Inquirer. He broke into the house after 11 p.m. on Sept. 30, according to police, and was confronted inside by Fischman, then stabbed him multiple times in the neck, shoulder and knee.

Fischman, 54, a Pittsburgh native, was an author and editor at GGIS Publishing & Media in Philadelphia. He had published two original books and ghostwritten eight biographies and memoirs, according to his website.

A graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s H. L. Miller Cantorial School in New York, Fischman had served as the cantor at Temple Beth Sholom, a Conservative synagogue on Long Island.

He was a member of the Mishkan Shalom synagogue in northwest Philadelphia, where he had blown the shofar and read from the Torah at Rosh Hashanah services this year, Rabbi Shawn Zevit told the Inquirer.

“It is a terrible loss,” Zevit told NewsWorks Philadelphia. “There is a lot of shock and grief. He was a very beloved member of our community.”

From Broadway to cantor, Mike Stein competes on NBC’s ‘The Voice’


Chazzan Mike Stein never really considered himself a singer, but rather, he said, an instrumentalist who sings. But when an agent called and invited him to audition for the upcoming seventh season of NBC’s TV hit singing competition “The Voice,” something within him that had lain dormant since his teen years on the Broadway stage was ignited once again. 

“I don’t think that I would have done it if somebody hadn’t approached me. Up until the day of the audition, I thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’ My wife and sons are the ones who said, ‘Dad, you should do this for yourself.’ ”

And they were right, Stein, 62, admits now: “There is a deep sense of satisfaction in this business that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s a totally different kind of satisfaction than what I get being a cantor — it’s total ego, and I really enjoyed every minute.”  

Bound by contractual silence, in a recent interview Stein, a Grammy winner and, since 2000, chazzan at the Conservative Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, had to tip-toe around sharing any stories of his TV experience. He is the first cantor to appear on the show — there have been a few music ministers, and a nun once won the “Voice” competition in Italy. Stein entered into the process openly displaying his affiliation, he said. “I was representing the Jewish people. I insisted that I could wear a yarmulke, and I talked about being Jewish a lot, in almost every interview.” At his first audition, Stein sang Romemu from the Friday night service, and he added a yodel to it. “I just want to be the Matisyahu [Jewish rapper] of country music,” Stein said with a laugh.

Stein has been singing since he was a young boy growing up in New York. One of his favorite things was going to the synagogue and listening to his cantor sing in the classical chazzanut style. In third grade, Stein started to play the violin and later picked up the guitar when the Beatles came to America. Even though his mother was a pianist and his great-uncle was the famous Broadway-musicals composer Jule Styne (“Funny Girl,” “Gypsy”), his parents weren’t supportive of his passion. “My parents didn’t want me to be a singer or actor, anything in the entertainment business — for them, that was a failure. The older actors on Broadway that I met became my surrogate parents; they adopted me. … Later, I learned from this, and that’s why my children have 300 percent of my support in the arts,” said Stein. 

At 16, he entered Queens College, majoring in drama. He soon left to pursue a career in acting. It was really tough; he recalled living in a condemned building on the Lower East Side, selling everything in order to eat and sweeping floors in hopes of landing some kind of opportunity. Stein’s first break on Broadway came as part of the chorus in the rock opera “Soon.” Then, at 19, he landed a spot in the original cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and toured in the original road show of the rock opera “Tommy.” Then his journey took a detour. 

“I felt that all the things I was doing on Broadway were amazing, but they didn’t have the substance for me. I left my career and went to live on a farm in Pennsylvania with my girlfriend, and we lived like hippies and grew our own food,” he said.

Eventually, Stein moved back to civilization and landed in Washington, D.C., doing street theater, entertaining people as they waited in lines for museums. It was there that he met his wife, Shelley (a trained opera singer); they married and started a family. (They now have three very musically talented, now-adult sons — Jacob, Justin and Jared — and a family band called the “Rolling Steins.”)

While in D.C., Stein also auditioned for the United States Navy Band, which needed a fiddle player at the time. Stein played with that band for 17 years, including numerous concerts at the White House, performing for four presidents, as well as around the world. 

In the mid 1980s, Stein attended a Jewish music festival, where he met Cantor Arnold Saltzman, which turned out to be a pivotal moment in his life. He went on to study with Saltzman, and soon after answered an ad for a synagogue looking for a cantor on Friday nights — Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md. That’s where his career as a cantor got its start, and he moved from there to Temple Aliyah in 2000. 

“Being a cantor is an amazing privilege,” Stein said. “I try to help people find another entrance into the synagogue through music. It helps them look at Judaism as something that they can participate in. … I enjoy being invited into people’s lives, in all stages of life, and being entrusted with their emotions.” 

With the High Holy Days just around the corner, Stein noted, “It’s a great time. When I start on the first night, that first phrase that I sing in front of the ark emotionally opens me up in a place of awe and thankfulness. I work hard [at] not letting it feel like pressure, like work; and it is work. We do avodah — avodah is worship, and it’s the same word for work. Yom Kippur feels like a marathon, because I am very weak by the end; it’s hard.”

A few days before the holidays begin, Stein will be getting another call from “The Voice,” this one to let him know when his performances will be airing during the premiere week of Sept. 22. 

Being on “The Voice,” he said, “gave me a lot of confidence and made me realize that I am worth a lot more than I think I am. It made me feel that I have so much to give, and people are ready to listen and accept what I have to give. … It gave me a big lift.” 

Good luck, Chazzan Stein. We’ll be watching. 

Keith Miller: From cantor to wine shop owner


A longtime practicing cantor, Keith Miller never expected to become a businessman. 

Before he opened his online wine shop, D-Cantor Enterprises Inc. (d-cantor.com), Miller had been a Jewish professional, working at Sinai Temple in Westwood as director of b’nai mitzvah programming and later serving as a cantor at several local congregations.

But Miller’s interest in the wine business began 15 years ago with a visit to a close friend’s house. He and his wife had brought along a “mediocre” bottle of wine for the occasion, and after thanking Miller for the gift, the friend introduced him to a high-quality wine.  

“It was like a revelatory moment,” Miller said. “From that point on, I was a consumer.”

To learn about the industry in-depth, he took classes, acquired certifications in wine tasting and mastered the proper techniques for serving wine. He traveled to locations as far as South Africa in pursuit of boutique wines to add to his collection, and his business boasts vintages from Italy, Israel and France. 

D-Cantor was incorporated in 2011, and Miller’s connections and contacts from the Jewish community enabled it to grow. The shop may not be a “brick-and-mortar” store, Miller said, but it’s an efficient way for people to browse and purchase wines. Customers can place their orders at the website, d-cantor.com, and have the wines of their choice delivered to their doorstep. 

Miller said his wide variety of wines enables him to sell his wares at competitive prices, and the shop offers delivery services, preventing customers from having to pay pricy shipping fees. Most important, Miller has never sold a bottle of wine that he wouldn’t personally drink.

“I’m always tasting all the wines that I feature,” he said. “I’m always tasting everything to make sure it’s something I like personally.” 

D-Cantor’s most popular wines are blends — mixtures of two or more varietals — such as Brassfield Estate Winery Eruption, a dry red wine. Malbecs and pinot noirs tend to be best-sellers as well. Miller said he prefers to “mix things up” and keeps his customers up to date with newsletters featuring individual wines. 

One of D-Cantor’s selling points, Miller said, is that the shop stocks kosher wines. To qualify as kosher, wines must adhere to a set of strict standards. One is that all of the workers involved with the production must be observant Jews, unless the wine is mevushal, which requires that it be heated to a high temperature.

Miller said he has spoken to leading kosher winemakers such as Jeff Morgan, co-owner of Napa Valley-based Covenant Wines, to learn more about the production process. 

“Ideally, I want to be the place that people go to when they think of kosher wines,” Miller said. 

Furthermore, he said, supporting Israeli winemakers is a method of helping the Jewish state. By assisting small businesses, he hopes to counteract forces that seek to undermine Israel’s economic stability. 

No longer a full-time cantor so he can devote time to his business, Miller still works as a b’nai mitzvah mentor and teacher in the religious school at Sinai Temple; he also has been a guest cantor in San Francisco. 

Miller is the sole employee of D-Cantor, which he runs with assistance from his wife, Laura. He hopes to eventually hire another worker and purchase a delivery truck. Someday, he said, he’d like to own a wine bar.   

As with any trade, mastering the ins and outs of the wine industry has been a learning process. The first time Miller led a private wine tasting, he uncorked all of the bottles of wine — about a dozen in all — and received an indignant reaction from the event’s hosts. They had wanted to save some of the wine for a later occasion, but as Miller explained, once a bottle is opened, the “clock starts ticking” and the contents start to deteriorate. Now he makes it a point to only uncork one or two bottles at a time. 

“I’ll never make that mistake again,” he said, laughing.

The name D-Cantor is a fitting title because Miller sees his two roles — cantor and wine connoisseur — as complementary identities. 

“What I do in the Jewish world is very nurturing to people’s souls,” he said. “What I do in the wine world is very nurturing to their palates and bodies.” 

Joel Pressman, cantor and performing arts teacher, dies at 63


Joel Pressman, a cantor and longtime performing arts teacher at Beverly Hills High School, died on Nov. 18. He was 63.

In mid-September, Pressman, son of Jacob Pressman, rabbi emeritus at Temple Beth Am, and Marjorie Pressman, announced in a Facebook video that he was dying of abdominal cancer. In late September, more than 300 people met with Pressman to honor him at Will Rogers Park in Beverly Hills. Read more about the event and about Pressman’s life below.


Unafraid of death, cantor offers a philosophical love fest

On a brilliantly sunny Sunday in late September, Joel Pressman, an esteemed cantor and a venerated former performing arts teacher at Beverly Hills High School, wearing a black T-shirt that proclaimed “I’m not dead yet,” walked slowly with a cane into Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills.

“Let’s everybody have a love-in,” the 63-year-old musician told the dozens of students, alumni, parents, colleagues and friends who’d gathered in his honor, as they whooped and applauded.

In mid-September, Pressman, son of Jacob Pressman, rabbi emeritus at Temple Beth Am, announced in a Facebook video that he is dying of cancer; his doctors have told him he has about two more months to live. Since then, the outpouring of love and support has been so great that Pressman looked forward to the park gathering in order to exchange goodbyes and thank yous with everyone who had touched his life during the 38 years he worked at the school. In his video, he emphasized that he didn’t want people “to cry, to focus on what they had lost,” but rather “on what they have gained.”

Read more.

The value of voice


As we prepare for the High Holy Days, we often do not consider one aspect  of ourselves, our voice. I’m taking about our actual vocal cords; our means of producing sound. 

We use our voice to chant along with or respond to the cantor, but many of us will also use our voice minimally, as we let the cantor and choir fill our ears and hearts with deep meaning, letting us sit there and contemplate our lives, our loves and our transgressions.

Never before (most likely) has anyone said lift up your voice in song like your life depends on it! Even as cantors encourage you to sing, they don’t tell you that in doing so — by truly engaging your physical voice — you will create a physically healthy and rejuvenating experience. They also don’t tell you that psychosomatically engaging your voice will help you release fears and emotions stored in the voice and mind, and therefore help bring you to new levels of self-realization (what the High Holy Days are about).

It is true: Singing relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, simultaneously engages your left and right brain to build your intelligence and creates a vibration of your vocal cords that resonates throughout your entire body, that creates a positive, healing response in your mind, body and spirit. 

Not to mention, when a community sounds their voices together, the room shifts from a bunch of people with different lives and problems, to a kehillah (community) with a common intention for healing and peace. 

And here’s where I get personal: Having studied and taught voice for a decade, I know many of you believe “you can’t sing” or “you have a bad voice.” That’s OK. You can think that, but realize you’ve helped make the belief a reality by believing it. 

The ultimate truth is that you can sing. It is your birthright. Why do I know this? Simply because you have a voice. 

Cantor Neil Newman, my first cantorial mentor, reminded me to tell the congregation that it’s not singing we’re doing; it’s praying. This will make people more comfortable to join in the song. And while he is right, I cannot help but remember that singing and praying are often deeply connected. It often doesn’t matter if I’m singing an Italian aria, a Spanish rumba or the Avinu Malkeinu; to me, it’s all prayer.  

These High Holy Days, please give yourself permission to use your voice a little more assertively than you have in the past. I promise that the people sitting next to you won’t mind or judge you. It is most likely that you’ll motivate your neighbors to sing as well (they may be too nervous or uncomfortable to use their voices in the first place). 

It’s wonderful that your cantor has a great voice. But so do you. It’s yours!  

And as a cantorial soloist, sure, I love singing from my heart so that all can hear. But the magic truly happens when I succeed at leading the community in song; when they lift up my voice so I can continue to lift up theirs. 

We then become individual prayers as one voice. 

That, is ruach.


Ariella Forstein is a cantorial soloist, performer and vocal empowerment coach based in Los Angeles and in Minneapolis. Find out more about Forstein’s work at ariellaapproach.com and about her performing at ariellaforstein.com

Sinai Temple welcomes new cantor


Congregants of all ages came to Sinai Temple’s main sanctuary on June 10 to welcome the newest member of the clergy, Cantor Marcus Feldman, who officially took over as the congregation’s senior cantor on July 1. Feldman’s first concert, performed with Sinai Temple Cantors Joseph Gole and Arianne Brown, was designed to showcase his diverse musical background, including Hebrew, Ladino and Italian songs.

“I wanted to give Sinai Temple an opportunity to share in my passion for Jewish music,” he said, explaining his choice of songs by great Los Angeles Jewish composers as well as some of his own teachers. Feldman said he sees his work as a “solemn responsibility to preserve our incredible musical tradition and to facilitate its continuity within the context of 21st century Judaism.”

A Los Angeles native, Feldman grew up at Stephen S. Wise Temple singing on the High Holy Days and helping to lead Friday night services. But it wasn’t until his junior year of college that Feldman was encouraged by his mentors, Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin and Cantor Nathan Lam, to become a cantor.

After graduating from USC in 2007 with dual degrees in Vocal Performance and Business Administration, Feldman was ordained as a cantor by the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, in May 2011, where he earned a Masters of Jewish Sacred Music. Feldman said he continued his training with Cantor Lam from 2005 onward.

Although just 28, Feldman already has served in a number of prior cantorial positions throughout California, leading services at Sun City Jewish Services in Palm Desert, and as cantorial intern for four years at Stephen S. Wise Temple, before becoming second cantor there, for a year, until his move to Sinai.

Trained in opera, Feldman traveled to Jerusalem two years ago to study under Cantor Naftali Herstik, a 14th-generation traditional cantor. “I learned how to better improvise within the context of the prayer modes, to paint emotions with the words.”

Sinai’s Senior Rabbi David Wolpe lauded Feldman’s “deep knowledge of Jewish musical tradition,” adding that “he’ll bring a wonderful energy to our services and programs.”

“I come to the community as a representative of the newest generation of cantors,” Feldman said. “It is my humble duty to ensure that the incredible 1,000-year-old musical tradition of Ashkenazic music and the 100-year tradition of music at Sinai Temple will continue to thrive and be a central part of Jewish life.”

“He’s an exceptionally mature person for someone of his years,” Wolpe said.

Cantor Gole will continue to serve Sinai in the new position of Cantor Emeritus.

Feldman said he will be working closely with Wolpe throughout the summer to prepare for the High Holy Days and will also play a role in continuing Sinai’s “Friday Night Live” programming, working with Wolpe and Craig Taubman.

What’s in a word? For ‘ordained’ rather than ‘invested’ cantors, a lot


What’s the difference between investiture and ordination?

Plenty, say officials at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which has announced that for the first time since establishing its cantorial school in 1948, it will ordain rather than invest its graduating class of cantors.

Six graduates will be ordained Sunday in ceremonies at Temple Emanu-El in New York.

The change has been several years in the making. Reform movement officials say it both recognizes the elevated role that cantors have in modern times and eliminates some barriers they have faced in their clergy work. For example, one cantor in California could not visit a congregant in prison because prison officials did not recognize her as a bona fide member of the clergy.

“She was unable to fulfill her pastoral duty to her own synagogue member because the prison world didn’t understand the word investiture,” said Jodi Schechtman, a cantor in Framingham, Mass.,  who as director of organizational partnerships for the American Conference of Cantors played a lead role on the language change.

The other major proponent of the change was Cantor Bruce Ruben, director of HUC’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music.

A committee of officers from HUC, the American Conference of Cantors and the Central Conference of American Rabbis made the decision.

“There’s been a significant shift in the role of the cantor,” Ruben said. “Rather than just being responsible for the musical elements of the service, they have full clergy status.”

Ruben and Schechtman say the term investiture has little meaning either inside or outside the Jewish community. Ruben said the term was selected originally to make a clear distinction between rabbis and cantors, and acknowledged that some rabbis are not pleased with the change in nomenclature. But he and Schechtman say it’s necessary.

“For cantors who are serving in partnership with rabbis,” Schechtman said, “it is important for the congregation to understand the cantor is not there just as a singer, but the cantor is there to serve the congregation and to help with all aspects of Jewish life.”

Outside the synagogue, they said, the term investiture has been a stumbling block for cantors. Schechtman noted that in churches, the term cantor simply means a singer or choir leader. In some states, cantors must register as justices of the peace rather than as clergy to be recognized as legal officiants at weddings.

“If a rabbi doesn’t have to be a justice of the peace, why does a cantor?” Schechtman said.

She and Ruben said cantors are not seeking to erase the distinctions between themselves and rabbis but to raise their own professional status—a fight that rabbis battled, beginning in the middle of the 19th century, Ruben said.

There is no intent to compete with rabbis, they said.

“In most congregations, the rabbi is the final leader of the congregation. No one is trying to take that away,” Schechtman said. “We want to make sure it is understood what the role of the cantor is” and that role is beyond being a singer.

Both rabbis and cantors complete five-year programs at HUC, which also lead to master’s degrees—in Hebrew letters for the former, sacred music for the latter.

It remains unclear whether the movement will take steps to ordain cantors retroactively, Shechtman said.

The Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary H.L. Miller Cantorial School invests its cantors, but discussions are under way on changing that to ordination. The nondenominational Academy for Jewish Religion already ordains its cantors.

The Reconstructionist movement no longer offers a cantorial program, but cantors previously were invested.

Rabbi Jonathan Stein, president of the CCAR, said the intensity of those who objected to the change was strong.

“The people who are in favor are much more intellectually oriented, less passionate,” he said, noting that many of those who were against the change worried about blurring the lines between rabbis and cantors.

One rabbi who emailed Stein wrote that rabbinic ordination originated in the Bible with the laying of hands, with rabbis ordained to do effective teaching of Torah, while cantors “have a different origination and a vastly different role.” Another rabbi told Stein that ordaining cantors “defies reason and reality.”

“Cantors are cantors and rabbis are rabbis,” that objector wrote. “Let us not add to confusion to this sometime confusing situation.”

One rabbi who fully supports the decision to give cantors the professional recognition says she has not heard a backlash among her fellow Reform rabbis—on multiple listservs or in person.

“I don’t think that people are feeling threatened by it or upset about it,” said Rabbi Mindy Portnoy of Temple Sinai in Washington. “I have a feeling this is one of the issues where the ones who are upset about it are quiet.”

Pasadena temple gets Argentina’s first woman cantor


Cantor Ruth Berman Harris has been earning paychecks for leading services since she was 15, years before a cantorial school even existed in her native Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“I think it was what I was born to be,” she said. “I became a bat mitzvah, and I never left the synagogue.”

Which particular synagogue has changed over the years, though — from Argentina to Israel to the United States. In August, Harris joined Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, a Conservative congregation serving 500 member families through campuses in Pasadena and Arcadia.

“She’s made an immediate connection,” said temple president Matt Ober. “She has experienced very different synagogues in very different places and has a keen understanding of human nature and people and what people need to be able to pray more deeply and be more connected to spirituality, and that’s what we all kind of seek.”

Harris, 40, said that she’s been influenced by each of her geographic and cultural stops on the way to Southern California.

“Who I am in the core understanding of what a cantor should be, I got it from growing up in Argentina,” she said. “The vision of the chazzan being an emissary of the congregation instead of a performer is something embedded in the fiber of who I am. We don’t perform; we daven.”

Harris said that when she began leading services in Buenos Aires as a teenager, she was the first female in the country to do so. She wasn’t ordained until 1996, after the Rabbinical Seminary of Latin America started its cantorial program.

Most congregants were supportive of having a woman as a spiritual leader, she said.

“Some people thought it was a little bizarre, but, for the most part, people were very welcoming,” she said.

After Harris moved to Israel in 1996, she studied at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem and led services at three synagogues.

Harris said her experience in Israel taught her that Hebrew is a language that is vibrant and alive. It’s a lesson that remains evident as she effortlessly sprinkles Hebrew words into everyday conversation. (No slouch when it comes to linguistics, Harris is fluent in English, Spanish and Hebrew, and can understand and sing in Yiddish and Ladino.)

Her time in Israel also connected her to Jewish culture and continuity in a very real sense.

“Israel gave me a sense of belonging to a bigger picture,” she said.

But splitting her time among three shuls made it impossible to put down roots in any one of them. So her family made the decision in 2001 to move to America, where she served congregations in Wisconsin and Arizona before coming to Pasadena.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is thrilled to have her.

“She’s amazing,” he said. “She energizes a room when she walks into it.”

Just as important, Grater said they already have established a strong partnership.

“We both believe in participatory prayer,” he said. “Our vision of prayer, of a deep and meaningful and rich prayer experience, is something that I cherish. … She can now be the voice for that.”

Already,  Harris, a mother of three, said she feels at home at the Pasadena synagogue.

“I think I’ve been preparing and growing and professionally developing to be able to arrive at this partnership, which is ultimately what I’ve always wanted,” she said.

And there’s another bonus to landing where she has.

“Looking at the beautiful mountains, it pretty much feels as close to God as I can be.”

Cantor advises Weiner to ‘come clean’ in Twitter flap


Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the Republican majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, called on Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) to “come clean” about a controversy over a lewd photo.

Cantor made his comments in a television interview on Thursday, as Weiner endured a fourth day on the receiving end of questions about a photo of a man in his underwear that was sent from his Twitter account. The photo was sent to a 21-year-old female college student who is a Twitter follower of Weiner’s.

Weiner says that he did not send the photo and that his Twitter account had been hacked. However, he has said that he “cannot say with certitude” that the photo isn’t of him. He says he asked a law firm specializing in hacking to investigate, but will not refer the matter to law enforcement, explaining that it would be a waste of taxpayer money for what he calls a prank.

The recipient says she never received the photo and does not have any relationship with Weiner.

Cantor, the most senior Jewish lawmaker in congressional history, told the Fox News Channel that his “advice would be to come clean and clear it up, I know there’s been a lot of explaining going on without a lot of clarity.”

Man who threatened Cantor gets 2 years


A man who threatened to kill Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), speaking of his “final Yom Kippur,” was sentenced to two years in prison.

The Washington Post on Friday quoted prosecutors as saying Norman LeBoon, 33, of Philadelphia, must also complete three years of supervision after his sentence is complete, including no Internet access.

LeBoon had posted the video on YouTube in March 2010, at the height of the debate over health care when a number of Democrats had been threatened, although it is not clear why he threatened Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress.

“Our judgment time, the final Yom Kippur has been given,” LeBoon said in the video. “You and your children are Lucifer’s abominations.”

LeBoon pleaded guilty in a federal court in November to threatening Cantor and his family.

Cantor, at the time the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, is now the majority leader

Reform cantorial school named after Debbie Friedman


The Reform movement’s cantorial school has been named after the late Debbie Friedman.

Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, made the announcement Jan. 27 in New York at a memorial tribute to Friedman, who died Jan. 9 at 59.

Friends of the late singer-songwriter have made possible an endowment to the school, which will henceforth be known as The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, Ellenson said.

“A beloved member of our faculty since 2007, Debbie Friedman, z”l, inspired our students through her creativity and musical talents, helped guide their spiritual and leadership development, and provided them with innovative strategies to transform congregations into communities of learning and meaning,” Ellenson said. “Her words and her music will live on and shape the world of prayer in our synagogues and in the larger Jewish community for this and future generations.”

Friedman transformed Jewish worship in North American liberal synagogues with her sing-along style of folk-inspired music. Since her start as a song leader in Reform summer camps in the early 1970s, she released 20 albums and was a much sought-after performer on the Jewish circuit.

Her most well-known composition, “Mi Shebeirach,” a Hebrew-English version of the Jewish prayer for healing, is now part of the Reform liturgy. She was named to the School of Sacred Music faculty in 2007.

HUC’s School of Sacred Music in New York was established in 1948 and has invested 462 cantors.

Obama remark misinterpreted, Cantor spokesman says


U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor’s promise that the new GOP majority will “serve as a check” on the Obama administration was “not in relation to U.S.-Israel relations,” his spokesman said.

Brad Dayspring told The Washington Post Monday that the comment last week by Cantor (R-Va.), the putative leader of the House of Representatives, to visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been misinterpreted to refer to Israel.

According to a statement released by Cantor’s office, the congressman told Netanyahu in a meeting that “the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the administration and what has been, up until this point, one-party rule in Washington. He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.”

Cantor’s Republican Party swept midterm elections earlier this month for the House.

Such meetings with opposition leaders are unusual, and Cantor’s office at the time cast it as a get-together between two men with a longstanding relationship.

Giffords ekes out victory, Altschuler in play


Two Jewish congressional hopefuls—a Democratic incumbent and a Republican seeking his first term—may have won seats by narrow margins.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was declared the winner last Friday night over Republican Jesse Kelly in a Tucson-area district. The victory means a third term for Giffords, who was first elected in the GOP-leaning district in the Democratic sweep of 2006.

She embraced tough immigration policies as part of her campaign this year, distancing herself from national Democrats.

Meanwhile, in New York’s 1st Congressional District, a recanvassing of the voting machines erased Randy Altschuler’s 3,400 deficit, propelling him to a lead of 392 votes over Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), who represents eastern Long Island.

Neither party was set to declare victory, as counting had yet to begin on 9,000 absentee ballots, but Bishop said Monday that he would demand a hand recount.

Altschuler, who owns a recycling company, would become the second Jewish GOP congressman, joining the Republican whip, Rep. Eric Cantor (D-Va.)

Feminist cantor retires from long-term post


In 1980, five years into her cantorate, Aviva Rosenbloom, then in her early 30s, stood before her Reform congregation at Temple Israel of Hollywood and stretched the boundaries of her role as singer and teacher to ask her congregation a difficult question: “Are women in Judaism equal?”

It was an appropriate setting for the query — the first “feminist Shabbat” at the synagogue, a service Rosenbloom not only helped create, but nurtured into the spotlight. The groundbreaking event marked the first time a group of women stood on the temple’s bimah together to lead the congregation in prayer — and the only time Rosenbloom publicly used her voice to deliver a sermon. She had sketched out her thoughts on 19 pages of handwritten notes, protesting the inequality of women in Judaism and calling it a “patriarchal religion.” That radical address still resonated 28 years later, when part of it was played during a musical celebration honoring her retirement at TIOH last May, titled, “Erev Aviva.”

“Women feel like second-class citizens in Jewish life,” Rosenbloom said in the speech. “We don’t feel like we’re really Jews, and I think that attitude should change.”

Rosenbloom’s voice, with all its mellifluous harmony, became a harbinger of change. Yet almost three decades later, her message was no less poignant; it was a reminder of how much her early vision has changed the status of women in Judaism.

The culmination of her career-long effort took place when hundreds of Rosenbloom’s fans gathered in the TIOH sanctuary at “Erev Aviva” to celebrate an artistic voice with a political impact. Friends, colleagues and fellow clergy praised her as a “champion of women,” a “trailblazer” and someone of “grace, humor, wit and passion”; the choir sang songs she had written; TIOH Senior Rabbi John L. Rosove dedicated a Torah in her honor, and Rosenbloom sat quietly in the front row as the community celebrated her 32-year legacy.

A few weeks later, Rosenbloom, 60, now Cantor emerita, reflected on her career from her new office in the temple’s former choir loft. (Chazzan Danny Maseng is now the temple’s cantor and music director, making him the temple’s third full-time cantor in its 82-year history.) When asked about the evolution of Jewish life in Los Angeles, Rosenbloom struggled for the right words; she pondered for a moment, then covered her eyes trying to focus.

“I wouldn’t know where to begin to say how Jewish L.A. has changed. There’s just too much, and it’s too huge,” she said.

If words don’t come easily to Rosenbloom, it’s because she has spent most of her life singing. As early as age 4, she jumped up on a coffee table at home and sang an Israeli folk song for her mother and father. It was the ultimate gesture from young Rosenbloom, who identified with both parents — her mother both sang and taught Hebrew and her father was a cantor — though her mother’s unexpected death when she was 10 forced her to look to her father as a mentor.

“I didn’t grow up with the advice and companionship and modeling of a mother,” Rosenbloom said. “My parental role model was my father, and my vision was more like what my father did. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an opera singer on the moon.”

Nevertheless, after majoring in sociology at Brandeis University and becoming active in the ’60s counterculture, the anti-war activist and civil rights proponent had no idea what she wanted to do with her life — so she went to Israel.

“I felt more American in Israel than I felt Jewish, because what differentiated me from everybody else wasn’t that I was Jewish, but that I was an American Jew,” Rosenbloom said. The trip changed her life. “Israel wound up showing me who I was other than the Jewish component — mainly, that I was a singer; that my calling was music.”

“Everywhere I went they were asking me to sing,” she said.

Rosenbloom never dared to dream she could become a cantor, a role that at that time was held only by men. But Rabbi Haskell Bernat, whom she met first when she was at Brandeis and then worked with at a synagogue in Massachusetts, believed in her talent, and when he became Temple Israel’s rabbi he invited her — despite her lack of formal training — to come to Hollywood as a cantor.

“I knew I had a lot of work to do to step up to this, but somehow I knew that I could do it,” she said. “I had this sense that I belonged on the bimah.”

Rosenbloom delved into her studies and soon became the first female cantor in Los Angeles to gain full-time employment.

“There were people who were horrified,” she recalled. “I didn’t so much feel people were opposed to the fact that I wasn’t invested; they were opposed to the fact that I was young, I was a woman and I was playing the guitar.”

The move toward a more participatory worship service led by a woman was a significant shift in the style and culture of the synagogue. When she first arrived, Rosenbloom was not allowed to lead High Holy Day services in the main sanctuary because it was thought she might upset the older, more prominent members of the synagogue. And it wasn’t until that seminal feminist service in 1980 that other women began appearing on the bimah.

Since then, Rosenbloom says women’s contributions at Temple Israel and elsewhere have made worship more personal and creative and have integrated new ritual practices that reflect a woman’s experience, including annual feminist Passover seders. Part of that change also meant acknowledging that along with her demanding professional life, Rosenbloom and husband, Ben, would raise their son, Eitan, in the midst of synagogue life.

“It was difficult because whenever I was here, I wished I was with my son, and whenever I was with my son, I wished I was at the temple.”

With her retirement, she leaves behind an adoring community, as well as what she sees as a changing era in the cantorate, in which the role of a cantor as soloist is diminishing. Although she helped usher in the change to a more participatory service — or what some feel is a return to more traditional modes of davening — she regrets that it means many cantors are now doing less of the artistic performance they love.

Fortunately for her, she will now have the time and space to return to her art.

“I need to see who I am when I am not cantor of Temple Israel of Hollywood,” she said. “I need to refocus on what feeds my soul — singing and music.”

Gole to lead Cantor’s Assembly


Cantor Joseph Gole of Sinai Temple will be installed as president of the international Cantors Assembly during the organization’s convention in Los Angeles, at a time when the profession is facing changes and challenges.

Highlight of the May 6-10 meeting will be “On the Wings of Song,” a public concert of the cantorial art, or hazzanut, at Sinai Temple on May 7. Guest performers will include Theodore Bikel and Mike Burstyn, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Israel Air Force Memorial and Heritage Project.

“Cantorial music has always reflected the world around it, and while retaining the traditional chants, is today strongly influenced by pop and folk music,” Gole said.

The Cantors Assembly’s 450 members represent mainly Conservative synagogues, but include every other Jewish denomination.

“The trend among cantorial groups today, as in day schools and at American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism), is toward communal inclusiveness, beyond denominational lines,” Gole said.

One of the challenges facing the Conservative movement, according to those familiar with the demographics, is that both the membership and spiritual leadership are aging.

As a result, there is some concern that as older cantors retire, they may not be replaced by congregations.

More than 250 cantors from the United States, Canada and Israel are expected to attend the assembly’s 60th convention and will participate in Gole’s installation as president. Also to be honored will be Cantor Nathan Lam of Stephen S. Wise Temple.

Gole was 18 when he first led the congregation of Burbank’s Temple Emanuel in prayer as cantor. Now, at age 59, he sounds better than ever, according to Sinai Temple worshippers.
Recognized for his lyric tenor voice and musicianship, Gole has also performed, among others, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, American Youth Symphony, and numerous opera companies in this country and Europe.

“There is a tremendous satisfaction in the cantor’s role of infusing spirituality into the service, in touching people in a significant way during lifecycle events, and in preparing boys and girls for their b’nai mitzvah,” said Gole.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple expressed his congregation’s pride at Gole’s election to the assembly presidency. “Cantor Gole’s musical and religious leadership, which has long been recognized in the Los Angeles Jewish community, is now being acknowledged nationally, and indeed internationally,” Wolpe said.

The May 7 concert starts at 7:30 p.m. at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, preceded by a 6 p.m. dinner.

For ticket information, contact Maureen Rosenberg at (310) 481-3235 or by e-mail, mrosenberg@sinaitemple.org. Tickets can also be ordered online at www.sinaitemple.org.

B’nai Mitzvah: Exactly how kosher was Christy’s bat mitzvah?


Christy’s bat mitzvah was a monumental event for her entire family. The synagogue was full, featuring out-of-towners from New York, San Francisco and Raleigh, N.C. It was the first time that many of them had been in a synagogue.

While Christy was nervous that she would make a mistake in front of so many people whose expectations must have been so high, her mother’s family was also apprehensive about the uncharted waters in which they found themselves — a foreign environment of Torah, tallitot (prayer shawls) and Hebrew prayers.

For Christy, this day had been envisaged for many years. When her parents were married, they made a mutual decision to raise their children in the Jewish faith. Both parents agreed that Judaism would add the security of values and the warmth of rituals to their family home.

I spend countless hours preparing for these days with students and their parents. We spend most of our time in discussion of Jewish holidays, ethics, traditions and, of course, the prayers and readings of the Shabbat service. Whether the student is of a single faith or interfaith family, my goal in bar and bat mitzvah preparation is to share an experience of Jewish life that is rooted in meaning and relevance and not simply a robotic adherence to ritual.

For many families, the bar or bat mitzvah exists as a singular Jewish experience in an otherwise secular American life. Often parents choose to have their children’s spiritual passports stamped with the experience of a bar or bat mitzvah out of respect for a previous generation. For others, the impetus comes of realizing that mitzvah ceremonies have the capacity to enrich their children’s lives — that religion’s purpose is to elevate the act of living.

What better gift can they give their children?

Traditional Judaism holds that we inherit our religious identity from our mothers. While Conservative and Orthodox rabbis hold that a child born of a non-Jewish mother must convert in order to fully participate in Jewish life (not the case in all eras of our history), others, like myself, base the identification on the individual rather than the issue in the abstract. (Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis accept a child as Jewish if either the father or mother is Jewish, as long as the child is brought up as a Jew, and Secular Humanistic Jews accept anyone as Jewish who chooses to identify as such.)

While I fully respect the more Conservative point of view, I choose to honor a child who is willing to spend a year of intensive study (the same requirement exists for Reform conversions) and who has the intention of living as a Jew. The responsibility of providing that child with a comprehensive Jewish curriculum becomes that of the educator. To my mind, the experience of the learning process preceding the mitzvah celebration and the ceremony itself can awaken a teen’s passion for his or her Jewish identity. It can also provide a non-Jewish parent with insight into his or her child’s religious values and a greater investment in the Jewish experience. The doing can certainly create the feeling.

Commandment and Context

In a religion of commanded law, discretion can seem unnecessary. In fact, Jewish tradition demands that we marry our hearts to our minds and not simply obey in blind faith. Every commandment requires examination and the consideration of context. Every person’s circumstances must be viewed in relation to ancient law and present conditions. A beautiful illustration is found in a Jewish tale.

A wealthy woman approaches the village rabbi and asks if the slightly imperfect chicken in her arms is kosher for her Shabbat table. The rabbi examines the bird and replies that according to halacha, or Jewish law, the bird is blemished and is therefore unsuitable for her family’s consumption. A poor woman approaches the rabbi with the very same chicken and asks if it is kosher. The rabbi examines the chicken, and looking into the woman’s eyes, he replies, “Yes.”

Christy’s bat mitzvah was a blessing. As the Torah passed from arm to arm — one generation to the next, until it arrived in Christy’s arms — I invited her mother to join the sacred chain. She deserved our honor for her decision to make this ancient doctrine her daughter’s inheritance.

As I watched dad and mom pass the Torah into Christy’s arms, I saw commitment, sacrifice, love and enormous pride in both of their eyes and in their tears. I realized that kvelling (feeling proud) is not just a Jewish word, but a wholly universal experience.

Reprinted courtesy Tyler Joseph Carl

Skateboard Creator Builds Business on Performance


Don Tashman doesn’t look like a skater boy, not with his scraggly, brown hair and three-day-old unshaven stubble that’s yet to materialize into a beard.

This religious boy from Beverlywood doesn’t even look like a surfer boy — which he is, as these things usually go hand in hand, along with snowboarding. Tashman certainly doesn’t look like the creator and owner of Loaded Boards and Pigeons Inc., the hip skateboarding company that has brought performance boards back to the industry.

No, 31-year-old Tashman doesn’t look like a dude, not with his short-sleeved, button-down shirt, untucked over loose, brandless blue jeans, but that’s OK, because his co-workers do. The long, lean, sun-kissed blond boys stack skateboards according to styles (Fish, Hammerhead, Pintail, Vanguard) or sit on yoga stability balls at computers, looking like they’re playing video games or designing specs — something that makes them almost as happy as riding a board — any board: skate, surf, snow.

Tashman doesn’t need to look the part of the people he designs skateboards for, because he’s got the attitude, for sure — laid back, imperturbable, chill.
These are the qualities that have gotten Loaded a reputation for authenticity in a world clannishly obsessed with it. It’s been four years since he founded the company, and Tashman said he can’t keep up with demand (he declines to give actual figures) and will be forced to move offices soon from mid-Wilshire, where he shares space with his father and brothers, who work in real estate and futures exchange.

Skateboarding runs in the Tashman family, although not on the paternal side. His mother, who also grew up religious, skateboarded when she was a kid. She was sponsored by a local Velcro company. “She took her old roller skates and nailed them to a two-by-four for her first skateboards,” Tashman said. Since he was 3 years old, “she would attach me to my skateboard and pull me down hills and our neighbor’s empty swimming pool,” he said. “She always wanted me to be a cantor, though.”

Tashman didn’t become a cantor. He grew up Orthodox, attended Yeshiva University Los Angeles (YOLA) and then moved to New York to become an English major at Columbia University in 1994.

“I was short-boarding and couldn’t get around,” Tashman said, referring to the shorter boards in vogue then, which were hard to maneuver around the streets of Manhattan. He started developing his own boards for his own use. After he finished college in 1999, he went to study at a yeshiva in Israel. After a few months there, someone convinced him to work as a traveling salesman for an Israeli technology company. He spent a year at that, then, in his wise and quiet way, Tashman cashed out his stock options two weeks before the market crashed in April 2000.

With about $150,000, Tashman spent the next two years developing the boards he’d begun designing at Columbia. Performance was key but so was finding environmentally friendly materials, like bamboo instead of oak.

Tashman said that because he surfed here growing up, he became interested in making the environment better.

“Surfing in L.A. water is to feel the toxicity — people aren’t even aware of it,” he said. Although Tashman’s is a small company, he believes that if other small companies like his and big ones like GE are more environmentally conscious, “I think we can inspire people to be aware of what they consume, what they use and how they can live more sustainable lives.”

In the end, the company created longer, high-performance skateboards, tailored for hills or parks or streets or long distances. The skateboards were unlike the other black-topped, fancy logo boards.

“We had no graphics,” Tashman said. “It was the ride first and foremost. Most boards were driven by graphics, and we wanted to separate ourselves.”

Separate the company he has, with clean, bamboo long boards that appeal to 20- to 40-year-olds, as opposed to the “17-year-old male from the O.C.,” Tashman said. The boards sell for $215 to $300 and are sold in about 350 stores nationwide and have been featured in men’s magazines like FHM and Maxim. Loaded is looking into expanding into apparel as well as snowboards, and the prototypes are laying around the office. But the company will always focus on skateboards, Tashman said.

Now that he has established the company for performance-driven boards, Loaded is adding graphics in the form of a bird — a kite to be precise, a kind of a sparrow drawn sparingly in white and gold on the undercarriage of the Vanguard.
“We’re seeing what we can get away with, and where we can go with it,” Tashman said.

Imagine standing on a high wire, suspended midair and bouncing on it. That’s the experience of being on the Vanguard, a long and flexible skateboard designed for stability. There’s a sensation of coiled-up energy, as if the rider is a spring ready to be sprung, an arrow ready to be shot — loaded, like the company name.
For Tashman and his five full-time employees, the key to the business is having fun.

“Stoke ’em,” is part of the company motto, which, Tashman explains, means, “We’re here to get people excited about the underlying excitement, to promote the visceral experience of the flow.”

The flow.

Some people talk about finding meaning in life, and others talk about religion, but for adrenaline junkies, flow is the buzzword. “There is a spiritual thing [about skateboarding] — the flow, the pure exhilaration of the experience.”
Tashman also finds inspiration in Los Angeles’ Jewish community.

“It’s an exciting time to be Jewish in L.A. Jewish culture seems very vibrant — people are excited about their heritage; it’s starting to filter out from New York, and it’s like it never was when I was growing up.”

Tashman admitted it’s unusual to be a religious skateboarder, but he finds similarities between the two worlds.

“My religiosity has existed synergistically with my skateboarding. The visceral sense of flow, the intense personal engagement and the stoke it has generated and allowed me to pass on are enriching. Skateboarding culture has historically exhibited a strong sense of community. Like Judaism, I find that it promotes personal development and environmental awareness,” he said.

Aren’t they so different, these two separate worlds of Jewish life and skateboarding?

“They go hand in hand — a big part of skateboarding is how you present yourself,” he said. In the skateboarding industry there’s always the question of authenticity, whether you’re a “core” company — the rap equivalent of street cred — or an outsider trying to make a buck.

“I’ve always skirted the issue. If I can make people excited, great; if not, OK, I don’t need to classify myself in a group to achieve that,” Tashman said.
And that’s how he feels about religion. He said he’s “traditional, shomer Shabbat” but doesn’t define himself as Orthodox. “I do the things I find meaning in, and I don’t do things I don’t.”

“Both worlds can be alienating, in that myopic, or xenophobic tendencies, tend to miss the broader universalist picture,” he said. “In my opinion, the need to promote in-group behavior at the expense of creativity and exploration is sad. I can’t really be bothered by those approaches — there’s too much fun to be had.”

Jazz and Classical in Perfect Harmony


Throughout his career, musician Uri Caine has gambled that he could find a niche in unconventional musical settings — and he’s usually won. His body of work includes hard-swinging jazz, contemporary imaginings of Jewish musical themes and controversial reworkings of hallowed masterpieces by Bach, Beethoven and Mahler. Not only has the 49-year-old Caine dared to alter the notes written by classical masters, but he’s also incorporated decidedly nontraditional sonic elements into his recordings — like D.J. effects and the voice of a Sephardic cantor.

For his next daring feat, as the composer-in-residence for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO), Caine will debut a concerto for two pianos and chamber orchestra this month in Los Angeles, incorporating improvisation between his piano and the piano of LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane, as part of a salute to Mozart in the year marking the 250th anniversary of his birth. Caine’s piece is hardly a clichéd “jazzing up” of Mozart. Instead, the new composition uses the Austrian master as a point of departure for a composition written in a contemporary musical language that is very much Caine’s own.

“People ask me, ‘How do we categorize this music?'” says Caine, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with his wife, artist Jan Caine. “‘Should we put it in the classical department or put it in the jazz department?’ As an idealist, I say put it in both. See what happens.”

LACO’s Kahane, whose musician son Gabriel first urged his skeptical father to explore Caine’s music, says that because of the composer’s unusual level of mastery in multiple genres, Caine does far more than simply translate a classical style into a jazz idiom.

“He’s literally reimagining the music and placing it in a great many different contexts,” Kahane says. “His stylistic vocabulary is so vast, and he’s so skillful in moving from one vocabulary to another, that he’s able to use all these different languages as commentary on the piece — and uses the piece to comment on other pieces, and other pieces besides the piece to comment on it. One of the wonderful things about Uri is that you don’t know what’s going to come out.”

Caine has had his ears wide open to a broad musical palette ever since he was seduced by the jazz, classical, funk and pop music of Philadelphia as a teenager in the mid-1970s. His musical education also had a distinctive Jewish flavor; as the son of two professors who diligently taught their children “Eliezer Ben-Yehudah” Hebrew, Caine ended up hearing a lot of Israeli pop and Sephardic music. The family would sing Jewish folk songs together around the table.

“My parents grew up in the generation of young people after the Holocaust — and they were embracing the Hebrew movement,” Caine says. “They weren’t religious necessarily, but at some point they thought about moving to Israel, even though they never left — they still live in Philadelphia.”

After studying with prominent composers George Rochberg and George Crumb at the University of Pennsylvania, and heading off to nighttime jam sessions that sometimes included jazz legends Philly Joe Jones and Hank Mobley, Caine spent time finding himself. After stints in Philadelphia and Israel, Caine decided in 1985 to move to New York City, perhaps the most vibrant but challenging jazz city in the world.

Caine credits his successes today to a willingness to stick with his musical vision through lean times.

“Follow that instinct,” he urges young musicians. “It’ll happen, if you work hard, and you can keep moving somehow.”

Caine’s critical buzz arrived with the release of Urlicht/Primal Light, a bold re-imagining of various Mahler compositions, released in 1997. While tradition-minded listeners objected — some walked out in protest at a 1998 performance in Toblach, Italy — the piece received a composer’s prize for best Mahler CD of the year.

Caine thought of the Mahler project in the manner of a jazz musician interpreting an established work. Just as in the 1960s, Miles Davis would reconceive a tune written by Cole Porter, so Caine would transform Mahler’s teeming stylistic soundscapes. Inescapably, some listeners saw the piece as an artistic reaction that embodied Caine’s Jewish identity, because of Mahler’s ultimate conversion to Christianity.

“Maybe, if you’re a German, you’re looking at the project as this New York Jewish person reinterpreting Jewish music — on the one hand, that seems very racist, because everything is reduced to that,” Caine says. “On the other hand, I understand it. Mahler’s life is a very interesting subject from that point of view.”

Caine is fascinated by the complexities of Jewish identity, but resents having the aesthetic breadth and complexity of his work reduced to a simple religious or political message: “The artist should be free — I mean everybody should be free — to like what they like, and not have to be pressured by the group.”

Still, Caine is hardly dismissive of his Jewish background: “It’s that conflict between an individual just trying to embrace different things and use everything that is out there. And also the reality that you come from a tradition. A very long, proud tradition of survival and innovation and creativity.”

Caine’s own work is also marked by inventiveness. And yet, say admirers, he’s the rare bird who can take on intellectually demanding projects without drowning in pedantry. His work can be complex without losing its playful vitality.

Uri Caine will premiere his “Concerto for Two Pianos and Chamber Orchestra” on May 20 at 8 p.m. at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Boulevard, Glendale, and May 21 at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA campus. $22-$80. For more information, call (213) 622-7001 ext. 215, or visit

Cantor Glickman Returns to Israel


Cantor Binyamin Glickman, who taught generations of Los Angeles children to love God through music, is returning home to his beloved Jerusalem.

Ask him what he will see from his flat there and the 70-year-old smiles.

“The cemetery of Mount Olive, where grandparents are buried and my [first] wife is buried and I will be buried,” he said.” His view also includes the building that housed the old British Mandate offices, a place he walked by as a child in Palestine.

Glickman is not going back to retire but to direct the Jerusalem Center for Jewish Music. Aside from that, his grandfatherly wisdom is sought.

“‘The family needs you,'” Glickman said, repeating what his grown children have told him. Thirty-five of his 44 grandchildren live in Israel.

Glickman will leave behind a Los Angeles community of Jews he has known and taught since 1960, when he began a 22-year stretch as cantor at Beth Jacob Congregation, an Orthodox shul on Olympic Boulevard in Beverly Hills. He returned to Israel in the early 1980s, but by 2001 he was back in Los Angeles at Congregation Mogen David, the Pico-Robertson Orthodox shul that sits across the street from the Museum of Tolerance.

“Generations of bar mitzvah students were taught by him,” said Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, dean of the rabbinical school at the Academy of Jewish Religion, where Glickman also teaches. “Cantors in shuls in Pico-Robertson were all taught by Cantor Glickman at some point.”

“Everybody loves this guy,” said Cantor Nathan Lam of Bel Air’s Reform synagogue, Stephen S. Wise Temple, and dean of the Jewish academy’s cantorial school. “He’s a special human being. He makes a room feel good. If you’re sick, he’s the guy you want to come and cheer you up.”

On Nov. 30, Glickman’s synagogue will stage a community farewell concert in his honor hosted by longtime TV producer Sol Turtletaub of “Sanford & Son” fame. Glickman sang at Turtletaub’s son’s bar mitzvah — one of thousands of religious events graced by his tenor.

“I have [taught] hundreds of kids who know how to sing, know how to pray,” Glickman said.

Expected to attend are old friends, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who knew Glickman decades ago when both were active in the movement to help Soviet Jews.

Glickman’s late wife also was involved in that movement and demonstrated repeatedly at the Soviet consulate in San Francisco. “Hundreds and hundreds of Jews came out of Russia because of my wife,” he said.

A fifth-generation Jerusalemite, the gregarious Glickman got behind a microphone early. As a boy in Palestine during World War II, he won an audition to sing the jingle that introduced the BBC’s daily Hebrew-language broadcast. After finishing his musical studies in 1955, he conducted choirs before moving to Los Angeles in 1960.

He interrupted his career in Los Angeles to return to Israel to fight in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Glickman left Congregation Beth Jacob in 1982 to live in Israel. During his 10 years there, he set up the Jerusalem Center for Jewish Music and served as director of the separate Jewish music center at the Gush Etzion settlement near Jerusalem. He twice visited Russian Jews in the 1990s and compiled a 1991 Hebrew-Russian songbook.

With his children grown, Glickman returned to the United States in 1992.

Cantors, he said, are paid poorly in Israel, but they can make a living in America.

Glickman worked in Connecticut from 1992 to 2001 as cantor at Congregation Agudath Shalom in Stamford; his wife died in 1994. In 2001, he accepted his position at Mogen David.

Come December, he’ll reside in Israel with his second wife Shifra, 62, who will take Ulpan courses to learn Hebrew.

He is proud of his work with Soviet Jews and proud that he fought for Israel, but his work as a conductor and cantor are what will stay with him.

“I transmitted the Jewish musical experience to a whole generation here,” he said, “to bring them closer to God.”

 

Cantor Carries on Tennis Tradition


Steven Walfish’s life is ruled by the three Ts: tallit, tefillin and tennis.To illustrate this point, when his son Sam was in first grade, he asked his dad to drop by the school and join other fathers in talking about their professions.

So the elder Walfish appeared in full regalia and talked about what it means to be a cantor in a synagogue.

Then he stripped off his robe, displaying the tennis shorts and shirt underneath, and discussed the job of managing three municipal tennis centers.

Walfish credits one of his professions to his father, the other to his mother.

His Polish-born father and Holocaust survivor, Heshel Walfish, has been the legendary cantor at Beth Israel for 50 years, and at 85 he shows no sign of slowing down.

Located at Beverly and Crescent Heights boulevards, Beth Israel was founded in 1899 as the first Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles, and was also known as the Olive Street Shul.

When Steven was 5 years old, Cantor Walfish put his son next to him on the bimah on Shabbat, and the boy starting belting out prayers at the Orthodox service.

By the time of his bar mitzvah, Steven had learned his dad’s craft and would pinchhit for him when he was out of town.

At the same time, the boy’s American-born mother, Betty, took over the physical education of the only male heir among her four children.

She took Steven bowling, fishing, and, most importantly, instilled in him a lifelong love of tennis.

Now, at 74, Betty Walfish still plays against her 48-year old son, who describes her as “a really sharp player.”

By stages, Steven Walfish became a full-service cantor the old-fashioned way, by learning from his father rather than through ordination.

For the past nine years, he has conducted one of the High Holiday services at Stephen S. Wise Temple, a Reform congregation, and tutors bar and bat mitzvah students.

(Full disclosure: Walfish tutored and officiated recently at one of my granddaughters’ bat mitzvah, so this report may be biased.)

When The Journal interviewed Walfish last week outside Starbucks on Beverly Glen Circle, a parade of trim-looking women stopped by for cheery hellos.

“All mothers of my b’nai mitzvah kids,” he explained.

On a parallel track, Walfish’s tennis fervor kept growing. “I am an ardent fan,” he said. “If Tom Cruise came by now and sat down at our table, it wouldn’t mean a thing to me. But if it was Pete Sampras or John McEnroe, I’d die.”

In 1994, Walfish got a chance to combine pleasure and business. With partner Lee Ziff, he formed the Beverly Hills Tennis management company, and soon entered into a contract with the City of Beverly Hills to manage its 26 courts at Roxbury Park, La Cienega Park and Beverly Hills High School.

“We supervise all the lessons, leagues, competitions, facilities and special events,” he said. “We have 30 pros, so I can always find somebody to play with.”

Recently, Walfish had the opportunity to fuse his two favorite occupations by conducting a bar mitzvah on a private Beverly Hills tennis court.

In preparing Jewish youngsters for the rite of passage, Walfish takes a special interest in the sons and daughters of Russian immigrants and in children with learning disabilities.

“The Russian kids have practically no Jewish background but they have an intense thirst for Jewish identity,” he said.

Walfish, a divorced father of a girl and two boys, has developed a personal understanding for children with special needs through his 14-year old daughter Emily.

Emily was born with Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder that prevents her from walking or communicating in any way.

“She is a beautiful girl, she laughs and cries, and living with her — we would never put her in an institution — has made her two younger brothers much more sensitive and empathetic boys,” Walfish said.

A big man, who erupts frequently into hearty laughter, Walfish puts in pretty long days as cantor, manager of tennis facilities, and “full-time dad.” In addition, he “dabbles” in real estate, and hopes to rejuvenate his father’s Beth Israel congregation, which now consists largely of Holocaust survivors.

As a religious person, Walfish says he is somewhat conflicted. “My father is from a Chasidic background and I was educated in Orthodox schools, but I have worked mainly at Conservative and Reform synagogues,” he mused. “I guess theologically I look at life from a Reform perspective, but my heart and soul are still Orthodox.”

 

Four Ways to Hear the Days of Awe


The Days of Awe evoke many feelings, but my first thoughts invariably turn to the special music of these days. From the solemn, almost brooding melody of Kol Nidre to the lilting “High Holiday” tune that unifies the music of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there is much in which to delight.

Perhaps because this is the only synagogue music that many Jews hear all year, there are fewer alternative versions of the High Holiday liturgy than of, say, “Lecha Dodi” or “Adon Olam.” Still, these albums should help put you in a proper frame of mind.

Leonard Bernstein — “Symphony No. 3 (Kaddish)” and “Chichester Psalms” (Milken Archive/Naxos).

For all his conservatory training, for all the years as musical director of great orchestras, Bernstein was fundamentally a man of the theater; his symphonic and choral works owe more to the stage than to the recital hall. These two Jewish-themed compositions from the 1960s offer a reminder of his powerful sense of drama.

As performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic directed by Gerard Schwarz, the emphasis falls rather unflatteringly on the composition’s occasionally forced drama, amplified by Willard White’s stentorian delivery of Bernstein’s text (which the composer himself admitted was “corny”).

But nobody expresses yearning better than Bernstein: Think about the love songs from “West Side Story” or “Some Other Time” and “Lonely Town” from “On the Town.” The soprano solo, beautifully sung by Yvonne Kenny, in the middle of the symphony is one of the most moving examples of this emotion in all his work.

By contrast, “Chichester Psalms” is remarkably gentle, almost sweet.

Bernstein apparently disdained the piece for precisely that reason, yet it is one of the most effective expressions of both his Jewishness and his deeply spiritual side. This version, featuring Michael White, is quite handsome.

Available at www.amazon.com

Moshe Schulhof — “Moshe Schulhof Sings the Classics: The World’s Greatest Cantorials” (Emes Recordings)

There is a long-standing argument between composers and cantors over what is better to render honor to the Almighty: works that congregants can sing or more difficult, great music written for performance by great voices. To what extent is worship fundamentally participatory? Or can you also find spiritual satisfaction in merely listening?

A powerful argument on behalf of listening comes from recordings of the great cantors of “golden age” chazzans, the Rosenblatts and Sirotas and Hershmanns who dominated Jewish liturgical music in the first third of the 20th century. Schulhof, a powerhouse tenor, very consciously invokes that tradition, offering new renditions of recitatives by Moshe Koussevitsky, Yossele Rosenblatt, Gershon Sirota and others, backed by the Yuval International Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus under the baton of Mordecai Sobol. Schulhof has the same kind of big, operatic voice as his predecessors (although his top is a bit nasal) and if his recordings of these pieces are a bit studied, they are nevertheless impressive for their sheer pyrotechnics.

Available through Hatikvah Music, 436 Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles or www.hatikvahmusic.com.

Greg Siegle — “Vessels” (MindzEye Music)

Siegle, a young acoustic guitarist in the John Fahey-Leo Kottke vein, has turned his quick, expressive hands to Jewish music. The tunes he essays are mostly familiar ones from Shlomo Carlebach, but he gives them a refreshingly light reading. The result is a very pleasant diversion that should make its way onto a lot of turntables as a prelude to sundown and the holy days.

Available from gsiegle@pitt.edu.

Craig Taubman — “Inscribed: Songs for Holy Days” (Craig and Co.)

There is something about the intensity of the High Holidays experience that brings out the best in Jewish composers. Craig Taubman’s previous folk- and pop-tinged CDs have seldom displayed spiritual emotional heat, but “Inscribed” is a cut above his previous work. The production is less busy and Taubman allows his sweet, light tenor to carry more emotional weight. The simplicity of his tunes works to their benefit here, because the weightiness of the themes don’t require anything trickier. The result is Taubman’s best album to date, as befits the solemnity of the Days of Awe.

Available at www.craignco.com

 

Tale of Two Schools


Miss Smith, my third-grade teacher at Vollentine Grammar School, stood facing the class with her arm around my shoulders. She was a large woman the size of two or three of today’s fashion models, with gray hair pulled back from a ruddy, round face. All I knew of her personal life was that she was unwed, but mothered 25 third-grade kids. She lived in a small, neighboring town famous for its horse farms.

She looked out to her students, her eyes focused above them. I looked down.

I had just finished reciting a poem to the class and before I could return to my desk, Miss Smith was at my side.

"Children, Teddy is Jewish. And I like Jewish kids. Teddy’s people have made some major contributions to the South. How many of you know of Dr. Joseph Goldberger who cured pellagra? How many of you know about pellagra?"

Not one kid knew of Goldberger or pellagra, whereupon Miss Smith went on to tell her class how the Jewish doctor had deduced that this scourge of rural America was caused by a dietary deficiency.

She was a good storyteller and told the tale of Goldberger’s medical sleuthing with gusto.

"But his people [meaning mine and Dr. Goldberger’s] are having a bad time, ‘specially in Germany, because of an evil man named Hitler — a fiend in human form. Let’s show Teddy that we’re proud to live in America, where we’d just send the dog catcher to pick up a fleahound like Hitler."

The antichrist had come to destroy the faithful, she told the class, and naturally, he had started with the Lord’s people, the Jews. It was Armageddon time.

This kind of talk made me nervous. I’d never heard of Joseph Goldberger, either. I was only Teddy Roberts, third-grader in Vollentine Grammar School; not the visible representative of the Lord’s people or the Jewish race or even one of the major contestants in the battle of Armageddon.

"I like Jewish kids," she repeated. "It’s a shame we don’t have more of them in our class." The classroom was full of giggles because of Hitler and his fleas, I hoped, and not at me and the fact that in Tennessee Jews like me were as rare as polar bears. Miss Smith’s speeches made me uncomfortable — like singing Christmas carols. Why couldn’t she just take me into the cloakroom and explain my uniqueness?

But I did like the feel of her big hand on my shoulder. And maybe Miss Smith’s praises helped me with Betty Lou McKintosh, the prettiest girl in the third grade, whose blue eyes opened wide as she looked at me and Miss Smith at the head of the class. Afterward, we sang "America the Beautiful" and took the "Pledge of Allegiance." I wasn’t uncomfortable at all.

We Jewish kids of the ’30s and ’40s occupied a narrow niche in Southern juvenile society. We attended the same public schools as our Christian playmates, since Hebrew day schools were several decades in the future. In our double life, we went to their parties and we played neighborhood games with them — the kids in our grammar school classes. But we spent our Sunday mornings and three afternoons a week at Hebrew school with a different social set.

The Hebrew school term of imprisonment, as my friends and I saw it, was six years. Five years until bar mitzvah, then a year of postgraduate studies; it was obligatory. There was no parole, no time off for good behavior, no community service substitutions.

Mr. Levine, the warden of this institution, was my favorite teacher. He was also the synagogue cantor. Hebrew School teacher and cantor — it took two hats to make a living in those days. He always carried a ruler, though the only thing he’d ever measure in his life was the Hebrew vocabulary of his forgetful students. That ruler was for little boys with big mouths, and young athletes who were sleeping off — in his classroom — the fatigue of the lunchtime baseball game.

He was a virtuoso with a ruler. It was his baton that orchestrated a dozen or so hooligans into a functioning class. We learned. It was like teaching walruses to play a harmonica. Nothing was farther from our natural instincts than this 3,000-year-old language that had no relationship to Joe Dimaggio, Hank Greenberg, Sid Luckman or the girl next door, who, due to some enchantment in our brain and body, we just noticed was more than a substitute second baseman.

We were a reincarnation of the Philistines. We had no cultural interests, whatsoever. Somehow, Mr. Levine — a drillmaster in a crisp, brown suit with matching vest and tie — hiked us down the road of learning for the two to three years we were under his authority. His weapon — besides that artful ruler — was his pointed stare and the single epithet he used to perfection, "Dummy." It was not hurled as a degrading insult. It was simply a descriptor. If you couldn’t memorize 12 words in a week, you weren’t a slow learner, nor were you under-motivated. You were a dummy.

I was not a model student. I was a Philistine — a Canaanite who knew every detail of Babe Ruth’s records, but couldn’t tell you whether the Rambam had lived and studied in Memphis or Babylon. And what did he do? Contribute to the Talmud? Sell dry goods? Or make the freshest bagels in New York City? Find me a 9-year-old boy in Memphis, Tenn., in the 1940s who knew, and I’ll tell you when the Mashiach is coming.

Nobody liked Hebrew school. What was to like? Your Christian friends were on the playground kicking up dust and you were learning to say "David sees the tree" in Hebrew.

But I’ll never forget Cantor Levine — or Miss Smith, either.


Ted Roberts is a Jewish humorist and commentator whose work appears several Jewish papers, Disney Magazine, Hadassah, the Wall Street Journal and others. He lives in Huntsville, Ala.

A Mitzvah Is Its Own Reward


"Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward; instead be like servants who serve their master not for the sake of receiving a reward. And let the awe of Heaven be upon you." — Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers)

The rabbi and the cantor are strumming their guitars and jumping up and down in unison on the bimah like rock stars. The cantor is wearing a

Hawaiian shirt and a cap; the rabbi a T-shirt. The pews are full — more than 300 people, standing-room only.

The seats are packed with squirming, giggly children. Adults mouth the words or shyly sing, but the kids know the choreography, flexing their muscles, wiggling their bottoms and clutching at their hearts at the right moments.

They clutch something else close to their hearts, too: the true meaning of mitzvot.

This is the morning introduction to Mitzvah Day at Temple Beth Sholom, and these kids have it right.

One girl with pigtails will beautify the Santa Ana Zoo, pressing gritty dirt down to nestle new flowers within shouting distance of exotic animals. A teenage boy finds a place amid lonely kids younger than he; they want to chat and play basketball and shoot pool, and he obliges. Another boy wants to paint; he know he’s a good painter, his mom says so.

There are a lot of projects from which to choose for the Sunday morning crowd, and each one is a mitzvah.

Many people give charity and do good deeds. These are things that people feel go above and beyond the call of life’s duty: extra credit in the karma bucket, merits on the teacher’s chalkboard. These are things that are not required, but they’re awfully nice of you to do.

Jews do mitzvot. A mitzvah is not only a charitable deed (or even most importantly a charitable deed). A mitzvah is a commandment, a commandment to create holy time and places in the world through ritual and compassionate deeds. Their reward is in the doing of them: for God, for humanity, for a better world.

This Mitzvah Day there are pancake breakfasts and sandwiches for the hungry, placemats and baseball hats for the bored and disillusioned and clothes and encouragement for those down on their luck.

The attendants are mostly parents of kids from religious school — the ones who learn about their biblical ancestral mothers and fathers, the trials of Jewish history and the incredible feat that is the Jews’ millennia-long survival.

And how do they fit into this great story?

By doing their part.

Kids sometimes are too young to know how much they can help and we adults — well, we forget.

The hope is that mitzvot on Mitzvah Day create a spark, the same way the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles at the end of the week slows us down and gets us thinking about the important things in life.

Yes, doing mitzvot takes practice and commitment, but one Mitzvah Day project is a good start. Mitzvot can fan that inner spark in all of us into a flame of giving that offers no reward save the reward of a mitzvah done.

What did I do on Mitzvah Day? I painted rooms in a senior center. Well, actually, other people painted. I scrubbed paint spots off the tile with wet rags so the janitors had less to scrape off the floor with razor blades the next morning. Don’t we all deserve nice, clean walls and floors?

Sure, it doesn’t sound like much, but somebody had to do it. When someone needs something and I can help, I am a blessing to others, and I am in turn blessed with the chance to do mitzvot and to change the world a little bit at a time: One paint-splashed boy, one girl with grass stains and dirt under her fingernails — one scrubbed-off paint spot at a time.

"Make your Torah study a fixed practice; say little and do much; and receive everyone with a cheerful face." — Pirkei Avot

Cantors Plan Charity Concerts


With religious school winding down this month at many synagogues, some cantors will regularly seize the opportunity to produce a brief season of secular concerts with guest artists and visiting cantors.

Such a shift from liturgical music to secular show tunes will take place May 22 at a fundraiser for Westminster’s Temple Beth David. The vocal lineup includes three local cantors, including Beth David’s own cantorial soloist, Nancy Linder; along with Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot’s cantor, Arie Shikler; and Temple Beth Sholom’s cantor, Mark Thompson. Beth Wasserman Rosenfeld, chazzan sheni of the Reconstructionist synagogue Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, will fill out the soprano section. They will be accompanied by an eight-piece Huntington Beach-based band and produced by David Pinto, who has produced Linder’s CDs.

Beth David hopes for an annual concert reprise to bulk up its budget to pay for items such as a pulpit ramp for the sanctuary and new chairs for the social hall, Linder said.

June 6 will mark the 10th cantorial concert at Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm organized by its cantor, Jonathan Grant. Grant will be joined by nine colleagues from around Southern California on a "Journey Through Jewish Music." They will be accompanied on the piano by Thomas MacFarlane.

In Irvine, Shir Ha Ma’a lot’s Shikler will again feature the Los Angeles-based Moshav band at his 7:30 p.m. concert, June 26. The group has a large following among the Orthodox community.

"It’s an opportunity for each of us to do material we can’t do all year," Shikler said.

Beth David is located at 27462 Hefley St., Westminster. For tickets, $18-$100, call (714) 892-6623.

C’mon, a Bat Mitzvah Is, Like, So Uncool


Everything was going wrong. First, her best friend moved. Not just to another town, she moved to another state.

Also, she was starting a new school this year. Middle school was scary to think about, though she would never admit it out loud. She was too cool for that.

And now her parents were talking about moving to another town, with a better school district. She, of course, saw nothing wrong with this one. And what was worse, they would probably move after she had become used to the new middle school.

OK, now add to all of this: her bat mitzvah.

"I don’t want a bat mitzvah," she told her parents. "It’s just for you and your relatives. You don’t even need me there. So why don’t you just throw your own party?"

"Don’t be silly," they answered. "This is for you, it’s about you."

So how come no one would listen to her?

Lessons with the cantor were OK, but then the cantor is a cool guy. He never lies, never says you did a good job when you know you stank.

But what goes over well in the cantor’s study isn’t likely to go over well in front of a whole mess of people.

"I’ll be a bat mitzvah automatically at 12 anyway," she said. "Why do we need the fancy ceremony?"

"We’ll keep it simple."

"Why can’t we just go to Israel for my bat mitzvah?" she asked.

"Would you like that? We could have the ceremony on Masada."

"Oh," she responded. "I thought we would just go and, y’know, kinda sightsee."

"That’s not what this is about," they answered.

"Then what is it about?" she replied.

"If you don’t know that, you’ve wasted all your years in Hebrew school."

Well, no duh! She had slept through most of it.

She asked the cantor, "So what is it all about?"

"L’dor v’dor," he said.

From generation to generation?

"Tov me’od," he said. Very good.

From generation to generation. From your parents generation to yours. From your grandparents to your parents. From your great-grandparents to your grandparents. All the way back, and all the way forward.

Throughout history, as long as there are Jews on earth, we will all be connected through things like the bar or bat mitzvah, Shabbat, brit milah, lighting candles, fasting on Yom Kippur, eating matzah and retelling the Passover story.

Sharing the stories of our ancestors with our children, as you will do someday, God willing, with yours. That’s what it’s all about.

That’s why she liked the cantor. He answered her in words she could understand.

So she entered middle school, and did just fine. She studied her parshah and learned the prayers.

She thought about what the cantor had said, and pictured herself listening to her own son practice. She imagined her grandfather, now in his 70s, as he must have looked up on the bimah.

And then it was time.

She sat on the bimah, a demure young lady with ankles crossed and tissues in hand. She read her parshah, sang the blessings, led the service and gave a dvar Torah.

As she stood behind the pulpit, she looked into some of the faces in the sanctuary. And when she led the congregation in the prayer, "L’dor v’dor," she sang it with feeling.

She imagined the family members she had never met, going back generations. She thought about those who could not have a bar or bat mitzvah before they were sent to the concentration camps. She thought about those who would have one after her.

Then she looked at her younger brother sitting in the first row, with her parents.

"I wonder if he’ll feel the same way I did," she thought.

"Well, at least he’ll have me to help him."

Off the Bimah: A Concerted Effort


With her slender figure, long, shining strawberry-blonde hair and big hazel eyes, Alison Wissot looks more like a stage ingénue than most people’s conceptions of a cantor — not surprising, since that’s what she was 10 years ago.

Wissot’s cantorial career is off to a brilliant start: Less than three years after graduating from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s School of Sacred Music in New York, she is filling the largest Reform cantorial pulpit in the San Fernando Valley, the 1,300-household Temple Judea in Tarzana and West Hills.

But the girl who loves to sing pop music and theater pieces is only a step away from the bimah, and Wissot, a regular on the local Jewish concert scene, is preparing for two events during the next few weeks.

The first, an annual fundraiser for Temple Isaiah in Rancho Park this Saturday, features Wissot, Cantor Patti Linsky of Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge and Temple Isaiah’s Cantor Evan Kent singing music of the 1970s, in a program called, “What I Did for Love.”

The other, on March 21 at the Museum of the American West in Griffith Park, has Wissot on a roster with four other vocalists. In that concert, which celebrates Women’s History Month in March and the imminence of Passover and features selections by female composers, the performers will “weave the stories of the songs through Pesach,” said Ari Perelmuter, cantor at Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach and music director for the event.

There’s been a proliferation of cantorial concerts in greater Los Angeles and other American Jewish population centers during the past eight to 10 years, an increase that seems to correlate with the increase of congregational singing in synagogue worship and the decline of the cantor’s role as the main supplier of music in the service.

“Jewish music has become so much less ‘performative’ that we as performers need to get opportunities to perform somewhere else,” Wissot told The Journal.

Not that she thinks that’s a bad thing.

“I think it’s great that congregations are doing more singing,” Wissot said. “I think it’s equally great that we have an opportunity as cantors to find the things that fulfill us as performers off the bimah.

“Those of us who are doing these concerts, I think, tend to be more fulfilled in our jobs,” she continued. “If you’re a singer, you have to sing, and if you don’t get a chance to sing, you’re gonna feel as if part of you has been cut off. But if you get to express this incredible wealth of Jewish music and other kinds of music as a singer off the bimah … then you get to come to shul and really pray.”

Wissot, 32, a native Angeleno who grew up at Stephen S. Wise Temple, began her career as an actress in London, where she spent part of her final year of college. Returning stateside, she appeared in off-Broadway plays and regional theater, playing such roles as Eva Peron in “Evita” and Lily in “The Secret Garden.”

But Wissot burned out on life in the theater after only a couple of years.

“I loved theater, and I wasn’t burned out on the craft of theater,” she said. “I sort of flashed forward to my 30s and having done a lot of regional theater and not having done Broadway or having done a Broadway role and not gotten another one in a couple of years, and then what would I be doing?”

That revelation helped bring her to the cantorate.

“I want to make a difference in people’s lives, and I want to know that I’m making a difference,” Wissot said. “Part of my being able to do it again and again is looking into somebody’s eyes and knowing … that something I did mattered.”

Wissot, whose repertoire stretches from traditional chazzanut to songs sung by pop artists such as Celine Dion, said she’ll continue to concertize throughout her career.

“Concerts, no matter how much work has to go into preparing for them, put me on a high,” she said. “That high can last six months, a year. Concerts are like taking care of yourself, and it’s a great way to take care of yourself, because other people love to listen. Then once you do that, you feel full. The well has been filled, and other people can draw from that well for the next year or so because you have something to give again.”

For Herschel Fox, a generation older, participation in cantorial concerts is just as joyous an experience, but their success represents more of a loss to synagogue music.

Since his arrival as cantor at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino in 1981, Fox has produced yearly concerts, in recent years featuring some of the most prominent names among traditional cantors from around the world.

This Sunday night, VBS will host a concert that includes Alberto Mizrahi, the Chicago cantor often billed as “the Jewish Pavarotti,” and Benjamin Warschawski of Boca Raton, Fla., a 28-year-old tenor who, Fox told The Journal, is potentially another Richard Tucker or Jan Peerce: an established cantor who will make the transition to opera. Fox and his wife, Judy, cantor of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles, will also perform.

Fox’s concerts, in which most of the music comes from the traditional cantorial repertoire, leavened with opera arias and American and Yiddish theater songs, play to houses packed with the same fans who sell out halls for touring programs like “The Three Jewish Tenors.”

“I think it’s partly nostalgia,” he said. “The Europeans who come say, ‘Oy, I heard it when I was a child in Europe.’ But for many American Jews who did not grow up with it, they’ve come to realize that it is a phenomenal musical treasure of the Jewish people, and they love it. It’s as exciting as opera — in some ways more exciting, because the guy puts his heart into it and he can improvise within the piece.”

But the same people who love to hear chazzanut in concert, Fox said, aren’t looking for it in their synagogues and aren’t getting it. “Sadly, in the traditional synagogues, you hear less and less world-class cantorial music,” he said.

Fox attributes the decline to several factors. In Orthodox synagogues, he said, congregants want to speed through the liturgy, and cantorial singing takes time. Only a fraction of Orthodox shuls hire cantors any more, Fox added.

In the Conservative movement, he said, many small congregations can’t afford cantors, depending on the rabbi and laypeople to lead the chanting. Large synagogues have cantors, but on a typical Shabbat morning, there’s a bar or bat mitzvah in the main sanctuary, attended by people who aren’t especially interested in hearing the cantor hold forth, with perhaps an alternative minyan in another room, led by laypeople who can daven correctly and efficiently but are usually not equipped to scale the heights of the cantorial repertoire.

Fox, 58, was born in Uzbekistan, the child of Polish refugees who brought him to Winnipeg, Canada, at age 4. He learned his craft the old way, as one of a group of boys gathered around the cantor in his Orthodox shul; at 25 he moved to New York and studied privately with a leading teacher of chazzanut.

Now, he says, “the atmosphere of chazzanut, that European atmosphere which I grew up with in Winnipeg, does not even exist any longer in Winnipeg.”

Still, Fox doesn’t brood about the decline of chazzanut. He’s had a parallel career in Yiddish-flavored cabaret since he was 13, playing synagogues, clubs, resorts and cruise ships, solo and with his wife.

“Always a challenge for me: new audience, you meet with the band an hour before the show to put together the show,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky to have a dual career as a cantor and as an entertainer. I love both.”

Fox knows, after all, that there’s an audience for that old-time chazzones; he’s known it since his first all-cantorial concert in 1996 packed 1,300 people into VBS and turned away another 350 at the door.

“They’re not hearing it in shul, so at a concert, they went bananas,” he said, “and they go bananas year after year.”

Temple Isaiah’s fundraiser, “What I Did for Love,” will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21, at the UCLA Faculty Club. Advance tickets required: call (310) 277-2772.

“And the Cantors Sing!” will take place Sunday, Feb. 22, 7 p.m., at Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. For information, call (818) 530-4091.

“Scenes of Worship: A Musical Celebration of Passover”
is scheduled Sunday, March 21, 6:30 p.m., at the Museum of the American West,
4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles. For reservations, call TicketWeb at
(866) 468-3399 or visit www.ticketweb.com .

Dean’s Judaism Ties Span Decades


In the middle of a rowdy rendition of “I Have a Little
Dreidel” at the Sobelson family Chanukah party in Concord, N.H., Howard Dean
walked in and declared himself the cantor. 

The Democratic presidential candidate recited the blessings
over the candles in near-perfect Hebrew in a dining room crowded with campaign
staffers. 

“It’s another Jewish miracle,” Carol Sobelson exclaimed. 

After more songs and a reprise of the Chanukah blessings for
Israeli television, Dean passed out doughnuts and cake. It was just a regular
Chanukah for Dean, the former Vermont governor later said, “except there’s
usually only four of us, instead of 54 of us.” 

Dean’s most immediate connection to Judaism is his Jewish
wife and the couple’s two children, who identify themselves as Jews. But Dean
said he has been connected to the religion for decades. Dean never considered
converting to Judaism, but he said the family did ponder the prospect of
joining the Reform synagogue in Burlington, Vt., though they “never got around
to it.”  

The candidate’s ties span from a college friendship with a
Zionist activist and frequent political appearances at Vermont’s synagogues, to
lighting the menorah and participating in other Jewish rituals at home. 

“We light the menorah. We have about three of them; we sing
the prayers,” Dean revealed recently as he was being driven from the Chanukah
party back to his hotel. “We always like the first night the most, because we
like the third prayer.”

Dean asked the Sobelsons if he could chant the “Shehecheyanu,”
the blessing for a first-of-the-season event, even though it was the third
night of Chanukah. He got permission from Rachel Sobelson, 19, his New
Hampshire campaign office manager and daughter of the hosts, who said it was
OK, because “it’s the first night that Howard Dean is at the house.” 

Dean is spending a lot of time in New Hampshire, and it’s
paying off. He has a healthy lead in polls the state, and political pundits
have all but anointed him the favorite to win the Democratic primary campaign.

The candidate stopped by the Manchester, N.H., Jewish
Federation Dec. 21 to pass out Chanukah presents for children. He brought two
of his own childhood favorites — an air hockey game and the electronic board
game, Operation. 

Dean’s first spiritual home was the Episcopal Church, but he
became a Congregationalist after fighting with the Episcopal Church in Vermont
25 years ago over a bicycle path. Rivals say the switch signaled a cavalier
approach to worship, but Dean said his move was prompted by his former church’s
arrogance. 

“We were trying to get the bike path built,” Dean told ABC’s
“This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” “They had control of a mile and a half
of railroad bed, and they decided they would pursue a property-right suit to
refuse to allow the bike path to be developed.”

Born Nov. 17, 1948, in East Hampton, N.Y., Dean had a
prep-school education and grew up in New York City and at a country house on
Long Island. His first connection with the issues and concerns of the Jewish
community came when he enrolled at Yale in 1967 and became friends with David
Berg, a fellow student, who was a former president of Young Judaea.

“My memory is that Howard was unusually interested,
respectful and accepting of that whole part of who I was,” Berg, a psychologist
in New Haven, Conn., said from Burlington, where he was visiting his daughter,
a staffer in the campaign, and the Deans, with whom he spent Chanukah. 

In college, Dean was unafraid to discuss Middle Eastern
politics in the tumultuous period following the 1967 Six-Day War. 

“It was a prickly topic of conversation, and I confess to
being prickly in conversations in that regard,” Berg said. “Howard was not
afraid to have those conversations, not from a critical point of view, but from
a curious point of view.” 

Their friendship developed over the years, and Berg
counseled Dean on his interactions with the Jewish community — for instance,
when he attended the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and
married a Jewish woman. Dean chose Einstein, the medical school of Yeshiva
University, simply because it was the best school available to him, but the
selection clearly impacted his education on Jewish issues. 

“I used to commute with a woman who was Orthodox and kept
kosher, so I learned a lot about the dietary laws and more ritualistic parts of
Judaism,” Dean said. 

Berg said Dean felt very comfortable in the environment at
Einstein. 

“I remember us sitting down and talking about kashrut at the
dining hall at Einstein,” he said. “He wasn’t afraid of making a mistake; he
wasn’t treating it like going to a foreign country.” 

These days, Dean slips into Jewish terminology like a set of
comfortable old clothes. Before a November debate in a Des Moines, Iowa,
synagogue, he circulated among congregants and chatted amiably about how hard
it was for Burlington’s Orthodox shul to get a minyan together until Chabad
Lubavitch came to town.

When Dean began to date his future wife, Judith Steinberg, a
fellow student at Einstein, Berg broached the issue of intermarriage. 

“I had slightly mixed feelings about it from the Jewish
side,” Berg said. “There was some of my mother in me saying, ‘This is a Jewish
person marrying a non-Jewish person.'” But, he said, “I got over that quickly.”

Dean’s family had little problem with the fact that he was
marrying a Jewish woman, the candidate said. 

“I think the reason it wasn’t an issue in my family was
because my father was a Protestant and my mother was a Catholic, and when they
got married, that was a very big deal,” Dean said. “My father, I think, was
determined not to put me through the experiences he went through when he
married outside his faith.” 

Dean’s mother bonded with his future wife over a shared love
of The New York Times Book Review, which no one else in the Dean family read.
However, while the Deans welcomed Steinberg, “there were a few
insensitivities,” the candidate said. The first time Dean brought his future
bride home for Christmas in East Hampton, Dean’s uncle served ham. Steinberg
doesn’t keep kosher, but Dean still found it inappropriate. 

And there was some frustration in the Steinberg household
that Judith was marrying a Christian.

“It was a little bit of an issue for Judy’s grandmother,
because she was of the old school,” Dean said. “But she loved me, and I loved
her.” 

Steinberg’s grandmother would tell Dean stories about
escaping pogroms in Poland and coming to the United States by herself at age
17. 

“We were very close, even though she would have been happier
if I were Jewish,” Dean said. 

Steinberg’s parents were less concerned.  Steinberg, who
Dean said is “not political at all,” has given few interviews and does not
campaign with her husband. The campaign did not make her available for comment,
but her spokeswoman, Susan Allen, has said that Steinberg views time spent with
reporters as time taken away from her patients. 

The Deans soon settled in Vermont, where they began a medical
practice and a family. The couple has two children: Annie, who is studying at
Yale, and Paul, who is a senior in high school. 

“From early on, he was committed to them both to giving them
some Jewish education,” Berg said, noting that Dean would take the children to
synagogue. Neither child had a bar or bat mitzvah or much formal Jewish
education. Dean has said he allowed both children to choose their religion, and
both now identify as Jewish. 

The family celebrates Passover and the High Holidays at
home. Many in Vermont’s Jewish community tell of how Dean skipped an appearance
with Vice President Al Gore in the mid-1990s to travel to New York to be at a
Passover seder with his family. 

“It is a household in which their Jewish heritage was never
denied or soft-pedaled,” Berg said. But Berg also acknowledged that the Deans
don’t practice Judaism as he would define it. 

“Religion was never a central feature of their family life,”
he said. 

Rabbi David Glazier, who leads Burlington’s Reform synagogue,
Temple Sinai, said he is not really sure what the family’s religious practices
are. A Congregationalist in a family where everyone else sees themselves as
Jewish is hard to define, he said. 

“The paradox is between himself and what the Jewish
community is,” he said. 

Glazier first met Dean briefly when the rabbi was asked to
give an invocation in the state Senate, and Dean, then the lieutenant governor,
was presiding.  Dean was thrust into the governor’s office in 1991 with the
sudden death of Gov. Richard Snelling. Glazier’s synagogue invited Dean to
speak one Friday night to express its appreciation for the smooth transition. 

By that time, Dean had become a full-time politician, forced
to give up completely the family medical practice that he had scaled down after
being elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in 1982 and after
becoming lieutenant governor in 1986. 

When he attended political events at the synagogue, Dean
would remark that he felt very comfortable, Glazier said, and once said he
would like to join the temple. Dean said he left the decision about joining the
temple to his wife, and that the family did not get around to affiliating. Berg
suggested that as a mixed-faith family, the Deans were not made to feel
particularly welcome at the synagogue. 

Glazier said that about half the members of his congregation
were not born Jewish, and that his synagogue does extensive outreach to
interfaith couples.

“How much more welcoming can we be?” he asked, concerned
that Dean’s campaign was bad-mouthing his congregation to justify the
candidate’s lack of public displays of faith. Glazier said he tried not to ask
Dean about his family’s religious practices or encourage them to join the
synagogue.  Glazier said Steinberg occasionally comes to the synagogue to pick
up “ritual things she needs.”

Glazier also has tried to get Dean to participate more in
the Jewish world, offering him a Hebrew Bible to use at his gubernatorial
swearing-in. But Glazier, one of three religious leaders who gave prayers at
Dean’s gubernatorial inaugurations, said he hadn’t seen Dean use it. 

“I think he wants to do right,” Glazier said of Dean. “I
think he wants to find a spiritual home but not disturb the context of his
home.” 

Dean said he doesn’t see much difference between his
family’s beliefs and his own. 

“I have a pretty ecumenical approach to religion,” Dean
said. “There is a Judeo-Christian tradition and there are different doctrinal
aspects and different beliefs, but the fundamental moral principles are very
similar between Judaism and Christianity.” 

He does, however, wish his children knew more about
Christianity, having experienced it little beyond Christmases at the home of
Dean’s parents in New York. Dean, himself, said he does not attend church often
but prays every day.  

Cantor Turns Rabbi to Save Synagogue


Cantor Mark Goodman was conducting prayers for Valley Beth Israel — an ailing Conservative congregation that couldn’t afford a rabbi — when he decided that he could make things better.

Goodman, 43, approached the board of the Sun Valley congregation with a proposition. He told them that if they sponsored him to study in rabbinical school, he would fulfill both clergy positions in the synagogue and commit to a long-term contract with them.

Since then, with Goodman studying in rabbinical school part time at the Academy for Jewish Religion, a nondenominational rabbinical college, and focusing on beefing up the synagogue’s range of services the rest of the time, Valley Beth Israel has experienced a revival of sorts. Membership is booming, more children are enrolled in the Hebrew school and attendance is up at services every Saturday. Goodman sees his "one person, two clergy" plan as the way to go for small congregations.

"There are many synagogues who can’t afford two clergy and they really don’t know what to do," Goodman said. "Normally a synagogue in that position will hire a rabbi full time and hire a cantor for the high holidays. They are left the rest of the year without anyone to sing the services with them."

Goodman thinks that with his plan, congregations can secure the services of a popular clergy member and keep within a small budget. "Congregations may not know that this option is available to them," he said. "I know that my congregation saves an enormous amount of money paying one clergy, and there is a huge benefit to having a person that you like provide the leadership you are looking for."

While most Orthodox synagogues hire a cantor only for the High Holidays, and use lay people to lead the services during the year, many Conservative and Reform congregations hire a full-time cantor who provides a number of services to the congregation. Typically, a cantor’s duties will include leading the congregation in prayer and teaching bar and bat mitzvah classes, and he will come to his role after having voice training and studying cantillation, liturgy and the history and structure of prayer. A rabbi, on the other hand, usually has a greater knowledge of halachah and will provide the overall spiritual leadership of a congregation.

New rabbis fresh out of rabbinical college can command a salary of somewhere between $65,000 and $90,000, if they are the sole rabbi of their congregation; less if they are the second or third rabbi. Cantors’ wages are similar. For small congregations, with less than 200 members, paying two sets of salaries can be a burdensome financial undertaking.

Alice Greenfield from the United Synagogue Association, said that she could identify six congregations in the Los Angeles area that are currently struggling to pay their clergy.

"Many of these congregations are in areas where, if they were strong congregations, the population has aged and has not picked up new members," she said.

Mel Gottlieb, the dean of the Academy for Jewish Religion, said that purist might look askance at the mingling of two clergy positions, but it is a practical solution for smaller congregations.

"Professional cantors may not feel really thrilled about it, because they like to think of themselves as a big inspirational force that contributes to the importance of the service," he said. "But I would recommend it for smaller congregations."

Now Goodman is concentrating on making the synagogue a more dynamic place. He introduced musical accompaniment to the services, and once a month he teaches classes on the prayer book so that people can understand what they are saying. He is bringing in visiting rabbis to teach kabbalah and Talmud and is overseeing the Hebrew school, which currently has 11 students and is free for members.

"When I came to the synagogue four years ago, it almost seemed like the doors were going to close any minute," Goodman said. "But now everyone is extremely excited about our future and our ability to thrive as a synagogue, because we are in a financial position where we could stay open. It is really the rebirth of a synagogue."

To Life, L’Chayim


It was his first pulpit as a cantor, a smallish shul up
above Palisades High School. He was just 23.

Eighteen years later, Kehillat Israel, now the largest
Reconstructionist synagogue in the United States, remains Chayim Frenkel’s only
pulpit, and he and the temple couldn’t be happier.

On Tuesday night, Kehillat Israel (KI) will honor Frenkel
with a gala concert and tribute, “Chai for Chayim,” at UCLA’s Royce Hall.
Scheduled to appear are Billy Crystal, Bob Saget and singer-songwriter Dave
Koz, all KI members; actress Tovah Feldshuh; the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony,
and cantors from around town and around the country.

Lynne Gordon DeWitt, one of the co-chairs for the event,
said Frenkel had no trouble lining up a glittering array of talent for the
program. “Chayim is beloved; he just asks, and people say yes,” Gordon DeWitt
said. “If he weren’t a cantor, he’d be making a million dollars as a
fundraiser.”

Frenkel grew up in the Pico-Fairfax area, where his father,
Uri Frenkel, was cantor for Judea Congregation on South Fairfax Avenue. With
his mother, Shari, working as a kosher caterer, both parents were “servants of
the Jewish community,” Frenkel told The Journal, and “role models of what a
mensch (good guy) should be.”

In 1974, Uri Frenkel moved to what was then Maarev Temple in
Encino (now Ner Maarav), and Frenkel became a Valley boy, attending Birmingham
High School in Van Nuys — after a day-school education — and California State
University Northridge. He was a youth leader in his father’s synagogue and
apprenticed there as a chazan (cantor) during his college years.

Although Frenkel didn’t attend cantorial school, he had an
illustrious set of teachers, studying chazzanut with Samuel Fordis, Allan
Michelson and Samuel Kelemer, among the leading Conservative cantors of their
day, along with his father, who died in 1995.

“Chayim has chazzones dripping out of his DNA,” said Cantor
Nathan Lam, one of Frenkel’s later teachers.

At KI, Frenkel found the warmth and spirit he knew as a
teenager at Maarev Temple. He told The Journal that when he turned up early for
his first interview with KI’s search committee, he had time to gaze at a large
montage of photographs featuring temple events.

“I fell in love with the community, because you could see
from the faces in the photos that the people in this temple were committed,
family oriented,” he said. “It was like coming back home.”

Frenkel served one year with Rabbi Jack Bemporad, before
Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben began his own long tenure with the congregation.
Reuben and his wife, Didi, “taught me the skills to succeed as a community
cantor,” Frenkel said.

Rabbi Sheryl Lewart, KI’s co-rabbi with Reuben since 1997,
values Frenkel’s verve and soulfulness. “He’s a whirlwind of energy, a heart
that has limitless love and compassion and a voice that truly channels the
angels,” she said.

It isn’t difficult to find people who have nice things to
say about Frenkel. “He’s the sweetest person,” said Lam. “If you’re counted
among his friends, and that’s a lot of people, he’ll never say no to you. And
for a man of his age, he has made a great contribution to the world of Jewish
music.”

Much of that contribution has come from his many commissions
of prayer settings and larger-scale works on Jewish themes. He has a special
working relationship with Meir Finkelstein, who wrote an oratorio,
“Liberation,” about the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps that Frenkel
produced in concert at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1995.

He is currently working with Finkelstein to expand
Finkelstein’s Jewish requiem, “Nishmat Tzedek” (A Righteous Soul), which was
written and performed in 1993 in memory of Frenkel’s brother, Tzvi. (A sister,
Mira Winograd, lives in the Valley.) The project will include a book of
photographs and a CD to be sent to families in Israel who have lost loved ones
during the current intifada.

Frenkel, who lives in Pacific Palisades with his wife,
Marsi, and two daughters, Mandi, 10, and Molli, 2, has warm personality, and he
not only loves working with children but identifies with them. “When I started
at 23, I was a child; now I’m 41, and I’m still a child,” he said.

That quality has endeared him to adults and children alike
and has let him bring enthusiasm to the most mundane aspects of cantorial work.
He still gets excited about what for many cantors becomes an assembly-line
process: training b’nai mitzvah and singing at their ceremonies.

“This is one of the big events of their lives,” Frenkel
said. “The day I sit on the bimah and don’t sweat every maftir and every
haftarah, that’s the day I retire.”

For Frenkel, his one-on-one connections at the temple, even
as KI has grown from 240 to 1,100 households during his 18 years, are what make
his work joyful. “What’s most important to me at KI is the relationships I
share,” Frenkel said. “I really owe my life and my successes to the
congregation.”

For more information about tickets to “Chai for Chayim,”
call Kehillat Israel at (310) 459-2328. 

Music in a Universal Key


A Turkish-born cantor will bring tunes of his Sephardi heritage to a festival next week celebrating Southern California’s religious diversity. Haim Mizrahi, who sings at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood, will be the Jewish representative at "A Universal Harmony of Souls: An Evening of Sacred Music and Prayer," hosted by the Self-Realization Fellowship at its Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades on Sept. 22.

Mizrahi will sing synagogue music in Hebrew and Ladino on a program that also includes recitations from Christian and Islamic traditions and music and dance performances from Baha’i and several Asian cultural groups.

Born and raised in Istanbul, Mizrahi, 62, grew up in the synagogue, steeped in the music and liturgy of his Iberian ancestors. His path as a cantor was laid out in childhood. Even as a teenager, Mizrahi led services in small Turkish towns. "It came naturally," Mizrahi told The Journal. "When you have a nice voice and you can read Hebrew nicely, you begin to learn chazanut [cantorial music]."

He and his wife, Rachel, made aliyah in 1971 and reared their two children, Esther, 32, and Isaac, 30, in Israel. Both children are pianists; Isaac will accompany his father on Sept. 22.

Unable to find a year-round pulpit in Israel, Mizrahi brought his family to San Diego in 1980, after singing High Holiday services there. He helped start a Sephardic congregation in Chula Vista and led it for 10 years before taking his post in Westwood; he and his wife still live in San Diego.

Mizrahi seemed less interested in the multicultural nature of the festival and its goals of bringing together people of many different faiths and traditions than in the simple joy of singing the tunes of a career that has spanned almost 50 years. "Everyone who sings, it’s to make himself and other people happy," he said. "This is the best thing you can do: to make them happy."

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