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 and about her performing at

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, Tickets can also be ordered online at