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Kira Rappaport: Longtime Children’s Music Teacher and Cancer Survivor

In 2011, one year after Kira Rappaport had her first child, she went to the dentist for a routine cleaning.
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June 9, 2022
Kira Rappaport Photo by Ashleigh Zickerman

In 2011, one year after Kira Rappaport had her first child, she went to the dentist for a routine cleaning. While she was in the chair, the dental hygienist told her there was something on her tongue. 

“The dentist said I should have it looked at,” Rappaport said.

Rappaport went to the doctor and got a biopsy. The results showed that she had mild dysplasia, which was not cancerous. She was relieved. 

Every few months, she would get checked. In 2016, she underwent a surgical biopsy and was fine. But then, last fall, right before Hanukkah, the doctor told her something had changed and she was going to need to do another surgery. 

“It came back malignant,” Rappaport said. “It was unfortunate.”

Rappaport was worried about the tongue cancer not only for health reasons, but also because she plays music for a living. Affectionately known as Morah Kira, she’s been playing flute and guitar and singing for parent and me groups for the LA Jewish community for two decades – including a 15-year stint at Temple Beth Am. 

“It was very surreal going through Hanukkah every night, singing songs and wondering how this was going to impact me,” she said. “Would I be singing next year? I definitely sang my heart out.”

Thankfully, Rappaport’s surgery went well, and the doctors got all the cancer. Still, they wanted her to do six weeks of radiation just in case. While her first impulse was to keep it private, she decided to post about her journey with radiation on Instagram on Facebook. Since Rappaport was going to be out of work for three months, and her medical costs were high, her sister decided to create a GoFundMe for her. 

“My sister set it up on Monday, and by Wednesday, we had $40,000,” said Rappaport. “I got so many messages of love and support and encouragement. It was so touching to have so many families show up and support me. I felt lifted up and carried through the experience.”

Three months after finishing radiation, Rappaport is 75% recovered. She has 50 to 60% of her taste back, and she’s able to play the flute, but not like she used to.

“My flute playing will take time to get back to a pretty good place,” she said. 

While Rappaport was based out of Temple Beth Am prior to the pandemic, since COVID hit, she’s been holding classes outdoors. 

“During the week, my classes are peace, love and music, and on Friday, we do Shabbat,” she said. “We meet at the park and sing lots of Shabbat songs and have challah and grape juice. It’s a really fun time to come together.”

Rappaport has been playing music since she was a child. Her parents encouraged her and her siblings to play instruments, so she picked up the flute when she was eight. Then, as a teen, she started playing kids’ songs for her nieces and nephews.

“Somehow, those songs became ingrained in me,” she said. 

When Rappaport was older, she ended up going to Oberlin College and the University of Southern California for flute performance. She also created an early childhood program, The School for Strings in New York City, got her Masters in early childhood music and recorded two albums of original music as well as covers of “Beautiful Day” and “Sing Together.”

What she loves about music is that it “allows for expression and communication,” she said. “Kids sing before they can talk. They dance before they can walk.”

She especially enjoys working with children because she admires how open they are when listening to music.

”With music, we can connect to our babies and to each other. The kids go home, sing the songs and create their own songs based on what they’d heard in class. If your child is upset, music can shift their mood.”
– Kira Rappaport

“There is no self-consciousness to how they react,” she said. “The littlest babies will immediately turn their head to listen to a sound. With music, we can connect to our babies and to each other. The kids go home, sing the songs and create their own songs based on what they’d heard in class. If your child is upset, music can shift their mood.”

Now that Rappaport, a mother of two, has recovered, she looks forward to releasing a third album and continuing to create music she hopes everyone – children and parents alike – will cherish. 

“I consider myself very lucky that we caught it and it was treated and that I can still work,” she said. “Being a music teacher is who I am. I love it so much.”

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