Remarks welcoming student cantor Nancy Dubin
“Sing unto the Eternal a new song
with praises in the congregation of the faithful
Let Israel rejoice in its maker
Let the children of Zion exalt in their Sovereign
Let them praise his name in dance
With timbrel and lyre let them chant his praises.
For the Eternal delights in his people” (Psalm 149).
With the presence of student cantor Nancy Dubin we sing anew song and also begin a new chapter for our congregation’s spiritual life. The effort and commitment by the leadership of this congregation testifies to the spirit in this congregation which has achieved so much particularly over the last five years. I too would like to express my own gratitude to them especially Past President Mike Weingarten and current president Twyla Sable for their willingness to partner in this vision of a new dimension to our music program.
Our partnership extended to the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Debbie Friedman School of Music which sponsors the student cantor placement program. We came into this process for the first time not knowing whether we would even recruit a student cantor due to the small numbers who were looking for an experience. Many of those who do have pulpits are in the New York metropolitan area. We interviewed by skype students in the first year program in Jerusalem and those like Cantor Dubin from New York. We were blessed to have the most student applications than any other congregation involved in this process. We were also blessed that our shiduch turned out to be our B’shert Nancy Dubin.
This is a big responsibility for our congregation because we now have the privilege of being a teaching congregation for this soon to be Cantor in the Reform Movement. I hope that we all can take pride in our congregation for being part of a process for training new cantors for Reform Judaism.
One of the characteristics I have learned about this congregation is that we take music seriously and personally. Second we bring with us our experience and expectations about what is authentic Jewish music . The challenge here has always been that almost all of us come from different congregations and many of us come from different movements within American Judaism. This obviously creates multiple opinions about what kind of music fits best for Congregation Beth Yam. Yet that same challenge is good because we grow and stretch ourselves to learn about other ways of experiencing music in communal worship and discover, if we remain open, that we can grow and be enriched spiritually by the wealth of music that is now available to us.
I have worked in my career with two invested cantors. They were each unique and had diverse backgrounds and completely different styles of music. Yet, their love of liturgical music and touching the lives of their congregants as clergy besides all the talent they had enabled them to help in partnership with me as rabbi to take the congregation to new spiritual heights. I have the same hopes for Student Cantor Nancy Dubin as well. She joins our team of professionals at congregation Beth Yam including our soloist Adriana Urato, Music Director David Kimbell, Principal Judi Kleiman and youth group director Sheryl Keating. We have worked with her by email and phone up until now and she has shown that she wants to fit into this team of dedicated synagogue professionals. We welcome her for her enthusiasm, talent, knowledge and dedication to providing us with a communal worship experience which, I hope, will raise our spirits and enrich our understanding of not only of Jewish music but how it contributes to the prayer experience.
The role of the cantor today has evolved over the last few decades. While the cantor’s primary role is to provide music at services, cantors have expanded their horizons to include the educational role for our adults and children as well as the pastoral role for the congregation. This is why Nancy will spend time within our religious school during her visits as well accompanying me if there are pastoral needs. She will co-officiate with me at services on Friday nights, present adult education on Saturday morning and periodically present special music programs on Saturday evenings. She will also participate in our programs like Yom Hashoah in the spring. Our hope is that she will touch many different constituencies inside the congregation by the end of the year. This weekend we will be meeting to plan the specifics of many of our services in the upcoming year as well as focus on High Holy Days services which are right around the corner. I encourage you to reach out to Cantor Dubin after services and to help her feel that unique spirit that so many have come to recognize about Congregation Beth Yam as a welcoming community.
We read in the book of Proverbs, “Honor the Eternal with whatever excellence God has bestowed upon you” (Proverbs 3:9). Commenting on this verse our Sages said, ‘If you are a person of good looks then honor the Eternal with those good looks! Furthermore if your voice is pleasing and you are in the synagogue then rise up and honor the Eternal with your voice.’
Those sages concluded by saying whatever you have ‘rise up and give honor to the Eternal.’(Midrash p’sichtah rabbati 25:2.
No doubt Cantor Dubin you are on a pathway to become a Hazan for the children of Israel. This is one of your first experiences and we hope that you too shall rise up and give this congregation your God given gifts and in that way you pay honor to the divine Source who bestowed upon you this gift of voice, love of God and the music our people have sung and continue to create for each generation. May you go from strength to strength.