Tuesday, December 16, 2008


by Harry Perkal

Seasons change, babies are born, children are Bar Mitvah-ed, couples are married, and it has been over 12 months now without a permanent Cantor at CSAIR. But who's counting?

We did have some candidates last year, but by now I cannot remember one from the other. One day recently I was accidentally listening to Neil Diamond (who turned down a Cantor position himself in the 1980's film The Jazz Singer) and I started wondering what is going on with this cantor search. So when I heard there was going to be a “Town Hall’’ meeting about the search, Boy, was I eager to attend. And at the end of the meeting, Boy, was I confused!

To my ears it went something like this: “Maybe our criteria for a Cantor is too demanding, but on the other hand - maybe not”. “Maybe we should look for a part time Cantor - but maybe not”. “Maybe it will take a long time to find a Cantor, but, on the other hand - maybe not”. And after hearing this, maybe I was getting a headache.

But the coup de grace (pardon my yiddish) was when I heard that we will know the right Cantor the moment he (or she!) steps into the synagogue. Oy veh- I said to myself- we are looking to fall in love. This reminded me of a single person I know who is looking for the “perfect” mate: Someone attractive, but not stuck up; smart, but not a know it all; kind, but not a pushover; funny, but serious. You get the picture. That single person ( not I - my criteria was I would go out with anyone who would take me) is of course still looking for that perfect mate, and if we go down this road we may be looking for a Cantor for a very long time as well.

I can just hear you saying as you read this- So Mr. Wise Guy what is your grand solution? Funny you should ask. If I was being serious and practical I would say for heavens sake decide what cantorial model ( full time, part time, traditional, innovative) is best for the shul and explain your decision honestly and openly to the congregation. Then prioritize what qualities are most important. Is it having a good voice, or the quality of the davening, or the ability to get people to participate, open to innovation, etc? And if one finds such a person but they have the personality of a noodle - so be it!!!

But if I was dreaming I would say - lets look for a Cantor in less conventional places. In fact - let us look for an unconventional Cantor. In fact - let us not call him/her a Cantor at all. How about a “troubadour”, or if we must a Shliach Tzibur. Let’s look in the downtown Jewish music scene, let’s look for someone who is as familiar with Dylan as with nusach. Let’s look for someone who can combine traditional davening with Charlbach, Debbie Freidman, Klezmer, and Springsteen. And let us seriously look for a woman Cantor. Let us create a buzz about our shul. After all, the demographics of our shul are changing so let us for once be ahead of the curve than behind it. Do we really need to look for another cookie cutter Cantor from the Jewish Theological Seminary? But alas I am only dreaming!