Meet the Director - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Meet the Director

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Cantor Richard Cohn serves as Director of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music (DFSSM) at the New York campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Cantor Cohn became Director of the DFSSM in 2015.

Cantor Richard Cohn came to HUC-JIR following thirty-four years of service to Reform communities. He was most recently Cantor of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, where he was influential in helping to integrate contemporary and traditional aspects of congregational life, while sustaining a diverse and vibrant musical culture.  He enjoyed a lengthy tenure at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Illinois, where his areas of specialization included programming for teens and for adult learning.  He also served Oak Park Temple–B’nai Abraham Zion in suburban Chicago, where he developed personalized approaches to b’nai mitzvah studies. 

Cantor Cohn was invested as a Cantor by HUC-JIR (1992), received the Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance and Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1979) and received the Bachelor of Music Degree in Vocal Performance, summa cum laude, from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge (1976).  From 2001 to 2007, Cantor Cohn was president of the American Conference of Cantors (ACC), the professional organization of the Reform cantorate.  He was co-leader of the Shabbat morning service at the Biennial Convention of the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) in 1997, and he led the URJ Biennial Choir in 2003.  He was an active member of the URJ Board and of the URJ Commission on Music, Worship and Religious Living.  He helped establish the original cohort of Kesher Shir, a creative learning intensive for cantors and singer-songwriters in spiritual and artistic dialogue.  He has also been a summer camp faculty member at the URJ’s Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  Cantor Cohn is involved in the work of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS), where he is now an IJS Fellow, as well as a faculty member of its Clergy Leadership Program.

An Abundant Future for the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music [Cantor Cohn's Vision]

The DFSSM will prepare cantors to fulfill their liturgical, educational, pastoral, cultural, and communal roles, consistently attentive to their connection with the One who 'chooses melodious song.'  Integral to the inspirational fabric of contemporary Judaism, we will contribute materially to the evolution of Reform and Progressive life in North America, Israel, and throughout the Jewish world.

We will emphasize spiritual growth in relationship to the multi-dimensional role of the contemporary cantor, renew our curriculum to further align the cantorate with the well-being of congregational communities, and develop the New York campus as a global center for musical and liturgical creativity and research.

The DFSSM will build strong relationships with its professional and lay partners, encourage broad public participation in the life of the campus, share widely the exceptional work of our students, faculty, and alumni, significantly increase our commitment to recruiting new candidates for admission, and secure the means to achieve our goals.

A cantorate devoted to continuously searching out the interplay between music and spirit that best serves each generation is indispensable to a Judaism that transforms hearts, opens minds, cultivates relationships, and connects us to the Unifying Presence made manifest through song.


Cantor Cohn's installation as Director took place on November 12, 2015. Watch the installation: