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May/June 2011 / Iyar/Sivan 5771


...for DFSSM alumni
  • We host ShirFun social events.
  • We present webinars.
  • We plan the alumni brunch at the ACC Convention.
  • We recommend Honorary Doctorate candidates to the HUC-JIR Committee on Honors.
...for DFSSM students
  • We give the Year-in-Israel students the Ish Matzliach Tikkun.
  • We buddy up NY students with Year-In-Israel students via skype and email.
  • Together with the Rabbinical Alumni Association and the NY School of Education Alumni Association, we co-host a cocktail party during orientation week for all incoming 2nd year HUC students.
  • We give incoming 2nd year DFSSM students a booklet filled with practical tips about New York.
  • We host an event for 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students.
  • We sponsor a lunch for graduating 5th year students.
  • We work with DFSSM staff on a madrich program for students.
...for the DFSSM and HUC-JIR
  • Working closely with HUC’s admissions/recruitment staff, we assist in events like HUC-On-the-Road.
  • Together with the DFSSM Director, we run a Candidate Mentoring Program, buddying up alumni with prospective DFSSM students during the application process.
  • We make presentations at Hava Nashira, the Jewish Choral Festival and other venues.
  • We maintain a recruiting presence at URJ camps.
  • We recommend alumni to be recruitment ambassadors for the DFSSM and HUC-JIR.
  • We are creating a recruitment resource guide for our ambassadors.
Finally, we have launched Invest-in-a-Student, a campaign to raise money for DFSSM scholarships, which has thus far raised over $45,000.

CANDIDATE MENTORING - by Ross Wolman, Co-chair, DFSSMAA Recruitment Working Group

Navigating the DFSSM application process can be difficult and has potential to cause great anxiety. When I applied, I was lucky to have had a wonderful mentor in Erik Contzius. This year the Recruitment Working Group was tasked with pairing DFSSM applicants with mentors in the field. Together with DFSSM Director Bruce Ruben, we contacted applicants and offered guidance through connections with local alumni.

The response from the applicants has been overwhelmingly positive. They are grateful to have had help in selecting audition repertoire, practicing Hebrew, polishing music theory and more. Of the twelve applicants we initially contacted, ten were placed with local mentors. Two were not placed because they either already had a mentor or did not return communication.

We are eager to repeat this process next year as well as implement recruitment programs at Hava Nashira, The North American Jewish Choral Festival, and URJ Camps where our alumni will be serving as faculty.


A Shabbat afternoon at OSRUI, Summer, 2010, with Cantor Arik Luck (back row left), camp director Jerry Kaye, Arik's family (wife Rachel and son Yedidyah), and his camper/congregants from Beth Emet: The Free Synagogue

As a young camper and counselor, I attended Camp Interlaken, JCC, in Eagle River, WI for a good number of life-changing summers. Like many other Jews, I view this experience as pivotal towards the forming of my own Jewish identity, both in my childhood and early adulthood. When I left camp, at the age of 24, I never imagined that I would have had the opportunity to go back. Eight years later, however, I returned, this time as a cantor, to Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, our area URJ camp in Oconomowoc, WI. It was truly a meaningful and rewarding experience to return to camp as clergy, particularly at a place like OSRUI, which has a very specific, participatory, and well-defined role for clergy and educators.

Here is how it works: In the fall preceding camp, we are paired with another clergy person or educator, and are assigned to a particular eidah (unit), which we will ultimately serve for a pre-determined two week stint during the upcoming summer. (Last summer, I was assigned to Kallah Gimmel, which consisted of 4th-6th graders.) Over a post-Shabbat retreat weekend in the winter, all of the segel (faculty of clergy and educators) meet at camp, where we break into our various eidot and map out Judaic lesson plans (limmudim) for the entire summer, based on a selected Jewish theme. This pre-planning ensures that the campers will experience programming continuity throughout the summer, and that no campers will be taught the same lesson twice.

Once at camp, we are kept very busy. Within our eidah we are responsible for leading shacharit services, supervising the counselors as they teach the limmudim, teaching a kitah in Ivrit class, and helping small groups of campers plan for and lead ma’ariv services. We end each night with a full staff meeting of our eidah, which consists of our rosh eidah (unit leader), segel, cabin counselors, and sometimes a camp social worker. At the meeting we review the day, talk through various issues, and prepare for upcoming events. In addition to our busy schedule, we also eat all of our meals with our eidah. In case you are wondering... yes, it is indeed very tiring and a ton of work! It is also extraordinarily rewarding, which I’ll explain later...

The other good news is that we also have the opportunity to bring our families up to camp with us. Segel spouses are allowed to participate in the camp experience with us as little or as often as they wish, and our children are placed either directly into camp, or into a special eidah with their babysitters. The addition of our families to the camp experience makes our commitment to camp much more manageable from a personal perspective.

You may be saying to yourself, “Why should I bother volunteering at camp? It sounds so busy, and, after all, I already have a chance to make an impression on my young congregants during the school year in beit sefer, youth choir, and b’nei mitzvah training!”

While this may a legitimate argument, the further impact that we cantors can have on these children in an outdoor Jewish communal environment is, in many ways, exponentially greater than in the more “traditional” and sometimes constraining physical places in which we attempt to influence them. Much like Year-in-Israel HUC students, these campers are living Judaism, from the moment they wake up until lights out. This in itself is a catalyst for a massive forging of Jewish identity that happens totally naturally, without the need to “force” Jewish identity in a short-lived classroom-type setting.

While some of us may have mixed feelings about volunteering on the segel at a URJ camp, I believe that, collectively as cantors, we opt out of this experience with these kids at our own peril. Jewish camping is where the action is. We need to be there, not only to play a part in the development of the campers’ Jewish identities, but also to continue to discover and nurture the musically inclined at camp, and, at the very least, to make sure that they are aware of the cantorate as a viable option for ongoing Jewish professional life. Frankly, I can’t think of a greater place to expose our Jewish children and counselors to the beauty of the cantorate. Last summer, many children and young adults continually asked me all sorts of questions about what it is like to be a cantor. They are genuinely interested in what we do, and we need to be at camp so that we can show them!

I hope that you will all join me in coming to a URJ camp this summer or next. It is going to be beautiful. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.


For the past two years I have been honored to organize a program that sets up buddies between New York and Israel students as part of my work with the Outreach to Students Working Group of the DFSSM Alumni Association. The goals of the buddy program are to foster relationships between DFSSM students on the two different campuses and to assist our Israel students as they make their transition to New York.

Students in Israel are able to keep in touch with family and friends very easily now—using email, skype, and cable telephones—so our working group thought it would be great for the students to also “meet” their peers in New York using these technologies as well. At the minimum, it connects them with one person stateside, and, hopefully, the upperclassmen help their buddies figure out the details of moving to New York: finding a place to live, serving in their first High Holy Day pulpits, and all those other new challenges that come at the beginning of the second year of cantorial school. At best, buddy relationships become interclass friendships that follow the students into their careers.

With the help of our wonderful colleague, Cantor Tamar Havilio, to date, twenty students have taken part in this program. The feedback has been positive, with students telling me how helpful it is to have a buddy to answer questions about life and work in NY, and how they look forward to getting to know their buddy once stateside. Many Israel students from the first year of the program volunteered this year to be stateside buddies!

Technology has the possibility to keep us connected, build community, and help us to be better colleagues and friends. We thank all of our buddy pairs for reaching out across the ocean these past two years and building bridges that will take us all into the future.

DID YOU KNOW........?


Did you know? I did not, so I thank Adelle Nicholson for introducing me to Tzeh u’Limad, A Blog of Continuing Jewish Learning at . This site is a wonderful resource edited by Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder, Ph.D., and managed in partnership with the HUC-JIR Department of eLearning and its Director, Gregg Alpert. The banner reads “Our mission is to help Jewish professionals and teachers of Judaism navigate the breadth of the contemporary learning landscape in the continuing process of lifelong learning.”

Having been forced kicking, screaming and kvetching into the wonderful world of e-everything, I must admit a genuine appreciation for the ease of information access. My office shelves, like yours, are lined with books, music notebooks and reams of random stuff that remain invaluable go-to friends. I delve into them for class preparation, sermons, reminders and music hunts (really, epic treks through So Much Music - one day the staff will find me buried under 100 copies of Israel in Egypt!). And so it is a pleasure to simply click on a site like this one, and see what is being created and implemented in our Reform Jewish world.

In the most recent edition there were articles on (to name a few): “Jewish Peoplehood: The World Union of Progressive Judaism”; “Films for Jewish and Israel Education” (including a really helpful referral to another site,, “Israel's HULU, Amazon, iTunes and virtual MOMA all in one,” as described on its website); and “What the Bible Teaches about Modern Media.” There is a sidebar with topics of all interests, and links to other blogs such as the one from the Shalom Hartman Institute. Furthermore, there are links to other HUC webpages, and other learning websites.

Perhaps you’ve had an idea kernel and don’t know how to pop it into maturity. Find out on this site whether someone else has already grappled with it. Or maybe you are going to teach a class on music and technology and could use a few good ideas. Tzeh U’limad is another good tool for helping us stay current and imaginative.

By the way, we can contribute articles to it for the benefit of others. Once more, the URL is:


2011 DFSSM




Roslyn Jhunever Barak

Marina Belenky

Suzanne Bernstein

Bette Wishengrad Cohen

Ellen Siegel Dreskin

Michal Shiff Matter

Debra N. Stein

Meredith Stone


Watch for more news
about our
Honorary Doctorate Recipients
in the next DFSSMAA newsletter



As some of you may know, I am a graduate of the Doctor of Ministry Program at HUC-JIR, and I would like to confirm to you that the D. Min. Program is alive and well and waiting for applicants.

I entered the program in October of 2008 after receiving an email from the College-Institute about it. I was still working part-time at my synagogue and was wondering what I would be doing with the rest of my life. When I entered the program, the format of study was to spend two academic years in classroom and clinical work at both HUC and the Post Graduate Center for Mental Health (, followed by the completion of a project. The project could take up to three additional years to complete.

During the spring semester of my first year, our class received the sad and unexpected news that the D. Min. Program would have to be cut due to the financial crisis, and that my class was slated to be the final class in the program. My class spoke with HUC President Rabbi Ellenson, who was willing and eager to hear what we had to say. We asked him if there would be any way that the College-Institute could reinstate the program, because we wanted others to have the opportunity to partake of this rich learning experience. Rabbi Ellenson said that he would see what he could do. To our delight, the program has been reinstated and the first year students, one of whom is a cantor, began their studies last fall.

I feel so strongly that this program is of vital importance to cantors in all areas of our work, and that everyone who can make the time should at least consider entering the program. Having an understanding of both spiritual and clinical issues is so helpful in our daily interaction with our colleagues, congregants and families.

The D. Min Program is an interfaith program drawing students from all over the world. I was joined in my class by four Nigerian Roman Catholic priests, a nun from Ghana, a Seventh Day Adventist minister from the Caribbean and four Reform rabbis. We learned so much from studying together and found great common ground in our search for the sacred in our lives. We learned a great deal about ourselves as we pursued our psychological and clinical studies and individual clinical supervision of pastoral counseling sessions.

We met weekly for group dynamic experience which helped me greatly in understanding how groups function in both healthy and dysfunctional ways. Now that I have retired from my congregation, I am working as a chaplain for Jewish Family Service in New Jersey. I would not have been offered this position without the D. Min. degree.

The program as it exists now is no longer formally affiliated with the Post Graduate Center for Mental Health. All classes except individual supervision are held at HUC on Mondays, a day off for many clergy. The program is supervised by Rev. Ann Akers, an ordained minister and practicing psychotherapist, and NY School Dean Rabbi Shirley Idelson. Please contact either Rev. Akers (Mondays only) or Rabbi Idelson for further information.

In our next newsletter, I will share some experiences of the cantorial graduates of the Program. Stay tuned to hear firsthand how this program has influenced their lives and their sacred work.


Dear alumni,

This has been a remarkable time to be at the school. We had a beautiful Sh’loshim ceremony for Debbie, organized by Merri Arian, Benjie-Ellen Schiller, several students and me. There were video clips of Debbie singing, and recollections and songs shared. It was a very moving moment for our entire community.

Of course, there has been a lot of excitement about the endowment gift that truly does insure the continuity of our program. David Ellenson met with our DFSSM faculty recently to discuss the renaming. I believe this was the first time that a president had attended a cantorial faculty meeting. He explained the various factors and the process which had led to the renaming and answered many questions. The DFSSM faculty really appreciated his honesty and willingness to meet with us. We all hope this is the first of many chances to tell him about our faculty’s vision for cantorial education.

I recognize that there has been a diversity of opinion surrounding the renaming of the school. I want to reassure you of our commitment to teaching the full range of cantorial styles from traditional chazzanut, through Classical Reform, to contemporary folk genres. We will keep hiring the same full range of faculty and coaches to make sure this happens. We will continue to challenge our students to achieve a high level of musical, Judaic, and professional development. In fact, this gift allows us to keep doing what we have been doing for the last sixty years - nurturing the best prepared, well-rounded cantors we can to serve the Reform movement.

We are committed to fostering the creation of new liturgical music. We had our third Composers Showcase, which featured new compositions by students and faculty. This yearly event helps further my vision that cantors should help shape the synagogue repertoire for the next generation. On Sunday evening, March 13, we had a remarkable evening in the HUC-JIR chapel. The choir Essential Voices USA, conducted by my wife Judith Clurman, performed the music of Pulitzer Prize winning composer Shulamit Ran. The evening included two premieres of liturgical music commissioned by the DFSSM and an opportunity to hear Ms. Ran’s thoughts on the relationship of her music to the texts she set. We also heard about her childhood in Israel, when she studied under Paul Ben Haim.

We had a number of wonderful recitals this spring. (I told you about Josh Breitzer’s tribute to Jack Gottlieb last fall already.) Melanie Cooperman addressed the relationship of American popular music to the music of the synagogue. Cheryl Wunch explored the theme of love in a variety of genres of Jewish music. David Frommer examined how we can reintroduce the choral music of the 1950s and 1960s into a contemporary setting. Mary Thomas wrestled with what it means to be a post-modern sh’liach tsibur, and Jamie Marx experimented with new ways of framing traditional nusach, including the use of electric guitar!

We had a remarkably successful admissions season. Of nine candidates we accepted seven. One additional candidate received “not at this time” status and will be encouraged to reapply. The new entering class will boast four men and three women. They are all very talented and promise to add a lot to the school.

Finally, I want to thank all of you in the DFSSM Alumni Association who have willingly given of your time and passion to help build this group along with Adelle Nicholson and Joy Wasserman. Each of you is busy enough to have given the standard excuse of “no time.” Yet you have chosen to become involved. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Kol tuv, Bruce


Lee Coopersmith, Chair and Council of Alumni Associations Representative
Wendy Shermet, Vice Chair
Claire Franco, Immediate Past Chair

Leadership Team:
Dana Anesi, Council of Alumni Associations Immediate Past Chair, Board of Governors Representative
Elizabeth Sacks, Council of Alumni Associations Representative
Fredda Mendelson, Secretary

Programming Working Group:
Jacqueline Shuchat-Marx, Co-Chair
Gabi Arad, Co-Chair
Sandy Sherry Pilatsky
Jon Haddon
Marla Goldberg

Recruitment Working Group:
Ross Wolman, Co-Chair
David Reinwald, Co-Chair
David Berger
Aaron Kaplan

Outreach to Students Working Group:
Joanna Alexander, Co-Chair on leave
Elizabeth Sacks, Co-Chair
Fredda Mendelson
Sarah Zemel
Mia Fram Davidson

Alumni Day of Learning Working Group:
Ellen Sussman, Co-Chair
Lee Coopersmith
Wendy Autenrieth
Ellen Stettner

Honorary Doctorate Advisory Working Group:
Vicki Axe, Chair
Mark Elson
Michael Shochet

HUC-JIR Staff:
Bruce Ruben, DFSSM Director - Leadership Team and Recruitment Working Group
Benjie-Ellen Schiller, DFSSM Faculty - Honorary Doctorate Advisory Working Group
Deborah Abelson, National Director of Admissions and Recruitment - Recruitment Working Group
Joy Wasserman, National Director of Alumni Engagement
Adelle Nicholson, Coordinator


Our working groups welcome your involvement. There are many projects that we can do if we have your help, for example - we can enhance the DFSSM music library, we can organize more ShirFun events, we can increase our continuing education options, and the list goes on. Please consider serving the DFSSM Alumni Association. If you are interested, please contact coordinator Adelle Nicholson at 954-456-4312 or Here are some of the areas of our work:

• The Programming Working Group takes on projects to benefit the alumni. The PWG plans the alumni brunch at the ACC Convention, arranges opportunities for continuing alumni education and organizes ShirFun social events in our various regional areas.

• The Recruitment Working Group works very closely with the College-Institute. Admissions and Recruitment staff and the DFSSM Director attend our meetings. We brainstorm ideas and support the DFSSM and the College-Institute in recruitment efforts. We have recommended alumni as recruitment ambassadors and are creating an online manual to assist them in their work. We make presentations at URJ camps, Hava Nashira and other Jewish musical and Reform venues. Finally, we mentor prospective DFSSM students through the application process.

• The Outreach to Students Working Group serves the DFSSM and its students. This group reaches out to students in many different ways: events, letters, gifts, and other worthy projects that benefit the students and connect them to the Alumni Association.

• The Alumni Day of Learning Working Group plans the Alumni Day of Learning which is scheduled for November 2011. Stay tuned for more details!

• The Honorary Doctorate Working Group works with HUC-JIR staff to recommend alumni approaching their 25th year in the cantorate to the College-Institute’s Committee on Honors.

• The Nominations Working Group meets once every two years to make recommendations to the Executive for the positions of Chair and Vice-Chair.


In February, longtime DFSSM’s Artist-in-Residence Joyce Rosenzweig was honored at a Shabbat Shirah Concert at NY’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, where she serves as Musical Director. The concert honored Joyce for her many years of service to the CBST community and contributions to the world of Jewish music as teacher, performer, mentor, and advocate. Click here for further information about the concert. Click here for pictures and a video made by members of CBST about Joyce.


Looking for an old friend or lost classmate? You can find any HUC alum in the online directory. Simply go to Since the directory is password protected, please contact Adelle Nicholson at for the username and password.

Have you moved, changed jobs, married, or had children? Please check your contact data, to make sure that it is current and up to date.

© 2011 SJCE HUC-JIR - All Rights Reserved