HUC-JIR faculty, including Cantor Bruce Ruben, Director of the School of Sacred Music, Cantors Josee Wolff, Eli Schleifer, Yvon Shore, and Joyce Rosenzweig, attended the opening of the Abraham Geiger Kolleg's cantorial school September 12-14, 2008. Geiger Cantorial Director Mimi Sheffer organized a series of concerts and classes throughout the weekend.
Cantor Ruben sang Shacharit service at the historic Rykestrasse Synagogue and performed at the Sunday evening concert in honor of the occasion. Cantors Wolff, Shore, and Schleifer taught master classes and performed with Joyce Rosenzweig in the Sunday concert.
(JICA opening weekend: Professor Eliyahu Schleifer and Cantor Dr. Bruce Ruben of HUC-JIR, with all participating cantors)
(Cantor Josee Wolff, Director of Student Placement at HUC-JIR, at the farewell concert)
(Sunday Farewell Concert ensemble.)
Read Cantor Ruben's speech below.
This concert marks an historical moment, the founding of what is likely the first cantorial school in Germany since the Shoa decimated European Jewry. The presence of prominent American Reform cantors, as well as the director of the Reform Movement's cantorial school, and the director emeritus of the Jerusalem branch of the SSM emphasizes the profound symbiotic ties between German Jewry and America.
In the Mid-Nineteenth century German Jewry, caught between the Enlightenment's promise of Emancipation and the reality of second-class status and legal disabilities, tried to prove it could be modern, middle class, yet remain faithful to the essence of its faith in the hope of earning citizenship. One of the fruits of that effort was the creation of Reform Judaism. Among its innovators were great cantors/musicians - Salomon Sulzer in Vienna, whose music combine nusach and Viennese Romanticism to unify a polarized community, Samuel Naumbourg in Paris, who merge ancient chant with French operatic style, and Louis Lewandowski in Berlin, whose melodies suffused the liturgy with Mendelsohnian harmonies. Each, in their own way, contributed to the process of Reform, bridging tradition and modernity. Many others followed in their footsteps.
Some German Jews grew impatient as decade after decade of the Nineteenth Century brought no citizenship, and they immigrated to America as a substitute for Emancipation. In the free climate of the United States, the Reform traditions they had brought with them flourished and found remarkable fulfillment. The music of Sulzer and Lewandowski, as well as other composers from German countries, inspired Reform services. The cantors that served American Reform synagogues in the early 20th century, often came from Europe.
In the years leading up to the Holocaust many important Jewish musicians and cantors fled to America and greatly enriched American synagogue music. Among them were Heinrich Schalit, Hugo and Samuel Adler, Herbert Fromm, Max Janowski and cantors Kurt Silbermann, and Friedrich Lechner. After the tragedy was over, the European source for American cantors was gone. Facing this reality, leaders such as Dr. Eric Werner, convinced HUC-JIR to open a cantorial school in 1948. In the sixty years since the School of Sacred Music has been open, vast changes have occurred in American Synagogue music. There is now an eclectic mix of popular, choral and traditional chant in many congregations representing a new American style. This American popular style is finding its way into communities in Israel and even in Europe. The American cantorate has evolved in important ways as well. No longer the synagogue musician only, the modern cantor is a co-clergy with the rabbi, teaching, counseling giving solace, and sharing moments of joy with their. congregants.
Now, as you begin your school, we find that you are looking to us for models of cantorial education and of professional development. The symbiosis between our two worlds continues. It is inspiring to be here, in the cradle of Reform Jewry, and the source for some of the its most beautiful music, to support a new beginning for the Reform cantorate on German soil. May this school produce cantors, deeply grounded in Nusach, the great choral traditions and contemporary styles, but also imbued with a knowledge of Jewish tradition and texts - - a love of Israel and of the Hebrew language. We will watch your growth with pride and will support you in your efforts.
May God bless the efforts of your director Mimi Sheffer and Rabbi Dr. Walter Homolka, Rosh Yeshiva of the Abraham Geiger College. May you go from strength to strength. Amen.