Cantorial Certification Students Reflect on their Summer Semester in Jerusalem

Monday, September 22, 2014


Facing Mt. Zion, Cantorial Certification and Year-In-Israel students participate in a moving opening ceremony as part of their Orientation program

“Each moment I am in Israel is a blessing and a gift,” says Laurie Weinstein, a first-year Cantorial Certification student at HUC-JIR.  She and ten other Cantorial Certification students were pioneers this summer – participating in the first-ever seven-week summer semester at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem, studying side by side with first-year rabbinical, cantorial, and education students embarking on their Year-In-Israel program. Their learning took place not only in the classroom, but in the midst of real life as the Israel-Gaza conflict erupted just as they arrived on campus.

As Cantorial Soloists already serving synagogues throughout North America, they came to Israel to pursue their dreams of becoming fully accredited cantors.  The Israel semester was a core component of HUC-JIR’s Cantorial Certification program – an executive learning program that combines on-site and distance learning.

Kabbalat Shabbat at the Tachana (Old Train Station) in Tel Aviv

Leaving their jobs and, in some cases, their families for those seven weeks was not without its challenges.  When one added this summer’s matzav (the “situation” of the conflict), the stakes were even higher.  These experiences called the students to reflect on their relationship to the land and the people of Israel in ways they could not have anticipated.

Lori Shapiro, a third-year student, noted, “Initially, I connected to Israel because that is where the Bible ‘happened.’ Although I still marvel at the wonder of seeing these historical places, I have come to feel a connection to Israel as my people.”  After experiencing only 2 or 3 of the “red alert” sirens in Jerusalem, she added, “I say ‘I stand with Israel,’ but what does this mean? I stand with Israel but only in the safest of places? It is something I wrestle with on a daily basis.”

Adam Kahan, a first-year student, reflected on his day-to-day conversations with Israelis: “Tourism took a big hit, for sure, and the gratitude shown for those of us here was really unnecessary but lovely. How often do we thank people for the support they show just by being in our worlds? I have to be better about identifying those opportunities for acknowledgment and gratitude in my own world. The lessons kept piling up in Israel.” 

Cantorial Certification students at the end of their last Shabbat together overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem

While in the classroom, the students studied Hebrew, Biblical History, and Modern Israel in Song.  Sheera Ben David, who was in Jerusalem with her two young children, commented, “It is a gift to be with such committed and loving people, to be taught by such generous teachers and clergy.”  Paula Baruch concurred, “I cannot say enough about the quality of the Hebrew language teachers. Through decades of acculturating new immigrants to Israel, the system of teaching immersion modern Hebrew, called ulpan, is remarkable.” 

In addition to five-to-seven hours of classes each day, the students participated in weekly field trips and guest lectures. They also enjoyed spending time in communities around Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Tiberias, and Safed.

Having returned stateside, the Cantorial Certification students are continuing their studies in this four-year, part-time, part-distance,  intensive curriculum.  They travel to the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music in New York three times each year for intensive kallot/conferences, take part in weekly live online classes, and are coached by cantors in the field. The rigorous program requires true commitment, as they participate in hours of learning and assignments each week while continuing to work professionally in their communities while sustaining familes too. 

To meet the eleven Cantorial Certification students, Sarene Appelbaum, Paula Baruch, Sheera Ben David, Adam Davis, Alisa Fineman, Adam Kahan, Rachel Gottlieb Kalmowitz, Neil Michaels, Rachel Reef-Simpson, Lori Shapiro, and Laurie Weinstein, please click here.

For more information about this innovative program, or to find out how your Cantorial Soloist can study to become a Cantor while maintaining his or her role in your synagogue, please visit our website or contact Cantor Ellen Dreskin, Program Coordinator, at edreskin@huc.edu.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu