The College-Institute notes with tremendous sadness the untimely death of Cantor Leah Elstein, who, in her short time on this earth, had an impact beyond her years. Her unique combination of joy, whimsy, honesty, insight, intellect and a capacity to establish and nourish enduring and deep relationships, allowed her to touch the lives of colleagues, congregants and friends alike. As one of her friends in our Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education put it so beautifully, “She was the music of our cohort. Her musical soul and creativity nourished all our souls.”
Cantor Elstein was a 2010 graduate of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music and a member of Cohort 5 of the Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education. Just a few weeks ago, for Tu B’Shevat, she shared this adaptation of a poem by Arthur Waskow that underscored her love of learning and HUC-JIR:
We students breathe and our teachers breathe
We breathe in
what our teachers breathe out.
So we breathe each other into existence
And the breath…
goes in a cycle.
May God console Cantor Elstein’s husband Jacob; her daughter, Sara Rose; her mother, Susan Ingerham; and her sister, Mara Ingerham, along with her mourning synagogue community, and all those who mourn in Zion and Jerusalem. May her memory always be a blessing.
Jacob Elstein has asked that donations in Leah’s memory be made to a college fund for their two-year-old daughter, Sara. Please click here to donate.
About Cantor Leah Elstein, z"l
Cantor Leah Elstein was Religious Education Director at Temple Beth El in Tacoma, WA. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, where she discovered her love of Jewish music singing in her home temple's choirs. She was a long-time camper and counselor at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, the Reform summer camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. In college, she continued to hone her voice and guitar skills, earning a BA in Music.
After college, Cantor Elstein devoted herself to teaching and social action as a member of the Teach for America corps in Greenville, Mississippi. She taught high school general music and choir. She also earned a Masters Degree in Music Education from Delta State University. Following Teach for America, Cantor Elstein taught middle school music and choir at a private school in Chicago, where she was also a soloist, music teacher, and youth group advisor at her childhood congregation.
Having decided to devote her career to Jewish music and the Jewish community, she entered cantorial school at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She served as a student cantor at Reform Congregation Oheb Sholom in Reading, Pennsylvania, and Moses Montefiore Congregation in Bloomington, Illinois. She wrote her cantorial thesis on Salomon Sulzer, one of the great Jewish composers of the nineteenth century. She earned her Masters of Sacred Music in 2009, and was invested as a cantor in May 2010. Cantor Elstein joined Temple Beth El as the new cantor-educator in July 2010.