David Epstein

Cantorial Student

David Epstein

Please tell us about your Jewish journey and your journey to HUC-JIR.
Although I grew up in a Reform Jewish household, I was never all that interested in religion. From a young age, I was very involved in musical theatre, which inspired my interest in music. I graduated with a degree in Theatre Arts, with a concentration in Theatre Performance and a Musical Theatre minor from Marymount Manhattan College. After completing my degree, I pursued a career in theatre and acting, while bartending and serving tables across New York City. After a while, I became disenchanted with the life I was leading. I realized I had spent so much time studying the art of becoming other people and had spent almost no time at all learning how to be myself. I was searching for a path that was more personally meaningful and fulfilling. It was around this time that I found myself, almost accidentally, at an HUC-JIR open house in 2019. I became intrigued by the prospect of a career that was also a lifestyle and furthermore one that was connected to community, spirituality, and music. That experience really opened me up to exploring Judaism and I subsequently found myself attending services of different denominations across the NY area with the intent of “taking it all in.” I applied to HUC-JIR a little over a year later.

Please tell us about any extracurriculars/projects you are participating in.
In addition to my courses, I currently serve as the Student Cantor for Temple Beth Jacob in Newburgh, NY; B’nei Mitzvah Tutor at Central Synagogue; and teach 4th grade Judaica at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue.

What is your favorite part of being a student at the DFSSM?
Aside from being able to collaborate with so many wonderful musicians and artists, I really love the practicality of many of our classes. I am currently taking a course called “Shabbat Integrative Seminar,” which not only focuses on the expression of Jewish prayer as a cantorial presence, but also the spaces in-between. We are taught how to seamlessly transition between different musical genres and sections of Shabbat liturgy with intentionality and thoughtfulness. This is a skillset that I am actively applying to my work as a Student Cantor.

How do you feel your Year-In-Israel prepared you for the rest of your studies? What is one memorable experience from your year?
During my Year-In-Israel, I was exposed to a wide variety of Jewish cultural and prayer practices. I developed a broader understanding of what Jewish life looks like outside of a strictly North American context. The Year-In-Israel allowed me to imagine what I want Judaism to look like in my own day-to-day life. The experience prepared me to continue my studies by allowing me to set the foundation for a personal spiritual practice and helped me to define what it means to be a Reform Jew today.

One memorable experience was attending a Simchat Torah service led by Nava Tehila in Jerusalem. The service was held outdoors in a park with incredible music, dancing, and teachings. It was a very special day.

Describe HUC-JIR in one word.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time, I enjoy songwriting, gardening, yoga, and taking long walks in Central Park with my lovely girlfriend, Rebecca (an HUC-JIR rabbinical student).