Cantor Jill Abramson’s Installation as the Director of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music
October 12, 2023
New York – Cantor Jill Abramson, a religious leader who has drawn upon the power of music to inspire people to engage in social justice, was today installed as the Director of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music (DFSSM) of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).
Cantor Abramson ’02, who had served as the Interim Director of the DFSSM since July 2022, was installed in a ceremony at the Reform seminary’s New York City campus. She is the first woman to lead the school, which, since 1948, has trained cantors for service to the Jewish community.
The installation had long been planned, and while the accompanying celebration was delayed in recognition of and in solidarity with the crisis in Israel, the ceremony proceeded in a room filled with love, spirit, and support. During a devastating week of war, the installation ceremony coupled with student-led tefillah was joined by hundreds of guests both in-person and on Zoom, as an affirmation of commitment to a better future.
“We are so fortunate to have found a gifted leader, educator, mentor, and friend to lead our school at this moment of transformation. Cantor Jill Abramson’s impressive career exemplifies a deeply engaged cantorate, a cantorate drawing on the power of music to inspire and motivate our responses to the pressing challenges of our day, a cantorate simultaneously steeped in the wisdom of our tradition and actively seeking out innovation. As Director, Cantor Abramson will be pivotal in guiding a next generation of scholars and students to study, create, experience, and apply the wisdom of Sacred Music through liturgy and worship, Torah and mentorship, to inspire and comfort our communities.”
– HUC-JIR President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.
In her role as Director of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, Cantor Abramson is driven to support students as they prepare for careers as inspiring cantors in the pursuit of justice, to strengthen a curriculum that focuses on both music of the past generations and contemporary musical expressions, and to continue to attract exceptional faculty who are leading practitioners in the field. She will build on the curriculum to make it more nimble and infused with a system-wide cantorial consciousness.
“Now, more than ever, our world needs HUC-JIR ordained cantors and rabbis who feel called to serve God and the Jewish people and are committed to dedicating their lives to the flourishing of a dynamic, vibrant — and we pray safe and peaceful — Jewish world. Today we celebrate the start of an exciting new chapter with Cantor Jill Abramson as our Director.”
– Provost Rabbi Andrea Weiss ‘93
Cantor Abramson has a long history of serving the Jewish community and supporting social justice. Ordained at HUC-JIR in 2002, she served a twelve-year term as Senior Cantor of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY. She previously served for five years at Congregation Sukkat Shalom in suburban Chicago, IL, where she was also Director of Education, and as the sole clergy leader at Congregation Shir Ami in Greenwich, CT. Her career also includes spending several years as Assistant Director of Shwayder Camp in the Colorado Rockies. In her cantorate, she has been a passionate teacher who has specialized in the intersection of the arts and Jewish life, and in women’s leadership and learning.
Originally from Minnesota, Cantor Abramson holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Grinnell College, where she developed a strong international commitment to her social justice work. She has lived in Cameroon, West Africa, advocated for human rights in the Dominican Republic with American Jewish World Service, taught English with Global Volunteers in Indonesia, and created an Israeli and Arab teenage choir as part of the international peace program, Building Bridges for Peace.
“Ibn Ezra teaches that uvacharta bachayim lemaan tichyeh – “Choose life, that you may live,” (Deuteronomy 30:19) really means, kihachayim hem l’ahava. Life is to love. Cantor Abramson – you already chose that. You chose a life of service to the Jewish people and all people, a life of labor devoted to the craft of exquisitely rendered expression of the human spirit through music, of liturgy which reveals the heights and depths of human experience. You chose a life immersed in Torah, and through all of this, your career and your life have affirmed the possibility of such a life of love.”
– Rabbi David Adelson ’99, D.Min. ’16, Dean of the New York Campus
David Edelson, Chair of HUC-JIR’s Board of Governors; Cantor Seth Warner ’01, President of the American Conference of Cantors (ACC); and Cantor Claire Franco ’96, Immediate Past President of the ACC, were among the honored participants and were joined by cantors who had come from all over the country to attend. The faculty surprised Cantor Abramson by offering Cantor Lawrence Avery’s setting of Shiru L’Adonai.
The wider Jewish community has also benefited from Cantor Abramson’s musical talents. In New York, Cantor Abramson has sung at Merkin Concert Hall and with the Canadian Chamber Orchestra of New York. She is a featured soloist on Shirei Teshuvah, a collection of music for the Days of Awe. Cantor Abramson has also served as Hebrew coach to the Chicago Symphony Chorus.
“I am honored to take on the leadership of this historic institution. As we build on our rich legacy, I envision a cantorate that interweaves music with the pursuit of justice, preparing cantors who are not only fluent in the critical issues of our day, but also eager to address these challenges through their work. Together we will create a resonant soundscape that grounds Jewish responses to the pressing questions of our time.”
– Cantor Jill Abramson ’02
Please join us in welcoming and congratulating Cantor Abramson on this next step in her outstanding career. We are thrilled and privileged to have her in this role.
L-R: President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., third-year cantorial student Leslie Goldberg, Cantor Jill Abramson, Provost Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D., fourth-year rabbinical student Hannah Ellenson, Dean Rabbi David Adelson, D.Min. Leslie and Hannah were the student Tefillah leaders.
Cantor Jill Abramson and husband, Rabbi Jonathan Malamy, honored with an Aliyah. Fourth-year cantorial student Lauren Blasband-Roth (MEdL ’23) is the Torah reader.
President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., Cantor Jill Abramson, Lisa Messinger
Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music alumni from 1957 through today joined the ceremony
Cantor Abramson and Rabbi Malamy and guests were surprised by Cantor Lawrence Avery’s setting of Shiru L’Adonai offered by the faculty.
DFSSM student choir
Cantor Jill Abramson being blessed by Cantor Benjie Ellen-Schiller, Cantor Richard Cohn, President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., Dean Rabbi David Adelson, D.Min., and Provost Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D.
Cantor Jill Abramson and Dean Rabbi David Adelson, D.Min.
Cantor Josh Breitzer ’11, Adjunct Instructor and Coach
Faculty members Cantor Irena Altshul ’03, Cantor Robert Abelson ’57, and Cantor Jack Mendelson ’70
Cantor Abramson and her family
DFSSM alumni and Tefillah leaders led the room in song.
Dean Rabbi David Adelson, D.Min., Cantor Jill Abramson, Cantor Richard Cohn, Rabbi Lisa Grant, Ph.D., Director of the New York Rabbinical Program
Cantor Jordan Goldstein ’23 and Cantor Emma Maier ‘23 with Cantor Jill Abramson
Cantor Jill Abramson, Cantor Sara Anderson ’22, Cantor Sam Rosen ‘22
Cantor Erin Frankel ’03 Adjunct Instructor, Cantor Jill Abramson, Cantor Seth Warner ’01, Cantor Joshua Breitzer
Cantor Emma Maier ’23 and Cantor Emily Hoolihan Short ’23
Student T’fillah leaders third-year cantorial student Leslie Goldberg and fourth-year rabbinical student Hannah Ellenson with Cantor Jill Abramson