Celebrating Historic Firsts: Shani Ben-Or, First Person Ordained Simultaneously as Cantor and Rabbi in Progressive Community of Modern Israel, and First HUC Cantorial Ordination in Jerusalem

Shani BenOrIn a historic first, Hebrew Union College cantorial and rabbinical student Shani Ben-Or was the first person ordained simultaneously as a cantor and a rabbi in the progressive community of modern Israel, and the first cantor whose HUC ordination will take place in Jerusalem. Her dual ordination took place at HUC’s Taube Family Campus Ordination and Academic Convocation on Thursday, November 11, 2021 at Blaustein Hall at Merkaz Shimshon in Jerusalem.

“Over the years I have grown to understand that the place that I call home is also a symbol for many people, cultures and religions,” reflected Ben-Or. “Living in a place that so many people have feelings and opinions about can be frustrating. But it is also what makes Israel thrilling and inspiring to me. I have learned that in between ordinary life and romantic ideas there are endless opportunities for growth and change. The Israel that I know and love has enabled a melding of ideas, a blurring of the lines, a new Judaism that does not look exactly like the pioneers thought it would but is exciting nevertheless. My hope is that my dual ordination as a Cantor and Rabbi will help bring us closer to meeting our full potential as a city of hope, where tears turn into joy and dreams into song.”

Ben-Or grew up in Jerusalem, where her home congregation is Congregation Kol HaNeshama. She earned her M.A. in Jewish Pluralistic Studies from Ono Academic College and has taught in various batei midrash in Israel. She is an active member of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), both as a professional and lay leader. In 2013, she established T’lamim, a community of young Reform Jewish adults in Israel and led their minyan in Jerusalem. Together with Boaz Dorot, she is the co-founder of the Nigunim Ensemble, a pioneering ensemble that creates, arranges, and performs sacred music to accompany religious services throughout Israel. She has served in cantorial roles in Israel and around the world, including as the cantorial soloist of the United Jewish Congregation in Hong Kong and student cantor of Central Synagogue in New York.

Ben-Or aspires to establish a thriving liberal cantorate in Israel: one that is authentic and relevant to the multi-cultural climate of Israeli society, fluent in the musical treasures of Ashkenaz and Mizrachi Jewish traditions, and creates music for a variety of sacred spaces and occasions that are unique to eretz Yisrael.

Cantor Richard Cohn ‘92, Director of HUC’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, shares, “The remarkable thing about Shani Ben-Or’s course of study is that it has been fully integrative in multiple respects: cantorial and rabbinical, Israeli and North American in its approach to clergy formation, culturally Eastern and Western – musically and otherwise.  The result is that she is fully prepared to be a multi-cultural leader of our people.  From a cantorial perspective, her outstanding interpretive gifts will foster the spiritual growth of her communities and inspire ongoing transformation in the domain of public prayer.”

Rabbi Naamah Kelman ‘92, Dean of the Taube Family Campus of HUC in Jerusalem, writes, “Shani Ben-Or is a genuine product of our Israeli Reform Movement. She grew up in our school system in Jerusalem, singing at Congregation Kol HaNeshama, and leading our Noar Telem Youth. She later founded the Young Adult programs for the IMPJ. It has been a true pleasure and source of pride watching and supporting her growth toward the cantorate and rabbinate.”

Ben-Or was ordained together with rabbinical classmates Naomi Efrat, Rodrigo Baumworcel, Orli Moss, Amnon Ribak, and Dana Sharon. They bring the total number of Israeli rabbinical alumni to 121, as they join their rabbinical colleagues in building the Reform Movement’s synagogues, institutions, and communities throughout Israel. Click here to meet the Class of 2021 and learn more about Jerusalem Ordination and Academic Convocation.

Rabbi Talia Avnon Benveniste ‘09, Director of the Israel Rabbinical Program, writes, “Among our six new graduates who come from all walks of Israeli society, Shani Ben-Or’s ordination highlights the rooting of liberal Judaism among Israelis of all generations, as she was born and raised in a Reform congregation and is now becoming one of its outstanding leaders.”

HUC’s Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem is the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism in the State of Israel. It prepares Israeli rabbis, educators, and pastoral counselors who are building religious pluralism in the Jewish State; welcomes HUC’s North American rabbinical, cantorial, and education students for one year of study; offers Israel Seminars for its nonprofit management and graduate studies students; and invites the larger Israeli community to educational and cultural programs.