Honoring Excellence in Jewish Music

HUC-JIR is thrilled to announce the recipients of two awards made possible by the Dr. Jack Gottlieb Jewish Music Studies Endowment Fund, selected by a committee of staff and faculty from the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. This generous gift celebrates two composers, one an emerging talent in new Jewish music and another an accomplished composer over the age of 50. These awards, presented as end-of-year academic honors, highlight the exciting contributions of these individuals to Jewish creative expression.

Gerald Cohen Headshot

Celebrating a Career of Excellence: Cantor Gerald Cohen
This year’s recipient of the Dr. Jack Gottlieb Yovel Award for Jewish Music Composition is Cantor Gerald Cohen, a distinguished faculty member at HUC-JIR. The award is named to recall both Yuval, the Biblical figure credited with inventing musical instruments, and also Yovel, the climactic fiftieth year of the harvest cycle. Cantor Cohen’s remarkable ability to infuse modernism with deep emotional resonance has earned him widespread acclaim. His compositions, lauded for their “linguistic fluidity and melodic gift,” have captivated audiences and critics alike.

Cohen’s recent works include the world premiere of “they burn, the fires of the night: lamentations from the ashes,” a powerful composition based on the poetry of Menachem Rosensaft and presented in partnership with The Heller Museum and The Defiant Requiem Foundation at HUC-JIR’s New York Campus. His recognition with the Yovel Award underscores his significant impact on Jewish music, spotlighting his significant and enduring contributions.

Iris Karlin HeadshotCelebrating a New Compositional Voice: Cantor Iris Karlin
Cantor Iris Karlin ‘24, newly ordained at HUC-JIR’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, is the recipient of the Dr. Jack Gottlieb DFSSM Student Composer Prize for Yehudit, Cantor Karlin’s Capstone project, with Cantor Cohen serving as an advisor.

In Yehudit, the first modern Chazzanut Opera, Karlin retells the story of the Jewish heroine through a feminist lens, celebrating the heroic leadership of its titular character. Along with Cantor Cohen, Karlin was guided by mentors Dr. Wendy Zierler, Cantor Jonathan Comisar, and Dr. Gordon Dale. Karlin’s work boldly emphasizes the spiritual dimensions of women’s empowerment and of honoring the dignity of their own bodies.

Karlin’s dedication to her craft is evident in her multifaceted role as composer and librettist. Her thorough review of the academic literature on Yehudit ensured her opera was based on a deep understanding of the varying extant versions of the text. Further, she meticulously oversaw every aspect of the production, from costumes to casting, ensuring a cohesive and engaging narrative. Her efforts not only advance the field of Jewish music but also create a new cultural and spiritual experience for contemporary audiences.

A Testament to Cross-Generational Collaboration
The joint involvement of Cohen and Karlin in Yehudit showcases the collaborative spirit fostered at HUC-JIR as a moving example of l’dor v’dor. This partnership exemplifies the institution’s commitment to not only educating and training clergy, but also nurturing talent and fostering innovation beyond traditional Jewish leadership roles.

“Cantors Cohen and Karlin both exemplify a commitment to connecting our inherited tradition to critical questions of our time,” said Cantor Jill Abramson, Director of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. “Both composers make manifest the notion of ‘art as activism,’ infusing their musical creativity with a spirit of resilience.”

Celebrating Generosity and Creative Expression
The Dr. Jack Gottlieb Jewish Music Studies Endowment Fund plays a pivotal role in advancing Jewish music. By recognizing the achievements of both emerging and established composers, the Fund ensures the perpetuation of a rich musical heritage that resonates with contemporary and future generations.

HUC-JIR and the Director of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music are profoundly grateful for the generosity of the Dr. Jack Gottlieb Jewish Music Studies Endowment Fund and all who support and recognize the incomparable value of telling Jewish stories and traditions through music and art. Their contributions make it possible for talents like Cantors Iris Karlin and Gerald Cohen to thrive and innovate, enriching our cultural and spiritual lives through music.

In celebrating these achievements, we honor the past, enrich the present, and inspire the future of Jewish musical expression.