News and Appointments from the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music

The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music (DFSSM) is the internationally recognized center for the academic and professional study of Jewish music. It is poised for a new era of achievement, as it prepares inspiring cantorial leadership for communities throughout North America, Israel, and around the globe. President Andrew Rehfeld announced a transition of leadership for the 2022-23 academic year and new appointments that will advance the DFSSM’s mission and HUC-JIR’s strategic goals of educational excellence, strengthening the student experience.

In a transition of leadership for the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music (DFSSM) for the 2022-23 academic year, Cantor Richard Cohn will be refocusing his role, completing his term as DFSSM Director, and assuming the title of Senior Advisor as a part-time appointment effective July 1, 2022.  Cantor Cohn will be based in the Chicago area and continue to be active in several important DFSSM initiatives.
Cantor Jill Abramson, currently DFSSM Program Associate, will become Interim Director, leading the cantorial program in the 2022-23 academic year, effective July 1, 2022, and will be the first woman to head the DFSSM. Cantor Abramson brings a wealth of experience and expertise to this role, as a highly respected cantor and a seasoned leader with nearly a decade of impact on HUC’s New York campus.

Cantor Richard Cohn

Cantor Richard Cohn

Under Cantor Richard Cohn’s dedicated leadership over the past seven years, the DFSSM team’s academic accomplishments have been extensive, including ongoing curricular development; integrative learning, increased student creativity, and engagement of faculty members representing diverse disciplines and musical-liturgical styles; developing new courses emphasizing contrasting areas of repertoire, while innovating cantorial skills for contemporary worship; and diversifying the senior capstone research and performance platforms.
Important faculty and administrative advances have included restoring the tenure-track position in Musicology; establishing the Dr. Jack Gottlieb Jewish Music Studies Endowment Fund, including the appointment of its first Scholar, Dr. Gordon Dale; establishing Professor of Practice positions for leading members of the full-time faculty, Merri Lovinger Arian and Joyce Rosenzweig; and establishing a Program Associate position to deepen recruitment, curricular integration, and alumni engagement.

Alliance of the DFSSM in New York and cantorial studies in Jerusalem has been achieved through ongoing reinterpretation of the Year-in-Israel Program, including collaborative development of a Center for the Study of Sacred Music benefiting DFSSM cantorial students and Israeli rabbinical students, and curating the educational program of the first Israeli cantorial-rabbinical student to be simultaneously ordained in both vocations.

DFSSM students have benefited from the restructuring of student advisement and mentorship; providing experiential learning for students in spiritual practice, collaboratively with the New York campus faculty t’fillah team; building on the clergy-formation partnership between cantorial and rabbinical education; innovating online education, communal worship, and DFSSM programmatic presentations for the Covid-19 pandemic environment; and strengthening the close bond between the DFSSM and the American Conference of Cantors.

Rabbi David Adelson, Dean of HUC-JIR/New York stated, “There will be no way to thank Cantor Richard Cohn sufficiently for his leadership. He worked tirelessly, with rigor and compassion, on behalf of his students. He advanced his vision of integrating both musical liturgical modalities and the many roles of the cantor. I will miss working closely with him, but am so grateful that Cantor Cohn will be supporting Cantor Jill Abramson to make a smooth transition into leadership.”

Cantor Richard Cohn said, “The students and faculty of the DFSSM are its lifeblood, and their engagement with one another during these seven years has given rise to one inspirational highpoint after the next.  I have been privileged to witness ever-present growth and transformation, which has been a great blessing.  As the program continues next year under Cantor Jill Abramson’s able guidance, I am confident that HUC’s leadership in the fields of spiritual artistry and clergy formation will continue to sustain an innovative and heartfelt progressive cantorate.”

Jill Abramson

Cantor Jill Abramson

Cantor Jill Abramson has been appointed Interim Director of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, effective July 1, 2022, after serving as Program Associate since August 1, 2019. Cantor Abramson succeeds Cantor Richard Cohn, who served as DFSSM Director since July 1, 2015, and will be the first woman to head the DFSSM.

Cantor Jill Abramson stated, “I am honored to follow in the footsteps of Cantor Richard Cohn, whose spirit and tenacity have strengthened our profession and elevated our craft. As we continue forward, I am passionate about a cantorate that energizes contemporary Jewish life, centers a commitment to justice, and interconnects music, text, and community in relationship to an Eternal Source.”

Cantor Abramson offers outstanding gifts and extensive experience to the DFSSM. In her current position of DFSSM Program Associate, she has focused on the areas of curriculum integration, recruitment and admissions, public outreach, and alumni mobilization, and collaborated with Cantor Cohn on aspects of student support and departmental administration. She served as an instructor for Senior Seminar and co-faculty for Contemplative Prayer Practice in the First-Year Program. She also serves as a cantorial coach and recital advisor to the students on the New York campus.

Ordained at HUC-JIR in 2002, Cantor Abramson serves as the sole clergy leader of Congregation Shir Ami of Greenwich, CT, after completing 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. In addition, combining her love of youth work and the outdoors, Cantor Abramson spent several years as Assistant Director of Shwayder Camp in the Colorado Rockies.

Cantor Abramson holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Grinnell College and brings a strong international commitment to her social justice work, having 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 conceived an Israeli and Arab teenage choir as part of the international peace program, Building Bridges for Peace. In her cantorate she has been a passionate teacher, with specializations in the intersection of the arts and Jewish life, and in women’s leadership and learning. She has published articles on “Wrestling with the Gender Politics in Mi Sheberach,” in Lilith in 2018 and “Why I Care About Climate Justice” in Westchester Jewish Life in 2017. She has also lectured at Garrett Theological Seminary and Chicago Theological Seminary.

In New York, Cantor Abramson has sung at Merkin Concert Hall and with the Canadian Chamber Orchestra of New York. She has been the Hebrew Coach for the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Ravinia Festival’s performances of Bernstein’s “Kaddish Symphony” and Schoenberg’s “Survivor From Warsaw.” She has served as a member of the Editorial Board of Transcontinental Music Publication’s recordings NFTY Ruach Compact Disc and Manginot Vol. II, and a featured soloist on its recordings of Shabbat Anthology Volume I and Shirei Tshuvah: Songs of Repentance, for the Days of Awe. She has also been a member of the faculty of the Hava Nashirah, National Songleader Program.

Dr. Gordon Dale; Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D. '93, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost; President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.

Dr. Gordon Dale; Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D. ’93, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost; President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.

Dr. Gordon Dale has been appointed the Inaugural Dr. Jack Gottlieb Scholar in Jewish Music Studies, a three-year appointment, effective July 1, 2022, made possible by a generous grant from the Theophilous Foundation, represented by Cantor Josh Breitzer ’11, which created the Dr. Jack Gottlieb Jewish Music Studies Endowment Fund at HUC-JIR. Concurrently, Dr. Dale has been appointed Assistant Professor of Jewish Musicology following an international search for this position, effective July 1, 2022.

President Rehfeld stated, “During Dr. Dale’s time at the College-Institute, he has distinguished himself as a scholar of Jewish musicology and a dedicated teacher who is committed to supporting HUC students and their maturation as cantors. As the inaugural Dr. Jack Gottlieb Scholar in Jewish Music Studies, he will carry forward and honor the legacy and music of Dr. Gottlieb.”

As the Dr. Jack Gottlieb Scholar in Jewish Music Studies, Dr. Dale will continue to serve a central role in the supervision of research projects of students in the cantorial program, along with the creative and performative elements emanating from those projects, as well as taking the lead on broader music scholarship at the College-Institute. Through this work, he will encourage the study and performance of the music of Dr. Jack Gottlieb, z”l, (1930-2011) by the next generation of cantors and Jewish musicians and foster an understanding of and support for renewing and extending the Jewish repertoire in the spirit of the Theophilous Foundation’s commitment to the commissioning of “serious and innovative music for synagogues.”

The DFSSM is recognized as the primary center of Jewish liturgical practice engaged with the renewal and integration of works within the contemporary environment of public worship. This mission uniquely positions the DFSSM to house Dr. Gottlieb’s compositions and writings, make them accessible to all for study and interpretation, and ensure that Dr. Gottlieb’s music is performed in perpetuity, while encouraging faculty and students to be actively engaged in the composition of new Jewish music that honors his lifetime achievements.
The Dr. Jack Gottlieb Jewish Music Studies Endowment Fund supports the teaching, research, and publications of the Dr. Jack Gottlieb Scholar in Jewish Music; provides annual support and recognition for composers over the age of 50; and presents an annual award to a composer of new Jewish worship music. It thus furthers Dr. Gottlieb’s principles and tangible work in the foreground of Jewish music worldwide and sustains Dr. Gottlieb’s acclaimed legacy.

Dr. Dale has most recently conducted extensive research in the Hasidic communities of New York and Israel, and lectures across the United States on topics related to Israeli popular music, and Jewish music and mysticism. Dr. Dale is currently the Executive Director of The Jewish Music Forum, a project of the American Society for Jewish Music, and is a past president of the Society for Ethnomusicology’s Special Interest Group for Jewish Music. He holds a Ph.D. from The Graduate Center, CUNY, an M.A. from Tufts University, and a B.S. from Northeastern University.

Merri Lovinger

Merri Lovinger

Merri Lovinger Arian has been appointed Professor of Practice in Liturgical Arts and Music Education.

“Serving HUC-JIR since 1989, first as an adjunct instructor, then as a consultant in liturgical arts, and since 2010 as a full-time member of the faculty, Professor Merri Lovinger Arian’s qualifications in the craft of meaningful worship, Jewish music education, communal singing, song leading, and visioning for progressive Jewish communities are unparalleled,” stated President Rehfeld.

Among her many accomplishments are her decades of work in synagogue transformation as Director of Music and Director of Programs for Synagogue 2000/3000, led by Professor Emeritus Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman; serving on the faculty of Hava Nashira, the Reform Movement’s Jewish worship and music conference; Head of Faculty for Shabbat Shira at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute; and Director of Choral Music and faculty member at URJ Kutz Camp. She has not only mentored and influenced an entire generation of Jewish professionals and laity, she has been the architect or co-architect of essential courses at the DFSSM as well as teaching the foundational course in Conducting and formerly serving as an instructor in Guitar.

She has elevated communal worship by supervising rabbinical and cantorial collaborative partnerships in leading t’fillah, co-coordinating the Worship Working Group on this campus, co-coordinating the four-campus T’fillah Think Tank with Provost Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D., and coordinating ten years of annual Yahrzeit commemorations for her beloved friend, Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory.  From sitting on the DFSSM Admissions Committee to planning the annual New York campus Kallah, from conducting the URJ Biennial Choir to her involvement with the American Jewish Choral Festival and Wexner Foundation’s Heritage Program, her impact has been felt far and wide.

In addition to her 2018 book, Leveling the Praying Field: Methods and Melodies to Elevate Congregational Worship (Transcontinental Music Publications), the leading treatise in this area of study, her numerous publications, recordings, chavura leadership, and guidance to clergy teams throughout the East Coast have transformed Jewish music and worship.


Joyce Rosenzweig

Joyce Rosenzweig has been appointed Professor of Practice in Jewish Music and Performance.
President Rehfeld stated, “Professor Rosenzweig is currently the preeminent pianist and coach-accompanist in the interpretation of Jewish cantorial music, art song, and music for Jewish worship. Having served on the HUC-JIR faculty for over thirty years, she has been in the forefront of cantorial education for an entire generation of DFSSM students.”

She teaches HUC courses in modal harmony and Yiddish, Israeli, and Sephardic song repertoire, and she is the central artist in our instrumental ensemble for t’fillah on campus, advocating for and interpreting music across a spectrum from the most traditional to the latest contemporary compositions for communal singing.

Professor Rosenzweig is also conductor of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music Choral Ensemble, serves as academic advisor for individual cantorial students, and sits on the DFSSM Admissions Committee. Joyce has been the Music Director of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in Manhattan since 1994 and has also been an Adjunct Pprofessor and the Lippitz Mentor in the Sacred Arts at the Jewish Theological Seminary since 2004.

She is a sought-after master class presenter, lecturer, coach, arranger, and authority on Jewish art and synagogue music, and has collaborated in concert with leading cantors throughout the past three decades. She has been featured at the International Jewish Music Festival (Amsterdam), the Jewish Cultural Festival (Berlin), the Ashkenaz Festival (Toronto), the Chicago and Charlotte Yiddish Institutes, Klezkamp, the North American Jewish Choral Festival, URJ Biennials, and at annual cantorial conventions for both the Reform and Conservative movements.
Professor Rosenzweig’s concert tours have taken her around the world, to all the major concert halls of New York, and she has performed in recitals throughout North America under the sponsorship of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. She has collaborated in recital with ensembles from the New York Philharmonic and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and she has appeared as guest soloist with the New Orleans Philharmonic and the Texas Festival Orchestra. She has commissioned and premiered over a hundred new compositions and can be heard as pianist on numerous recordings. Joyce is an artist of international significance and a mentoring presence to everyone within her circles of influence.