You might be wondering what a hazzanista is...well it comes from the Hebrew word "Hazzan"/"חזן" which in the Jewish tradition, is a trained singer and facilitator who leads the community in song and prayer. This person is also called a "cantor" in many synagogues in America. The root can denote a meaning of "superintendent" or "officer." Can you imagine if we called cantors officers? "I'm sorry, Officer. I will practice for my bar-mitzvah this week." It could really change things...
I like to think of myself as part cantor, part ninja (I once outran a guy who stole my phone in Queens), and part fashionista (this is not my innovation. Check out the old school cantors. They had some serious hats!). I hope you'll join me on this journey to explore music, Jewishness, and Jewish music, all of its tangents, and how we can harness our kick butt tradition to bring much needed light and joy into our lives and the whole world. We can look into each others eyes if we take the time to look up.
Much of what I do is similar to what a cantor does: leading services, tutoring students for their bar/bat-mitzvahs, and singing at weddings and funerals. However, we are now in a new age where Jewish communities are no longer isolated from each other and more people than ever have access to education and information.
I do much of this kind of work in my professional life because I love it, I am trained in it, and I simply can't help it no matter how hard I try. Over the past few decades, the role of the cantor has been questioned in American Jewish communities. Back in the old school days in the blip of peace era between the two World Wars in the Jewish mecca known as Brooklyn, a person could mosey over to the deli on a Friday afternoon for a hot pastrami sandwich, go home to wash the pastrami smell out of their hair, and then head on over to Sabbath services in the evening to hear one of the many great cantors of the Golden Age. Rosenblatt, Koussevitsky, Ganchoff...take your pick, they are all worth it.
So many cantors do incredible work. I would not at all be who I am today without my childhood cantor who taught me 90% of the traditional liturgy. Having trained musicians and community facilitators employed and present in Jewish spaces is vital to the survival of prayer as a living, breathing entity. If we acknowledge the importance of this, it will raise all of us to higher heights and wider wides.
But these days, who wants to sit in synagogue with their arms folded as the high maintenance tenor down in front belts out his woes about exile ( to be fair, the world is pretty wackadoo with problems at the moment and we are witness to many of them from our local, organic American exile...)? For once in history, we have the privilege and the freedom to explore what this could really be, and so many people are already doing it (you know who you are). Let us step up to the task of finding new ways to be close to each other and close to the Greatness. We want to be in the action, we want to reach out and touch what is on the screen as long as it won't cause us any black eyes. But one of the deepest ways we can be in it (to win it) is if we look at each other (not so long that it's awkward) and dive into the vulnerability of what it means to pray, to be seen, and to be authentic in community.
So join me on this unfolding adventure. It is a great one.
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