TORONTO — As Shabbat Shirah (the Sabbath of Song) approaches this weekend, Cantor David Rosen wants the community to know that cantors are “much more than just the voice of the synagogue.”
Rosen – the president of the Toronto Council of Hazzanim, and cantor and director of youth education at Beth Radom Congregation – told The CJN that cantors want to have more of a presence in the community.
“Our roles have evolved over the years,” he said, citing pastoral visits, life cycle events and teaching, in partnership with congregational rabbis, in addition to cantors’ more traditional role as singers and prayer leaders.
This year, the approximately 30-member organization is planning its annual concert to raise funds for charity, in conjunction with Jewish day school choirs, he said. “We’re reaching out to all generations.” Many of his colleagues also do programs at day schools, perform at seniors homes and visit residents there, he added.
Part of that outreach is done by the council, and part of it comes about after Rosen or a colleague receives a request for help with a program.
“I think that music really has the power to transcend generations,” Rosen said. “I think we can access people through music, and give them an ‘in’ to Judaism…, whether seeing us at a concert or a community event, or seeing us onstage.
Another council project involves outreach to small communities, either in the form of concerts or by travelling there for a Shabbat, Rosen said. A few years ago, the council held a program in Sudbury, and a concert in London, Ont., is in the works for this spring.
The group has also participated in community Remembrance Day and Yom Hashoah services, and would like to become involved in more joint projects with the Toronto Board of Rabbis.
“We’re working on a Yom Iyun – a day of study – for rabbis and cantors, and possibly the public, either for Shavuot or before the High Holidays.”
Rosen, who was invested as a cantor by the School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2003, noted that the council is pluralistic and includes members from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox congregations.
“Our Orthodox colleagues will not sing at a concert with a woman cantor [because of prohibitions against hearing a woman sing], but will sit around the table with her,” he said.
“We try to be sensitive to both,” he added, explaining that the council strives to alternate men-only events with mixed ones.
Speaking generally, he said that cantors have been forced to reinvent themselves. The council tries to offer professional development to cantors in the field, to help hone and improve their skills, he said.
In addition to an expanded role for cantors outside of prayer services, things have changed in their role at services. Prayers have become “much more participatory,” Rosen said. “That’s shifted greatly over the last 20 years.