HAMILTON — Rebecca Moses is the new cantor-educator for Hamilton’s Temple Anshe Sholom.
Invested as a cantor this past May, she has also taught children in various capacities for much of her adult life, so she is well prepared to take on her two new roles.
Moses grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and prides herself on being a seventh-generation Jewish Texan. There aren’t many of them.
Her home congregation in San Antonio, which is about 150 years old, had never had a cantor in its entire history up until last year when Moses got the position.
She is the daughter of two hippies, she said. Her father was a research scientist and her mother was an English teacher. When at age 15 she made the decision to become a cantor, her parents weren’t sure what to make of it. It was her form of rebellion.
The catalyst came when her synagogue brought in a guest cantor for the Shabbat of Songs, when she was 15. She had never heard a cantor sing, and it awakened a longing in her. “This woman got to do everything that I was learning how to love… sing at the synagogue, teach, study, meet new people, and get to do it all in a Jewish context,” she said.
To enter cantorial school, Moses needed an undergraduate degree, which she started at the University of North Texas. However, she ended up returning to San Antonio and her job at Magik Children’s Theatre, a professional theatre company that puts on 10 to 20 children’s plays a year.
During the next three years, Moses continued her studies at the University of Missouri, Kansas City Conservatory of Music, completing a bachelor of music in vocal performance.
In 2004, she and her fiancé, Aaron, moved to Jerusalem, where she began her five-year voyage to become a cantor. She spent the first year in cantorial, rabbinic and education programs at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. Then the couple moved back to New York, where she continued her studies for the next four years. She was invested as a cantor in 2009. “I got to study with unbelievable professors, my classmates and I are really close, and I had a fabulous time learning all the things that I’d always wanted to learn,” she said.
She held three part-time student internship positions as a cantor: at Union Temple in Brooklyn, N.Y., for two years; in Stanford, Conn., for one year; and Pittsfield, Mass., for two years.
Moses vividly remembers her first experience as a cantorial soloist when she was 17. She was performing at an adult bat mitzvah and was nervous for the first 10 minutes. But when she looked out at the congregation, she realized that “they wanted me to be there, they wanted to listen, they wanted to sing along, they wanted that music,” she said.
As she learned more about the liturgy and understood more about what she was saying, Moses reached a point when she stopped just singing and started leading prayers. It was a magical turning point for her. She said she appreciated how different this experience was from performing as a character on a stage. Being a cantor let her have the best parts of her “former life” as an actress in musical theatre without having the negative aspects of being in the professional theatre world, she said. She feels lucky to have found her niche in life. Even if she’s had a bad week when everything has gone wrong, singing on Shabbat with the community makes everything right again, she said.