by Cantor Lorna Wallach
In the midst of this period of counting that we’re in on the Jewish calendar (the seven weeks from Pesach to Shavuot), I have reached a personal milestone this month as I mark 30 years since my graduation from the Cantorial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary. JTS began ordaining female cantors in 1987, and with four women in my graduating class of 1991, I was one of the first ten women to be invested as a Hazzan in the Conservative movement and to be granted membership in the Cantors Assembly (founded as the professional organization of Conservative Cantors, which now also includes Cantors serving congregations in other movements) when they first started accepting women in 1990.
Growing up without female role models in leadership positions in my family’s traditional, non-egalitarian synagogue, it was a process for me to come to realize that my voice as a Conservative Jewish woman mattered. As a “pioneer” in the Cantorate because I’m a woman, I have had to navigate a great deal of uncharted territory. While on my journey to become and serve as a Cantor, I did face obstacles such as gender discrimination and resistance to change, but I have also been blessed to find great support and encouragement from teachers at JTS, many male cantorial colleagues, the Rabbis with whom I have shared the pulpit, my family, and especially from the members of this congregations and other synagogues where I have worked (a special shout out of gratitude to all of you throughout my 22 years at CBI!). My own life’s journey has certainly sensitized me to have a greater appreciation that everyone has their own story and each of our stories are valuable and meaningful.
The recent initiative at CBI to focus on making a greater commitment to embrace diversity and to make our congregation a place where everyone feels welcome and included is an important and exciting opportunity. A community is made up of many different opinions and perspectives, and we at CBI want to acknowledge and celebrate our diversity and empower each of our members to feel that your voice matters and your viewpoint is valid.
As clergy, it is a privilege and a joy to teach and share knowledge and also to gain knowledge and insights from students (of all ages!) in the process. For many years, CBI has had a model of encouraging all of us to learn from one another – we have congregants teaching Adult Education classes, leading Journeyers minyan, and delivering Divrei Torah on Shabbat and at committee meetings. Our Tikkun Leil Shavuot has also been an occasion for studying and learning together. This is certainly reflected in the theme that Rabbi Isenberg and I chose for this year’s Tikkun, “Shivim Panim L’Torah” (Seventy Faces of Torah). There are so many different ways to interpret the Torah with countless related topics to explore. We hope you will participate in this year’s Tikkun Leil Shavuot, either in person or via Zoom, perhaps as a teacher (on a topic of your choosing) and as a learner.
Let’s do whatever we can to support and encourage one another to share our stories and insights. With each voice added to the mix, we strengthen our community, and we keep the Torah and our Jewish heritage relevant and meaningful for the generations to come. May we go forward together from strength to strength.
To contact Cantor Wallach, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column first appeared in the May/June 2021 edition of The Bulletin.