Shelley A. Sackett, correspondent
Cantor Elana Rozenfeld loves her job at Congregation Shirat Hayam (CSH) and last Sunday, her congregation gave her a big “back atcha” with a “Song of the Sea Soirée” that honored her six years as their cantor and celebrated the release of her new CD, “Hallelu!”
The sold-out crowd of over 260 guests was treated to an elegant evening of food, camaraderie and — most importantly — music as Cantor Elana and her six-piece band performed a repertoire that included several songs from the new CD and ranged in genre from Yiddish theater to a popular Israeli radio hit song to liturgical music.
Rabbi Michael Ragozin introduced her as the “biggest engine and vehicle” that has strengthened the temple’s ability to forge life long, meaningful relationships. “Her music brings us together in powerful ways that I haven’t experienced anywhere else,” he said. “This is the space where I want to be and it is all because of our cantor.”
“I’m an artist. That’s what fills me up, it’s what gives me something to give. If I take away the giving part of what I do, I’m not happy,” she said.
That generosity of spirit and artistry were on full display during the 70-minute concert and fundraiser that brought the audience to their feet for two standing ovations and had many wiping away a tear after her soulful encore rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Each of the 14 songs took on a special meaning after Cantor Elana’s informative and anecdotal introductions. The musicianship of her band (violin: Yaeko Miranda Elmaleh; guitar: Lautaro Mantilla; percussion: Jeremiah Klarman; bass: Simón Willson; back vocals: Sarah Nissenbaum; piano: David Sparr) added special texture, color and professionalism to the evening.
In the audience, 17-year-old Rachel Nissenbaum and her parents, Lilly and Jerry, were thrilled that Berklee vocal student and Rachel’s sister, Sarah, was sharing the stage with Cantor Elana as back up singer. “It’s so nice to see so many people here supporting the cantor. It’s very beautiful,” Rachel said.
“I’m so excited! I can’t wait!” added Lilly.
“Oy Mame,” a Yiddish love song, had the crowd clapping along to Cantor Elana’s exaggerated theatrical gestures and tapping their toes to Elmaleh’s klezmer-like violin accompaniment.
“Shavim,” a popular Israeli song about equality and inclusion, was dedicated to CSH and its “tireless effort to support all people in our spiritual home.” The cantor underscored her point by signing the words as she sang them.
Other songs urged listeners to look inward during these challenging times. “History Has Its Eye On You/Oseh Shalom,” a “mash up” of a song from the musical “Hamilton” and a Hebrew prayer for peace, is about life, regrets, mistakes and hope for a better future. “It should remind us that it’s up to each of us to make a change and to make peace,” she said.
“Seven Years,” a female rewrite of Lukas Graham’s top 40 hit, considers what kind of legacy we want to leave for our children. “I want to make the world a better place. Isn’t that the point of art? Isn’t that the point of music?” she said earlier in the week during an interview.
Cantor Elana is known as much for her love of teaching children as she is for her exquisite voice. The Chai Notes, CSH’s all-girl teen choir, is her pride and joy.
They performed Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” at the soirée fresh on the heels of their June 13 performance of “Star-Spangled Banner” at Fenway for Jewish Heritage Night.
How they got to Fenway is inextricably related to the CD celebrated at the soirée.
The girls recorded the song “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, for Cantor Elana’s new CD. While working with them on that track, she became aware of Fenway’s upcoming Jewish Heritage Night and a light bulb went off in her head. “I thought, ‘We need to do Fenway’” she said.
Congregant and choir mom Amanda Clayman contacted the Red Sox and found out how they selected singers and what The Chai Notes would need to submit for consideration. Since they already had studio time for the CD, they were able to quickly record the requisite “The Star Spangled Banner” in three-part harmony and then send it in.
“They responded immediately, ‘Yes. We want you.’” Cantor Elana said. “And then we practiced. A LOT.”
Although her impressive resume includes NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and cantorial posts at Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford, N.J. and Park Avenue’s eminent Park Avenue Synagogue, her reasons for wanting to make a CD have nothing to do with personal gain or fame. They are all about promoting the synagogue she calls home.
“People are starting to know me in the Jewish world and to know Shirat Hayam. We’re this hidden gem and I want us to be less hidden,” she said. “No one would know that a shul (synagogue) like this would exist in Swampscott,” Cantor Elana said.
The CD also allows CSH to put their liturgical music on their website. “This is a fraction of the musical legacy of CSH,” she said, adding she hopes people will hear the music and say, “Yeah. I want to go there.”
All the money earned by the CD goes to CSH for music programming. Although she owns the copyright to her own music, Cantor Elana does not reap any personal financial benefit from sales.
She hopes that people will buy CDs for themselves and for “100 of their closest friends” to support the work she is trying to do.
“We say it supports music at Shirat Hayam, but music IS Shirat Hayam. If someone gives money to the Hebrew School or preschool, there’s music programming in both of those. Everything we do is around music,” she said.
Rabbi Michael is especially pleased that the CD contains most of the musical prayers which comprise the Friday evening and Saturday morning Shabbat services, giving CSH the ability to reach beyond the weekly live prayer/performance experience and give others access to these same connections any time they want.
“Many of the things we do are aimed at increasing accessibility and giving someone this CD also gives them tremendous accessibility to what we’re doing here at Shirat Hayam,” he said.
For more information or to buy the CD “Hallelu!”, visit https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/cantorelanarozenfeld.