Swampscott cantor hits it out of the park with new CD release

Shelley A. Sackett, correspondent

 

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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.”

 

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“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.

For Two Local Synagogues, Inclusion Is a Priority

 

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Transition to Work graduates.

 

 

Congregation Shirat Hayam (CSH) in Swampscott and Temple Sinai in Marblehead were among the dozens of synagogues that applied for Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project (RISP) grants in 2016. They both were selected and on May 23, they will be among the nine 2017 Cohort of RISP Congregational Partners welcomed and recognized at the annual CJP “Celebrating Inclusion” event.

 

“We are very excited to be working with two synagogues on the North Shore this year and are very interested in regional collaboration,” said Molly Silver, who manages the partnership between the CJP and RISP. “Being inclusive is a sacred and holy imperative of Jews and this project helps synagogues realize their own unique vision of inclusion.”

 

For over a decade, the Ruderman Family Foundation philanthropic mission has emphasized disability advocacy and inclusion. Its newest initiative, RISP, awards $5,000 grants to synagogues in the Greater Boston and North Shore communities to help fund programs that ensure that all people, including those with profound disabilities, are able to participate in congregational activities.

 

RISP started as a pilot program in 2013 with just three Boston synagogues.

 

Sharon Shapiro is the daughter of founder Morton E. Ruderman and a Ruderman Family Foundation trustee. As Community Liaison, she is in charge of all projects in the greater Boston and North Shore areas, including RISP.

 

“There is a group of people who are not coming to synagogue because they feel there’s nothing there for them,” she said. “RISP raises awareness for inclusion in general, but specifically for people with disabilities because that is the focus of our foundation.”

 

Silver was particularly struck by Temple Sinai’s and CSH’s strategic and thoughtful Inclusion Action Plans and ambitious goals. “What stood out about their applications was a deep and profound desire among both communities to be a “kehillah k’dosha”, a holy community that strives to welcome everyone who walks through their doors.

 

Rabbi Michael Ragozin hopes CSH will become fully inclusive of children with disabilities and their families. “It’s heartbreaking to hear the stories of rejection that families, seeking to raise their children in a Jewish community, families whose children will thrive in a Torah environment, have experienced,” he said.

 

Beyond the letter of the grant, he also hopes CSH will become even more inclusive of interfaith families, the LGBTQ community, households with varied incomes, and individuals experiencing mental health issues.

 

“Inclusion is a clarion call to honor the uniqueness of each one of us,” he said.

Temple Sinai’s Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez agrees. “To be able to reach and kiss the mezuzah, to be able to drink water or go to the restroom, to have access to the bimah and the Torah, to be able to read and hear the services are things we might take for granted,” he said, noting many others in the community might not be as fortunate.

 

Both synagogues have formed Inclusion Committees with ambitious and concrete goals and plans for the coming year. Amanda Clayman and Michele Tamaren co-chair CSH’s 14-member “Shir Lanu: One Song – Every Voice” committee. Deborah Shelkan Remis chairs Temple Sinai’s nine-member committee.

 

Remis pointed to the network already operating for congregants who need rides or meals, have hearing assisted devices or need large print siddurim. “This is just the beginning,” she said.

 

AT CSH, Hebrew School director Janice Knight leads Torah study focused on inclusion as a Jewish value and has invited trainers to work with staff and teens through “Gateways: Access to Jewish Education”. CSH greeters have received training on the use of inclusive language. An accessibility handout itemizes available inclusion support.

 

“We believe inclusion is holy, just and divine. Everyone is welcome and must feel welcome at Shirat Hayam,” Clayman said.

 

Ruderman trustee Shapiro remembers about five or six years ago when someone from CSH with an adult son with disabilities was trying desperately to make changes at the synagogue. “I think it took this project and other families coming forward to make the wok really impactful in the synagogue top down and bottom up,” she said.

 

That “someone” is Marcy Yellin, whose 32-year-old son Jacob is a regular at CSH events and services. “I’m thrilled for Shirat Hayam to be included in the Ruderman Foundation grant. I have great respect for all the things the Foundation does. It’s wonderful to see that people are taking disabilities seriously and mobilizing together to support our most vulnerable, especially in the Jewish world,” she said.

 

She paused for a moment and then added with a smile, “we have waited a very long time for this.”