Cantor’s Remarks for the Celebration of His 25th Year at Temple B’nai Chaim

I want to start my remarks by sharing some thoughts from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s essay entitled “The Vocation of the Cantor” an essay which continues to guide and inspire me:

To attain a degree of spiritual security one cannot rely upon one’s own resources. One needs an atmosphere, where the concern for the spirit is shared by a community. We are in need of students and scholars, masters and specialists. But we also need the company of witnesses, of human beings who are engaged in worship, who for a moment sense the truth that life is meaningless without attachment to God. It is the task of the Cantor to create the liturgical community, to convert a plurality of praying individuals into a unity of worship….

The mission of a Cantor is to lead in prayer. He does not stand before the Ark as an artist in isolation, trying to demonstrate his skill or to display vocal feats.  He stands before the Ark not as an individual but with a congregation. He must identify himself with the congregation. His task is to represent as well as to inspire a community. Within the synagogue music is not and end in itself but a means of religious experience. Its function is to help us to live through a moment of confrontation with the presence of God; to expose ourselves to Him in praise, in self-scrutiny and in hope….

To sing means to sense and to affirm that the spirit is real and that its glory is present. In singing we perceive what is otherwise beyond perceiving.  Song, and particularly liturgical song, is not only and act of expression but also a way of bringing down the spirit from heaven to earth…. Music is a reaching out toward a realm that lies beyond the reach of verbal propositions….

It has been my unique privilege to serve as your cantor for the past 25 years. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the wonderful experiences of worshiping together that we have shared over these many years. This is a special place because all of you have made it a special place and continue to make it a special place where together we reach out to connect to the divine and to each other.

While I can’t possibly begin to offer thanks sufficient for all that this community has given me and my family, I do want to start by offer a huge thank you to all the Rabbis and Presidents, Ritual chairs, board members, volunteers, students and administrators I have had the pleasure of partnering with over these many years, this evening I would call out in particular Rabbi Bearman and Rabbi Cohen, my colleagues and bima partners whose knowledge and support not only allow us to thrive as a community, but allowed, and continues to allow me to thrive as a clergy.

I would also like to thank those who organized the later parts of this evening, which I am sure will be wonderful; our additional musicians, Nathan Sobel and Andrew Gordon,  and the rest of my family, and most especially Sara for supporting me all these years in what I so enjoy doing here. It is impossible to overstate the extent to which she has deepened my connections to this community and been a constructive force gently guiding and influencing me toward being a better person and a better cantor.

One last thank-you to all of you who honor me and support our TBC community through your presence this evening and at worship services throughout the year, and through your generous donations which make everything we do possible.

There are so many wonderful moments and stories about TBC to share, and it is my hope that those who have been here for much of that history will have many occasions to share our stories with those who are newer to our congregation. It is in the passing down of our stories and traditions and knowledge that we form the bonds that last and inhabit the mission of this synagogue. That said, in order to safeguard time for such sharing in our wonderful oneg, I choose to leave that part for later.

Thank you again for your support of me and TBC through the years. I look forward to many more years of worship and celebration with you.

Cantor Jon Sobel