Temple Jeremiah

 

Shabbat Lech-Lecha

Dear friends,

This week’s Torah portion, Lech-Lecha, is perhaps my very favorite. I have always been fascinated and comforted by the fact that all of us are on a constant journey, forever evolving and changing, and recreating with each and every breath we take. In Lech-Lecha, we learn that Abraham’s human journey has come to such a crossroad when God commands him to “Go forth” from his homeland to a land which God will show him.

Midrash, which are explanations of the Torah portions, tell us that Abraham was a radical “anti-idolater” thus, making him the first monotheist. Rabbi Marc Margolis writes that even though this idea is very appealing, it is not the actual meaning of the Torah text. He claims that we learn a different and surprising universal trait which can help us understand Abraham’s relationship with the Divine. When God told him to “Go forth,” he developed a capacity for “hitlamdut,” which is to delve deep into one’s soul to try and find the true authentic self. As Abraham sought to find out who he really was at his core, he realized that the “Self,” or the polytheistic beliefs of his contemporaries, did not resonate with him. God worked deep inside him to give him the courage to change his life’s direction.

Abraham said, “Hineni” when he discovered the Oneness of God through his own cognitive abilities, and, as a result, he became the first of our Jewish fathers. We reclaim Abraham’s courage as our first father anytime someone converts to Judaism, because the name of Abraham becomes part of their Hebrew name. We reclaim Abraham’s journey in our Standing Prayer, the “Amidah,” as his is the first we recite in the prayer, “Avot v’Imahot” (our Fathers and Mothers), as we remind God in this prayer that we also worship the same God as Abraham.

Abraham’s choice to say, “Here I am,” and to go forth on a different journey, serves as a model for us. This story resonates with many composers, such as Debbie Friedman, who also chose to go forth on a musical journey. Like Abraham’s challenge of polytheism, during her formative years, Debbie Friedman felt that her cognitive and emotional sensibilities were challenged by the current synagogue worship style of this time. The 1970s, at that time, was more intellectual and performative. There was little to no participation from the congregation. Worship was witnessed and watched from afar, like fine art, with little to no participation from the congregation. Debbie and her contemporaries longed to fully experience, embody, and participate in worship.

Debbie’s journey led her to OSRUI, where she inspired many of our Jewish singer/songwriters of today. There were certain elements in her music and compositional style which made her a compositional “maverick” of her time. She infused relatable English text alongside one or two Hebrew words, and wrote in major keys. This sounded like the folk music which was written during her time, similar to Joan Baez. In “Lechi Lach” she alternates the feminine with the masculine on the word “Lech,” and uses a similar technique of alternating between our mothers and fathers in her beloved “Mi Sheberach.” As this was a shift in worship style, many did not accept her music in the synagogue, and it was a painful journey for her.

I sadly only had the pleasure of meeting her once before she died. I was visiting HUC for my audition/ae in March of 2010 and was awestruck to see her downstairs in the CL (Common Lounge area). She asked how things were going, and I confessed to feeling nervous about the huge Hebrew placement exam I was about to take. I’ll never forget it—she said, “ugh! Hebrew!” reassuring me that all would be ok, that she also was not a Hebrew Scholar—yet there she was, one of the most important figures in Jewish music, standing right there before me.

She died while I was in my first year of school in Israel, and I regret so much that I did not get to study with her at HUC. But nonetheless, she lived on through her music, and through the other teachers with whom she collaborated.

I have also written a setting of Lech-Lecha based on this same story where Moses answers, “Hineni”. Inspired and influenced by Debbie Friedman’s music, I, too, am attempting to use the folk music, rhythmic patterns, and chord progressions of our time to give this setting a more rhythmic feeling. Please enjoy these two settings: Debbie Friedman’s “L’chi Lach” and my “Hineni” based on Lech-Lecha. May they help you to connect with this parsha, and help you along your life’s journey. May we go from strength to strength in our journey together as the Temple Jeremiah community. I cannot express enough times how grateful and honored I am to serve as your cantor.

Hear L’chi Lach

Hear Hineni

 

Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman

About Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman

Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman is thrilled to be the cantor at Temple Jeremiah. She moved to the area from the New York/New Jersey area in 2015 after beginning her tenure at Beth Emet in July of 2015, just after receiving Cantorial Ordination from The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music of the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. Previously, she served as cantor at Beth Emet the Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL where, in addition to the many life cycles and other duties of the cantor, she directed the Adult Choir, created and directed a Teen A Capella Choir, Jr. Choir, and Intergenerational Band. Cantor Friedman strives to help all members of the community find their Jewish voice and she regularly invites anyone who is interested to sing with her during Shabbat and High Holy Days services. Cantor Friedman has a wide range of musical styles, and feels at home in almost every style of Jewish music, such as playing her guitar in a small setting where everyone is participating with her, or singing a piece of Chazzanut or liturgical music for a large congregation. Her belief is that nearly all Jewish music has its place in our synagogue, and when done prayerfully and with great intention, can inspire us to hear God’s voice, and can often help us to find prayer within our souls that words alone cannot arouse. Cantor Friedman holds degrees of Bachelor of Music from Illinois State University, Master of Music from Arizona State University, and Master of Sacred Music from the Hebrew Union College. During her time as a student she served as Cantorial Intern at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ. There, she founded and directed their 40 member Junior Choir, Keshet, and also served as the cantor of the Barrie H. Greene Early Childhood Center. During her tenure at Jeshurun, she created and implemented the synagogue’s first ever Yom Kippur Family Service for which over 600 families were in attendance. It has since been a staple of their High Holy Days services. Cantor Friedman is a regular soloist with the Kol Zimrah Community Choir right here on the North Shore. She is an active member of the American Conference of Cantors and was asked to be on the leadership committee for the 2018 convention as Co-Chair for all of the Tefilot (Prayer Services) for the convention. She is an active member of the Reform Cantors Chicago, and is frequently invited to collaborate in Cantorial Concerts with colleagues throughout both Chicagoland and all over the U.S at places such as Temple Emanu-El Dallas, Temple Judea in Palm Beach Gardens, and Anshe Emet Synagogue with Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi. One of Cantor Friedman’s biggest passions is helping to sustain and foster the Reform Movement in Israel. From 2010-2011 Susie lived in Israel for the first year of school and volunteered at Congregation Ohel Avraham, part of the Leo Baeck Center in Haifa, where she served as volunteer cantor. She formed strong relationships with Rabbi Gabby Dagan, and the congregants who quickly became her Israeli family, and she decided to become a bat mitzvah with them. Six months later, Susie co-officiated a b’not mitzvah for seven Israeli women, all of whom celebrated with Susie at her ceremony and grew up never knowing that a bat mitzvah existed—only bar mitzvah. That year, Susie also conceived, directed, accompanied, and performed in Broadway on the Carmel, a concert to raise money for families who could not afford to have b’nai mitzvah for their children. While in Israel, she was nominated by her piers and received the Rabbi Jason Huebsch Memorial Prize for all of her work with Ohel Avraham. Prior to becoming a cantor, Susie appeared in the Broadway National Tour of CATS playing the roles of Jennyanydots and Grizabella. She also performed in regional opera, theater, concert, and as a pianist/singer/entertainer in clubs throughout NYC, hosting her own weekly open mic show at The Duplex. She has had the great fortune to perform with Betty Buckley, George S. Irving, and Alberto Mizrahi, and is frequently sought out to sing in various cantorial concerts throughout the U.S. She is a proud member of the American Conference of Cantors, the Reform Cantors of Chicago, and Actors Equity Association. Her love of children and strong desire to inspire b’nai mitzvah students to remain engaged in Jewish life inspired her to be a cantor. It is Susie’s goal that every student who walks through the doors of the synagogue will grow up to become vibrant, participating members of congregations. She is married to the love of her life, Ross Friedman. Her absolute greatest achievements are their daughter, Abigail Hannah Friedman, who was born on May 6, 2013, and their son, Zev Noah Friedman, who was born on Nov. 5, 2014. They are both living examples of her answered prayers.

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