Temple Jeremiah

 

Shabbat Matot-Masei

Dear friends,

Our Parshat Ha Shavuah, the Torah portion of the week, is one of the many stories within our Torah in which the early characters serve as prototypes for us in our lives today. The challenges they face and the way that they deal with them are models to help us with similar problems in our lives. There are many elements within this story, beginning with a discussion about vows and how they can be annulled; Pinchas leads a massive army of Israelites to conquer the Midianites and sends the spoils back to Moses and the Israelite camps; part of these spoils include the women who he claimed seduced the men into sin, causing a plague which killed many. An enraged Moses claims that the women alone caused this plague because they seduced the men who were killed and orders that they are also killed immediately; the soldiers then learn the laws of purifying themselves after battle, and then how to kasher the food utensils.

To me, much of this sounds troublesome, and truthfully, I have a hard time accepting Moses’ claim that the women were the ones who seduced the men. It feels very wrong, misogynistic, and unfortunately reminiscent of much of what is going on within our political climate today. But this is the beauty of Judaism: the name of Israel means “to wrestle with God.” Therefore, it is not only acceptable to wrestle, argue, and disagree with these texts, but it is actually encouraged, even required to do so.

The latter part of this story, however, resonates very strongly within my own life. The tribes of Reuben and Gad seem to feel worn down, tired of the fighting, and ask Moses if they can remain, along with their plethora of cattle and families, in the lands of Og and Sichon, which are in East Jordan, instead of continuing on to Israel. Moses once again becomes angry, accusing them of being like the spies we read about last month in Sh’lach L’cha, who were spreading rumors that Canaanites who were inhabiting Israel were dangerous giants, and that it was unsafe to live there. Reuben and Gad agree to leave their cattle and families behind in Jordan and go on to conquer the entire Land of Israel, after which they will return to Jordan for their wives, families, cattle, and everything that is dear to them.

I can relate to this latter part because when I decided to become a cantor, my husband Ross and I felt strongly that because I was coming into the cantorate completely “green,” without any cantorial experience, thatseminary was the absolute best path, even though it meant that I, like Gad and Reuben, had to go to a land completely foreign to me, that I had heard many scary things about, that I did not grow up having a relationship with. It meant leaving the things most important to me, in this case my sweet husband Ross, behind in New York, as he was working and supporting my endeavors to become a cantor. We were married just over a year, and the day of my departure to Israel was one of the three most difficult moments we faced during our marriage (of 10 years in November). However, I, like Reuben and Gad, accomplished what I sought out to do in that year, and had amazing experiences while doing so. Ross and I missed each other terribly, but thank goodness for Skype!

During that year, I made it my mission to immerse myself in Israeli culture as much as possible. A passion arose inside me which I had no idea existed: for justice and religious pluralism. I volunteered at a Reform Congregation, Ohel Avraham, the synagogue of the Leo Baeck school in Haifa. This is a cutting edge public school in which Jews study alongside children of many other faiths, including Druze, Christian, and Muslim. Representing Ohel Avraham, I had the privilege of leading them for High Holy Days services, chanting the Megillah and participating in their Purim Schpiel (where I dressed up as an Orthodox man, complete with payes), and during Passover, I co-led a Seder at a battered women’s shelter in Haifa. What a powerful experience that was! I also had the privilege of organizing a fundraiser with my classmates, which was a concert of Broadway music to raise money for Ohel Avraham’s B’nai Mitzvah families with financial needs. I have remained very close friends with Rabbi Gabby Dagan of Ohel Avraham and the members of this community who so generously housed me, and became my family in Israel. As a matter of fact, when Ross, Abigail, Zev, I, and Ross’ entire extended family are going to Israel in August for my nephew Zachary’s Bar Mitzvah, the four of us are staying with Elana and Hillel Kolodner, our family in Israel. We will reconnect with the members of Ohel Avraham and Rabbi Dagan, introducing them to our beautiful children, and making music with them.

While the year away from Ross was one of the most challenging of my life, as Reuben and Gad were needed to go and “conquer the land” of Israel, I too was needed to go and “conquer the learning” in Israel. That year was just the beginning of what shaped my cantorate today. It also showed Ross and me what we were made of, strengthening our marriage, and making us strong for the greater challenges we would face in the years to come.

I am so grateful that you have chosen me as your cantor, that I am able to serve you, and that I can draw upon the knowledge and strength I received from that year in Israel, in cantorial school and beyond, to serve you with my whole heart. I wish you Shavuah Tov, and I look forward to connecting with all of you and getting to know you. Please know that my door is always open to you, especially for singing!

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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