New Work by Philadelphia Cantor Premiers in Germany

Hazzan Jack Kessler

Hazzan Jack Kessler

The Interreligioser Chor (Interfaith Choir) of Frankfurt, Germany commissioned and performed a setting of Psalm 90 for choir and Hazzan by Philadelphia-based Hazzan Jack Kessler.

The premiere performances were held on On June 1, 2015 at the Gemeindezentrums in Frankfurt am Main, and June 4 at the große Halle in Stuttgart. The Hazzan/soloist was Hazzan Daniel Kempin, the well known singer of Yiddish repertoire who is Cantor of the Egalitarian Minyan of Frankfurt, ordained in 2015 as Hazzan through the ALEPH Cantorial Program.

The Interfaith Choir of Frankfurt was founded in 2012 with the goal of opening new avenues of interfaith dialogue through music. Led by Protestant Church Cantor (organist and choir director) Bettina Strübel and Hazzan Daniel Kempin, the all-volunteer choir presents two psalm projects each year. Each concert is a program of multiple settings of one Psalm from different faith traditions. This year Psalm 90 תְּפִלָּה לְמֹשֶׁה אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים A prayer of Moses, the man of God, was the featured Psalm.

The Psalms are an important bridge between Judaism and Christianity. For centuries musicians of both religions have created a wealth of new musical settings for liturgical use as well as for the concert stage.

The choir has also attracted Muslim singers, who know the Psalms as “az-Zabur.” Rehearsals as well as concerts offer a platform for intensive interfaith exploration of music and theology. During the concerts music is interspersed with interfaith podium discussions on the featured psalm.

Said Hazzan Kessler; “Psalm 90 presents a range of challenges to the composer, especially when commissioned to compose a for presentation of the entire Psalm, not merely excerpts. It is one of the longest psalms. The text moves through a series of moods: recognition of God as eternal supreme Presence; exploration of the humility needed to receive the Presence; fear of God’s anger; and finally a majestic call for God’s grace. In this piece the hazzan begins unaccompanied, with a stirring a cappella solo and each section opens with a dramatic call to the chorus. Then the chorus responds with a musical expansion of the text. The last section of the piece is a reprise of one of the opening themes of the piece in contrapuntal treatment by solo quartet, and the coda is sung by the hazzan, once again with the unaccompanied voice alone.”

Bettina Strübel, director of the Interrelgioser Choir: “Your composition was the highlight of the program. Some of the chorus members have expressed sadness that the Psalm 90 project is over, as they loved rehearsing this piece. The audience responded with tremendous enthusiasm.”

Hazzan Daniel Kempin, soloist for the premiere performances added: “This is powerful and affecting music! I was deeply moved by the way you explored the different moods of the Psalm. After the end, where my voice sings the finale by myself alone, there was a moment of magical silence in the hall before great applause!

Hazzan Jack Kessler was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and went on to have a twenty-year congregational career. He has a Master’s degree in voice from Boston Conservatory and pursued studies in composition in the graduate department of Brandeis University. A lyric baritone, he has performed opera, oratorio, and premiered new works, in addition to his ongoing career as a singer of hazzanut, the cantorial art, and other musical projects. He directs the Cantorial Program of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal for which he teaches the multi-year core hazzanut curriculum and coaches students in the cantorial art.

Circumcision Update

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram  

As world health organizations move toward saving lives through re-introduction of circumcision in developing nations for AIDS prevention, a San Francisco ballot proposes a ban on circumcision under age 18. Since the matter compromises freedom of religion, Jews and Muslims are particularly closely monitoring the process.

While male converts report a negligible loss of sensation, the rite is valued for its spiritual impact. Its meaning is perhaps best expressed as a father once put it to his son at a ritual known to this reporter: ‘Son, most men wrestle with this huge impulse to use muscle instead of mind over difficult matters. We circumcised you today because we love you and know that Judaism is the greatest of all treasures that we can pass on to you. Circumcision means to always remember that you are a Jew, and that to be a Jew means to think first, to check out your ethics before you act. Ezekiel said: ‘In your blood live.’ May this be the only blood that is ever shed in your name.”  Accordingly, when a Jewish man looks down, his commitment to a mitzvah-centered life, rather than a self-centered or sex-centered life is literally engraved in his flesh.  Circumcision is a sign of how much value parent(s) place upon their son being Jewish. It is also part of how a male convert affirms his own “member”ship.  

In the accompanying video dialogues with PJVoice Judaism Editor, Rabbi Goldie Milgram and Rabbi Bonnie Cohen discuss the issues around circumcision, Rabbi Cohen's training as a mohelet (mohel – a circumcision professional), her invention of a physical tool to teach the best methods of circumcision, and also ways to make the baby comfortable during the procedure.  

More after the jump.

Background on Rabbi Bonnie Cohen  

In the early '90's Rabbi Cohen apprenticed to become a Mohelet (feminine grammar for mohel, one professionally trained to do Jewish ritual circumcision). She was surprised to learn that there were no training tools for perfecting surgical technique for infant circumcision, doctors routinely practice on babies. Responding to the need she spent many years developing a proper training tool that is now available.  

Biographical background:  

Rabbi Cohen has changed hats many times over her professional career weaving together a breath of experience along the mind – body – spiritual pathway. For many years her focus and area of expertise was health and nutrition although religion always occupied a major part of her life.  As a young woman she attended psychiatric nursing school but immediately focused on nutrition and other natural healing modalities. She combined hands-on work with nutrition that she taught at the Swedish Massage Institute in New York City, and had offices in NYC, Woodstock and New Paltz, New York.  

Bonnie Cohen was a student of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (z"l) who encouraged her to share her expertise on nutrition and natural healing alternatives with Jewish women. She is grateful for the opportunity to learn with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and to have received rabbinic ordination from him and ALEPH:  Alliance for Jewish Renewal, in 2000. Included in the qualifications Reb Zalman listed on Rabbi Cohen's' ordination certificate is, "practitioner of the sacred healing arts."  

Rabbi Cohen was director of a not for profit educational organization, supported by a wholesale natural foods bakery, that designed and implemented nutrition workshops throughout the New York tri-state area. Beginning in the mid '70's, and for the next thirteen years, she oversaw the total day-to-day operations of large health food stores with juice bars and deli-counters; and then she became interested in Jewish education.  

Bonnie was blessed to work with a dedicated team of visionaries creating the Woodstock Jewish Congregation in Woodstock, New York. She began as the only teacher, teaching all grades plus a special education class and accomplished the impossible; she made Hebrew school fun. The WJC went on to become a powerful magnet for Jewish education in Ulster County, NY.

Rabbi Cohen lived and worked in Woodstock, New York for thirty-two years and then spent eight years working outside of the United States. Upon her return she noticed the exponentially larger number of children with learning disabilities than before she left. After researching the problem and pondering solutions she created, "Thirteen", a mentoring protocol, and Feeling Good – Pass It On, a teaching protocol, to assist those with neurodevelopmental challenges focus and overcome disabilities.  

For further information please contact Rabbi Cohen at [email protected].

Jewish Values from Aleph to Wisconsin

The Boards of Directors of ALEPH:  Alliance For Jewish Renewal and of its affiliate,  OHALAH: Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal, have adopted the statement below.

Whereas, Jews for millennia have learned and affirmed the archetypal story of the suffering of ancient Israelites as oppressed public workers under Pharaoh, building the store-cities of Pithom and Ramses, and the vigorous activism of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to organize those workers into an effective community that could win its freedom;

And whereas, ever since the great migration of millions of Jews to America many of them have upheld the rights of workers by organizing labor unions first in the garment industry, and later among teachers, social workers, and other public employees;

Therefore, the Board of ALEPH [and the Board of OHALAH] affirms and supports the right of public employees as well as those in private industry to organize unions and carry on collective bargaining, and supports the nonviolent protests now being carried on in the State of Wisconsin and elsewhere against efforts to undermine or cancel those rights.

Contacts: