Photo: Dahlia Katz Photography
Our Spiritual Leader, Cantor Wunch, writes a piece for our monthly newsletter, “Milibeynu” (from our heart). Her writings are collected here.
The Opportunity to Slow Down, Take a Breath
September 27, 2021
October is almost here. The weather has cooled, the autumn rains have started to fall, kids are in school (hopefully for a good, long while) and many of us have begun to settle into the regular routines and patterns of our “normal” lives. Shortly after the start of October this year, we will also begin the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. This month is also known as Mar Cheshvan, or “bitter” Cheshvan, as it is the only month in the Jewish calendar that does not contain any special observances (other than Shabbat, of course). It is understandable why a month with neither feast nor fast would be thought of as bitter, especially considering how much joy and spirit we commit to the Jewish festivals, but I would like to propose that there is something very sweet about this month.
During the High Holy Days, we are encouraged to take time to reflect on our year and take account of our souls, and then we immediately move into “Z’man Simchateinu”—the joyous celebrations of Sukkot and Simchat Torah. We barely have a moment to recover from the difficult spiritual work of repentance before we are swept up into the elation of the next festivals. The month of Cheshvan offers us the opportunity to slow down, to take a breath, and to focus on the smaller day-to-day details of our lives. Cheshvan is good practice for the Shmita year that we spoke about on Rosh Hashanah—time of rest and renewal, a year to make space for (re)growth. Calmer times like these can help us to quiet our thoughts, be present, and be mindful of the blessings that constantly surround us. This type of awareness tends, for me at least, to bring about genuine feelings of gratitude.
Right now, I wish to extend my gratitude to our Chazzan Daniela Gesundheit for being such a calm, generous, and supportive partner to me over my first High Holy Days at Shir Libeynu. There was a lot of work to do, and lot of questions to answer, and Daniela made everything smooth and comfortable for me. I feel very blessed to have a bima partner so soulful and capable.
There are, of course, so many people who played crucial roles in preparing for and leading our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. Please take a moment to read through the complete list at the end of this article—everyone on there deserves huge thanks. I am in awe of this community, and how everyone comes together, says “hineni” (“here I am”), and puts their best effort forward. From the Board of Directors to the committees, to the readers, writers, presenters and musicians, our entire High Holy Day experience was truly a community effort. Thank you all.
If you were also inspired by how wonderfully our community pitched in and participated in services, please know that there will be many more opportunities to participate throughout the year. Currently, we are looking for people to read or chant Torah and support our Zoom tech on Shabbat. If you are interested in learning more, please be in touch with me at email@example.com.
I loved spending the chagim with all of you, and I am really looking forward to being with you for all our future feasts and fasts. I hope you all get to take some time during the month of Cheshvan to appreciate the sweetness of the everyday and express gratitude for all of your blessings.
Cantor C. Wunch
We give our thanks to:
Ensembles and Soloists:
Avinu Malkeinu participants:
Video editing and Tech Support:
Daniela Gesundheit – Chazzan and Music Director
Lillian Radosevic – administrative support and communications
Dahlia Klinger – communications
Rabbi Emerita Aviva Goldberg – support and guidance
All of our readers and presenters
Susan Gesundheit – art to beautify zoom
Board of Directors: Karen Lior, Mark Fine, Abbe Edelson, Ellie Goldenberg, Jamie Flagal, Dorothy Rusoff, Rebecca Sugarman
Moving Towards a More Diverse Musical Landscape
July 25, 2021
Shlomo Carlebach was arguably the most prolific composer of Jewish liturgical music in the 20th Century. Synagogues, youth groups, summer camps, schools, and Jewish communities across the globe sing Carlebach music during their prayer services, joyous celebrations, and in times of mourning. Some communities, aptly named Carlebach minyanim, sing only his music to the exclusion of all else. Carlebach had a huge following, and genuinely changed how we sing in worship. He introduced communal singing in a way that Judaism hadn’t really known before—catchy, easy to learn melodies, with repeated refrains that sparked joy and spiritual awakening amongst his followers and worshipers.
As many of you already know, Carlebach, that charismatic “rock star rabbi,” was also a predator. Since the early 1970s the Jewish community has known, and largely kept silent, about the sexual abuses that Carlebach was alleged to have committed against women and teen girls in his communities. Since the #MeToo movement began, the voices of the victims have been amplified, and there has been a massive reckoning in the Jewish world about Carlebach and his music.
There is still debate and even angry, heated arguments within Jewish circles about how this man should be remembered. There are those who vehemently deny the allegations, and those who have found ways to excuse the behaviour that he was accused of. There are also those who have chosen to rid their communities of all traces of his music and his legacy.
I have struggled with this issue, knowing how much his music means to people and how much it enhances their prayer experience, and yet I also know that his music can be triggering and painful, not only to his victims, but also to the many people who are aware of his behaviour—behaviour not befitting the title of “rabbi.” I wonder if the idea of promoting the art of a confirmed abuser takes us away from the spiritual nature of our prayer.
I think that one of the most poignant statements came from his daughter, Neshama Carlebach: “I accept the fullness of who my father was, flaws and all. I am angry with him. And I refuse to see his faults as the totality of who he was.” (Her full statement can be found here: https://neshamacarlebach.com/my-sisters-i-hear-you/)
Neshama is right, Shlomo Carlebach’s flaws were not the totality of his being, and yet I still struggle to understand how we can continue to sing and celebrate this man knowing what we now know. It is the age-old debate about separating the art from the artist, and in this space, this holy space, I don’t know how to make that separation.
Our Chazzan Daniela and I have both given this issue a lot of thought over the past few years, and when we spoke about it together recently, we came to the same conclusion: it’s time to start moving away from Carlebach and moving towards a more diverse musical landscape. This will be a gradual shift for our community, and one that I know might bring discomfort to some. We are going to be intentional and thoughtful in slowly replacing the Carlebach melodies that we sing with different melodies—ones that we hope will continue to spark joy and spiritual connection in our worship services. Some of you might notice the change right away, and some might not. That’s all okay.
Change is hard, and change must be done with care and time. Change and loss can also bring about creativity and innovation. In the past few years, we’ve seen an explosion of new Jewish music being composed, which can begin to fill the gaps that avoiding Carlebach’s music has left. There are phenomenal artists out there who, until recently, were not given their due, their “airtime,” because we were all so committed to singing Carlebach melodies. Why not give more kavod, more honour, to composers who, while less famous, are also less problematic. All we can do is try.
And maybe some of you will decide to start composing music to add to our Shir Libeynu repertoire. Wouldn’t that be a sweet result of this process of reckoning and change.
Cantor C. Wunch
Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts.
I Want to Begin by Simply Saying Thank You
June 27, 2021
It is with great joy that I write to all of you, for the first time, as your new Spiritual Leader. I know that many of you have read my bio and learned about me through our brief interactions thus far, so rather than recite my résumé, I want to begin by simply saying thank you. Thank you for welcoming me to this beautiful community. Thank you for opening your hearts to me, sharing your stories with me, and teaching me about the ways of Congregation Shir Libeynu. I know that this time, both globally and locally, has not been an easy one for many of us, and so the grace and warmth with which I have been received is all the more powerful and appreciated.
Over the past 15+ months, I have had the pleasure of being one of the moderators of the 3000-member Facebook group “Dreaming up 5781.” This group has provided the space for Jewish community and synagogue leaders to share ideas, successes and challenges as we all learn to traverse the COVID and post-COVID landscape. There are a lot of decisions to be made and experiments to try as we figure out how to emerge from this difficult time. Many of the group members have noted that it is important for us to acknowledge what we have lost, take stock of what we have learned and try to move ahead with renewed energy. This is exactly what we at Shir Libeynu must attempt as well. To put it very plainly, transitions are tough, and our community is going through several transitions at once. We can and should acknowledge the sadness that we feel as we look back and grieve our losses. We also must join together to be creative, try new things, and use what we have learned to continue to strengthen our bonds as individuals and as a community.
I extend my most sincere thanks to Rabbi Goldberg, Daniela Gesundheit, Paula Wolfson, Karen Lior and the Board of Directors who have been so generous with their time and wisdom in helping me get acclimated through this transition. I know that I still have a lot to learn about this wonderful community, and I look forward to getting to know all of you and your traditions. I encourage everyone to sign up for one of our “Tea with the Cantor” sessions, so that we can connect and continue building our relationships. I want to hear from you. This is your community and your voices matter. We all have much work to do as we dream up 5782, and I am confident that together we can continue, and expand upon, Shir Libeynu’s legacy of inclusion, diversity, innovation and thoughtful spirituality.
Cantor C. Wunch