Cantor Lapin Builds Sukkat Shalom

This post on If Not Now, When?, the interactive blog of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, are the remarks shared by Rabbi Rachel Steiner during the Shabbat Evening Service celebrating Cantor Vladimir Lapin’s installation, April 9, 2021.

Shabbat Shalom.  Thank you for welcoming me this evening.

We are mid- story right now – a story we tell and retell each week when we gather for Shabbat.  We tell this story with words of prayer, liturgy crafted throughout generations of Jewish living – from the Torah right up through to today.   We just offered words of Torah, Mi Chamocha, that recall the very first moments of our freedom.  Just through the Reed Sea we call out with anticipation for the future – Who is Like You, our God.  Our future is before us, in the brightness of the new day, we step into possibility and creativity and life!

And then evening comes, like clockwork.  And while in Jewish tradition evening signals the start a new day and, for many of us, the coziness that comes with curling up with words or people we love, it also brings uncertainty and, also for some of us, a touch of fear.  So, too, the writers of our liturgy felt this longing for protection and shelter through the unknown and so composed these familiar words: hashikiveinu Adonai eloheinu l’shalom – Please God, let us lay down with peace and wholeness, v’ha-amideinu shomreinu l’chayim, and please, God raise us up, our Protector, to the life that is ours.

Our story insists that we make space both for the jubilant song of freedom and for the humble prayer that we be sheltered, safe.  On Shabbat, we are gifted language with which to visualize this spiritual shelter of connection – a sukkat shelomecha, a sukkah of peace, of wholeness.  A structure that welcomes us in, that holds our stories with festive decorations and offerings.  A dwelling we can build together. 

I can’t think of a better introduction to the gift of Cantor Vladimir Lapin.  Because Cantor Lapin creates holy spaces.

I met Cantor Lapin just about 11 years ago.  At the time we were both at significant points in our professional stories – mine was just beginning as a rabbi and Cantor Lapin was then considering the cantorate.  In a moment and without hesitation, Cantor Lapin jumped in – with basically no advanced warning – to help lead High Holidays and then my first installation service.  He would later return to Barnert to help lead my second Installation service.  So my ability to participate in Cantor Lapin’s Installation this Shabbat is particularly and personally resonant.  Almost immediately we did not want to imagine the ongoing work of Jewish living without Cantor Lapin’s presence.

And not just because of his rich, soulful baritone voice.  But we can pause just for a moment and give thanks for this voice – that allows us to breathe deeply, to sing differently, to hear melody and prayer in a new register. 

Cantor Lapin, you build a sukkat shalom each time you show up – with intention, with love, with a smile that puts us at ease, with Torah to teach.  You are a natural teacher – in a classroom with students of all ages or during services, inviting us to get to know a new melody for familiar words.  Your presence puts us at ease, helps us to feel safe, and to know that you will carry us throughout our journeys – through the unknown and the known, through the loss and the joy.

Cantor Lapin, you build a sukkat shalom that is unique to each time and place.  As tools you use a unique skill set – attentive listening, creativity, a commitment to tzedek, to justice, music, of course, your deep love of Jewish tradition, a healthy sense of humor when it’s right, and an invitation to build together.

Cantor Lapin, in the sukkat shalom you build there is music that reflects the richness and diversity of Jewish living in so many times and so many places.  You bring to life the melodies we have been singing for centuries and the new ones we learn through our youth.  Your voice, so easily moving between the accompanying sounds of a guitar or an organ, reminds us that there are many right ways to pray and to sing, and, perhaps most importantly, that when we make space for this diversity, our prayer is uplifted.  And we are uplifted.

Cantor Lapin, in the sukkat shalom you build, we want to sing.  We want to join you, we want to join each other.  We want to help to build this protective shelter that comes to life only when we enter, when we gather, when weave together our stories, and our voices. 

Cantor Lapin, you live by example.  As a Cantor to this very lucky congregation, as a partner to the brilliant Rabbi Elle Muhlbaum, as a father to Judah, as a cherished friend and colleague, you share your ever-expanding heart with each of us.  You hold our stories alongside your own.  Your presence is a comfort, a shelter.

To this sacred congregation, Anshe Chesed Fairmont Temple, the limits of what you will build with your new Cantor are limited only by what you can re-imagine and create.  You have in Cantor Lapin, well, everything.  As you support him, make space for his family, his learning, his leadership, his spiritual exploration. And he will build with you spaces of wholeness and learning and laughter – ones you can see and ones you can feel – spaces that shelter you, that bring you together, that lead to Jewish living with impact and connection, transformation and love.  Together you will build our Shabbat Hashkiveinu’s sukkat shalom.

Ushmor tzeiteinu u’voeinu, l’chayim u’l’shalom, mei-atah v’ad olam.
Guide our goings and our comings, to life and to peace, forever and always.
Dear God, Source of all that connects us,
guide this holy congregation and their Cantor Vladimir Lapin.
May this new relationship be strengthened
through the goings and the comings of the journeys that await.
May they find their lives transformed as their voices meet in melody and harmony,
their peace rippling out in inclusive, life affirming, actions. 
May Your shelter of peace be spread over them today,
on the sacred occasion of Cantor Lapin’s Installation
and, especially, in the days and years to come.  Amen.