Your History is Rich and your Reach is Great.

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

Shabbat Shalom, I am Cantor Claire Franco and it is my pleasure and honor to be speaking to you this evening.  I am sorry that I can’t be with you in person, but technology is a wonderful thing and I am delighted to speak about and to Cantor Vladimir Lapin as he is installed officially as your Cantor.  There is a common joke that those of us in New York know little about the country beyond our state and that the country ends somewhere in western New Jersey. But I can tell you that even here in New York, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple has an awesome (in the true sense of the word) reputation.  Rabbi Nosanchuk has a reputation as a kind, charismatic leader and I am blessed to have known Rabbi Caruso for nearly 30 years as we were classmates in Jerusalem. Your history is rich and your reach is great. 

And Cantor Sager continues to be a beloved colleague.  We have served on the board of the American Conference of Cantors and I have witnessed first-hand over and over again, her insights, caring and thoughtfulness.  Her musical and scholarly talents and menshlikeit set a very high bar for whoever would follow in her. footsteps alongside your esteemed Rabbinic and professional team.  Knowing Cantor Sager and her 40-year tenure here, we knew it would take a special person to fill her shoes.  As the President of the American Conference of Cantors, I can tell you that we were excited to welcome your congregation in placement.   The role of the Cantor has evolved over the years. There is no doubt that the spiritual task of the cantor is to sing, pray and inspire with their voice, but today’s cantor can also be called upon to educate adults and children, to shepherd people through life’s joys and sorrows, to administrate, to vision with their Rabbinic partners, to counsel and to create interesting, relevant and moving worship and musical programs.  The list is long.  Combine these responsibilities with a large, vibrant, dynamic congregation and you needed the best that we have to serve you. 

And if you don’t already realize it, allow me to say you got it.  Cantor Vladimir Lapin truly represents the best of our profession.  He is a talented, creative and knowledgeable musician. You have heard him sing.  You do not need me to tell you about the beauty of his voice-his ability to send shivers down a spine-to touch a heart and liven a soul with the music that pours out of him.  I know that he will continue the incredible musical tradition that exists at here and at the same time, he will bring new and exciting Jewish music to you as well.  I had the good fortune to meet Cantor Lapin at summer camp many years ago when we worked together.  He was the very cute and charming Teva-nature guy.  His warm smile and gentle humor endeared him to the campers and staff alike.  A few years later we were matched as mentor and mentee as he started his first full-time job in the next town over.  We were neighbors, colleagues and quickly became friends.  He was a mentor’s dream – inquisitive, thoughtful, hungry to grow and develop into the best cantor he could be.  There were inherent challenges in his congregation and I watched him navigate them with good sense, maturity and that gentle humor.  I may have been able to offer some wisdom borne from experience, but I truly learned as much from him.    

I know that the pandemic has affected your ability to get to know Cantor Lapin, his wife Elle Muhlbaum -a gifted Rabbi in her own right and his gorgeous son, Judah in person.  God willing, you will have that opportunity soon and as you do, you will come to see the real gift that you have been given as you chose each other.  Famed opera singer Cecilia Bartoli said, “The voice is certainly important and you can hear if it’s beautiful or not, it’s the gods who decide; it’s more a question of what you do with the voice, which is the mysterious element. It’s the personality behind the voice which makes the artist.”  One can argue that this statement is true for Cantors as well.  It is the “mysterious element” of the divine and the personality that make the Cantor an artist.   Vlad is smart and funny, soft spoken and gentle, intellectual and spiritual.  He has a keen curiosity and incredible integrity.  He is kind and compassionate and he is a mensch of the highest degree. 

To the community of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, you are incredibly blessed to have my colleague and my friend Vlad Lapin as your cantor.  And I know that he feels lucky to be here as well. Famed poet T.S.Elliot said, “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among those who came before.”  I have often thought that Judaism is the same.  We cannot value innovation and creativity without the anchor of our communal and individual traditions.  It is those traditions that serve as the foundation upon which growth and transformation can occur. Change is never easy, but when it’s founded in the covenantal relationship between a gifted Cantor and a sacred community, it can enrich and enliven the souls and spirits of all lucky enough to create and experience it. And so, I pray that your partnership in the service of your synagogue,  Judaism and God lead you to wonderful places together.  Mazal Tov to all of you.