Debate about cantor for Temple Emanu-El stirs hundreds
by Rita Faye Smith
Special to DJW
About 400 members of Temple Emanu-El packed Tobian Auditorium April 9 in response to a mailing by member Jack Corman to the Temple's Board of Directors on the february decision to replace the traditional part-time Music Director with a full-time staff cantor.
Musical Director Simon Sargon's retirement was announded last year. He will lead the award-winning choir through High Holy Days this fall before stepping down.
Temple president Bernard (Buddy) Raden said "The purpose of this meeting is to get an expression of opinion of as many of you as possible. A decision will be made in May."
Based on the crowd's input, he added, the board may modify its earlier decision to hire a cantor for reform congregation, the largest synagogue in Dallas.
Cheryl Pollman, co-chairperson with Harold Kleinman of the Music Search Committee, referred the audience to prepared documents mailed to Temple members prior to the meeting. The statement read in part: "(We are) looking for a vision of the role music will play in the future of our congregation."
A key statement in a handout titled "Our Expectations" addressed the fears of some of those present that a full-time cantor might lessen the role of the choir and more specifically its soloists. The sentence reads: "(We) value our historic choral tradition and continue to develop a meaningful role for the choir."
Sargon placed the cantor decision into a historical perspective, saying: "The role of the cantor is to serve as the musical emissary to the congregation. As a musical director, I've tried to fulfill the job as emissary through my surrogate voices," i.e., the choir.
From the audience response, it was apparent he had succeeded. He said the reason he did not become a cantor was because his voice didn't have the requisite range.
Rabbi David E. Stern addressed some congregants' concerns. "The real question is not about a cantor or a choir or music but the direction of Temple Emanu-El." He spoke of music as the embodiment "of the three M's": music of majesty such as that which is sung when the ark is opened on Rosh Hashanah; music of meditation that "transports us" such as the organ music prior to meditation; and the highly participatory music of meeting that "uniquely creates community."
Stern's most ardent advocate was former Temple president Buddy Rosenthal, a member of the Rabbinical Search Committee, who voted about five years ago to elevate the then associate rabbi to Head Rabbi. Rosenthal's plea to the audience was that the Temple hired Rabbi Stern to lead so "we should let him lead."
The floor was then opened to anyone who wanted to voice an opinion and 35 or 40 people did just that. Microphones and timers were stationed in front of the audience and each speaker was allotted two minutes.
Those strongly in favor of hiring a cantor vs. those who wished to maintain the status quo and hire another musical director were skewed along age lines, and speakers ranged from age 13 to 90.
Among the teens, Gen-Xers and Boomers present, all but one favored hiring a cantor. Among those in the 50 and older category, the consensus appeared fairly evenly divided, and the word "change" was clearly anathema to the dissenting faction.
No conclusions were reached by the meeting's end, almost three hours later, but temple officials seemed to take great pains to insure that those who wanted a say before the congregation had that opportunity.
This story was published in the DallasJewishWeek
on: Thursday, April 12, 2001
and was last modified on: Sat, Apr 21, 2001