Thoughts from the Rabbi…
“Bittersweet” is an overused term to refer to moments in life that tear our emotions between joy and sadness. Life, however, often presents us with the kind of moments where such a word seems to fit better than most others. I am experiencing one of those moments right now.
In 2008, the Board of Trustees offered their support for me to pursue a program that would enhance the spirituality of our worship, the education of our youth, and the connection between our congregation and the institutions of our Reform Movement. In the Winter of 2009, Barbara Eagle, Barbara Schmidt, and I met in New York City early one Sunday morning to interview and audition nearly two dozen students from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion School of Sacred Music.
Our goal: To find an eager Cantorial student willing to serve our congregation for the coming year; someone who would bring new music, fresh ideas, and unique learning opportunities to York that could only come from someone trained in the traditions of Jewish nusach (musical modes and styles). In addition, I was looking for someone that I could help along their personal and professional journey through the HUC-JIR SSM mentoring program… a brilliant partnering program that allows students to learn Cantorial OR Rabbinic skills from ordained clergy.
The result: Cantor Tracy Fishbein – a not-so-rough diamond – who gave our congregation every ounce of her soul, and so many of her not-so-spare moments.
As many of you know, the HUC cantorial mentoring program is designed to be a single-year opportunity… allowing students to “try” different congregations “on for size.” The program gives students a chance to travel to different regions throughout the country, work within a variety of clergy-team scenarios, experiment with musical styles, and consider how they might see themselves developing, professionally, as a cantor.
Her magnificent voice. Her broad, welcoming smile from the bima. Her gentle approach to educating our children. Her inviting personality – encouraging both youth and adults to join choirs that would enhance their personal ruach (spirit) as well as that of our worship. This was what we received from our one year relationship with our first-ever cantorial student.
At the end of the first year, I (along with so many of you) hoped that Cantor Fishbein would agree to remain with us for a second year. How blessed we were that she agreed!
At the end of the second year, I (along with more of you) hoped that Cantor Fishbein would agree to remain with us for a (truly unheard of) third year. How much more were we blessed that she agreed!
And now we find ourselves at the end of our third year together. It is true that I (and most of you) had hoped that something could have been arranged to allow Cantor Fishbein to remain with us beyond her Cantorial Ordination; alas, such an arrangement was not meant to be.
After three years of singing, learning, celebrating, and growing together, the time has come for us to say, “l’hitra’ot” – “until we see each other again.” This is – of course – the bitter.
The sweet, however, is knowing that as a mentoring congregation we have served the next generation of Jewish leadership very well. After three years, we now take great pride in watching Cantor Fishbein leave the nest that we have created together in York, PA, and take flight as the professional Cantor we have helped her to become.
On July 1, Cantor Fishbein will formally begin her cantorial career at “The Temple” in Nashville, TN, serving with my colleague and friend, Rabbi Mark Schiftan.
I know you will join me in watching Cantor Fishbein continue to thrive as we celebrate her milestones from afar. As soon as I have details regarding her ceremony of installation, I will pass this information along so that others who wish to join me in traveling to Nashville for this momentous occasion will have the opportunity to do so.
While I eagerly anticipate Cantor Fishbein’s remaining few visits with us, I encourage you to join me for a wonderful weekend of festivities on May 18 & 19 as we celebrate the relationship we all have come to enjoy.
Together, let us rejoice in what we – as a congregation – have given to Cantor Fishbein… just as she has given to us.
May she know only goodness and blessing as she continues forth on her journey… from strength to strength.
Rabbi Jeffrey R. Astrachan