By Hazzan Ben Tisser
As I reflect on my six years at NSS Beth El, a passage from the Torah comes to mind: “For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you may prune your vineyard…and I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year…” (Leviticus 25:3, 11). For the last six years I have felt blessed to come to work every day at Beth El. Truly, being a Cantor is the most wonderful job in the world. I have the opportunity to share in the lives of thousands of people, to teach, to learn, to share holy moments, and of course to make music.
As I walk the halls, I am reminded of all that has been accomplished here these years. I can see the Sanctuary packed to the brim as we delayed the first a cappella concert’s start while adding more chairs; I hear the voices of our children singing with the choir on the High Holy Days; I see the transformation of our sacred spaces as we made them accessible to those with a variety of needs; I remember conversations at Kiddush and in the parking lot, meetings at which big plans were made and big changes were catalyzed. In these six years, so much has changed at Beth El, and it has been an honor to have played some part in that change.
I remember my first visit to Beth El – months before my interview. I was in town to study with Hazzan Mizrahi at Anshe Emet, and knowing that I would be applying for this position, I made an appointment to meet with Rabbi Kurtz. He showed me around the facility, telling me the history of the shul, and inquiring about my own background. We bonded over common experiences as children singing in the choirs of our own Cantors, and said that we both looked forward to meeting again. (For those who don’t know the story, ask me about how he tried to “stump” me at my audition!). I recall the weekend of my interview, riding with Larry Weiner to morning minyan, being shown around by Jackie Melinger, spending Shabbat with the Starkman-Pachters and their Havurah, and getting to know many of our core group of leaders who have remained so involved for all these years. I will never forget the many wonderful experiences I have had here—they have shaped me in so many ways.
I have been blessed to work with incredible clergy and staff colleagues. Rabbi Kurtz was an incredible mentor and friend. Rabbi Schwab has not only been an excellent partner, but a friend and confidant as well. Together we worked hard to create programming and rituals reflective of our community’s values, and at the same time recognizing that we have the opportunity and ability to grow. I am so proud of the work we have done, and am ever grateful for his constant support in my own work. Although we have only worked together for a couple of years, Rabbi Freedman is an incredible asset to this community and to the team. His creativity is endless, his sensitivity to people knows no bounds. He is a great Rabbi and it’s been my privilege to work with him. I must finally acknowledge our Ritual Directors, with whom I have worked so closely on a daily basis, ensuring that our B’nai Mitzvah program continues as strong as ever. Mark Stadler remains a great friend, and I am so glad I got to know him here. Hazzan Barnett is an incredibly passionate and compassionate educator – I am grateful to her for her collegiality and dedicated work.
On the lay side, there are far too many people to name, and I fear I’ll leave some out. There are, however, a few people I must acknowledge specifically. Mark Mosk was tasked with helping me acclimate to the community in my first year. We began speaking on the phone regularly from the start, and then would meet for breakfast after minyan once in a while. He has been a constant source of support, of good feedback, and a good friend above all. Steve Abrams and Brian Jacobson, in succession, have chaired our Music Committee for the past four years. It is because of their leadership that we have a clear mission and vision, as well as a dedicated group of volunteers who will work hard to ensure an excellent future for music at Beth El. Finally, I offer unending gratitude to JoAnne Blumberg. For my first four years she chaired our B’nai Mitzvah Liaison committee, then became VP Ritual, and all the while ran the High Holy Day committee for our Sanctuary services. JoAnne, I could not have done my job without you. We have spoken or emailed at literally every hour of the day. We have been with each other in moments of sadness and celebration, and our friendship is truly special. I will miss working with you each day.
Robyn shares her thanks for having welcomed her so warmly and lovingly into the community. The experiences she had at Beth El have had deep influence on her own Yiddishkeit, and we have loved reminiscing about so much of our time here. My children have grown so much here. Ethan was three months old when we moved to Highland Park, and soon he will begin second grade! Thank you for nurturing them, for playing with them, and for loving them while I was on the bimah. You made shul a place they looked forward to coming.
“Six years you shall sow your field…” We have done so much together these six years, and now as I look back, as I read the emails and Facebook notes that have come in recent days, I realize that God has surely ordained God’s blessing in this, the sixth year, and that the yield is great. One cannot often realize the impact their work has on the lives of others. As grateful as many of you have expressed you are for my service, I am doubly grateful for having had this incredible opportunity. I have been touched deeply by each of you. Through good and through bad, you have been my community and my extended family. God bless you all with good health and length of days, and may you always be with a song in your heart and in your mouths.
Now we say l’hitra’ot—we’ll see you soon—for we know we will be back to visit. As I begin my tenure at Beth El Synagogue this summer, I will take all of the memories, the lessons, and the encouragement you have offered with me. I have been changed so much by my time here. We hope you will visit us if you are in the Twin Cities. You will be able to reach me after July 1 at firstname.lastname@example.org – stay in touch!
Stay healthy and safe, and have a great summer. I know that great things will continue to happen at NSS Beth El!
Hazzan Ben Tisser