Posted on May 28, 2020
Amidst all the change and turmoil we’ve all experienced this year, as a congregation we’ve also been blessed to have Student Cantor Simkin’s beautiful voice and spirit leading us in prayer. As the newly ordained Cantor Simkin concludes her final services with us, and prepares to assume her new role as full-time cantor for Temple Emmanuel in Edison, she looks back on a year of growth, learning and spirituality at Temple Beth-El and cantorial school.
“I am really so grateful for this year with Temple Beth-El,” Cantor Simkin reflects. “I appreciate the wonderful opportunity and the warm welcome I received. This is such a special community.” At the beginning of cantorial school, she says, students are focused on becoming familiar with the liturgy and prayers. “But as you approach ordination, it’s a big step to figure out the balance of how to pray while leading others and being engaged in the energy of ommunal prayer,” she explains. “There’s a sense of flow you need to develop, and to learn how to pay attention to what’s happening in the room. TBE has been a very warm and welcoming place for me to integrate those ideas,” smiles Cantor Simkin. “This has been a year in which to gain experience and envision what my cantorate could be.”
Some of the other highlights of her time with TBE have been working with b’nai mitzvah students and Soufganiyot, the children’s choir; family Shabbat services; and leading shira/music during Sunday school. And working with the four- and five-year-olds, “getting to be their first experience with prayer,” has been especially meaningful for her.
Cantor Simkin says she’s also very appreciative of the understanding and flexibility the community has shown towards her situation, juggling being a full-time cantorial student four days a week, and then “flipping the switch to be in the mindset of leading a congregation three times a week.” These roles require much different energies and focus, and she also found it quite different from being a guest student cantor at a congregation once a month.
In the current environment, Cantor Simkin has found it bittersweet to be ordained, virtually in the meantime, on May 10. Fortunately, an in-person ordination is being planned at Temple Emmanuel in New York City later this fall or winter, when everyone can be safely present. But, she points out, “Ritual helps us to be present in our lives, and this experience underscores that, even on Zoom.” As she looks ahead to her new adventure with Temple Emmanuel in Edison, she’s very much looking forward to devoting all her energies to being a full-time cantor, and to settling into her new home on Staten Island, where her husband, Adam, will begin his clinical rotations at Staten Island University Hospital in the fall.
Cantor Simkin’s final service with us will be the Saturday morning Torah study on June 20. We at Temple Beth-El thank you, Cantor Simkin, for your dedication, your warmth and your lovely voice, and wish you all the best in your new congregation!
Originally published in the May-June 2020 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.