Changes at Sinai

The grapevine is all abuzz, and I’d like to take a moment to clarify a situation that has blossomed into controversy over the past couple of weeks.

Many of you have heard through channels that staffing changes are taking place at Sinai Temple in Westwood, effective at the start of the calendar year.  At one of the few remaining temples that employs a professional vocal quartet on a weekly basis, the Saturday morning “choir” will now be made up of Jewish singers only.  Decisions about contracting for the High Holy Days have not yet been finalized.

I have been a temple singer for nearly twenty years, and have sung at Sinai for the last eight-and-a-half.  I have enjoyed this position thoroughly, fostering a deep love of this congregation’s extraordinary choral repertoire, and building strong relationships with colleagues whom I now consider family.  As I am not Jewish (Goldenhersh is the name from my erstwhile marriage), December will be my last month on staff there.

This is not actually a change in policy, but a renewal of existing convictions, based on liturgical doctrine.  In short, this is a difficult decision made by the clergy, based on the spiritual needs of the congregation. It is not a question of ethnicity, but of the spiritual connection of those responsible for reciting prayers within the service.  It is an issue that has been faced by many other faiths and denominations.  Most churches have also grappled with the question of who can sing as cantor, be in the choir, read scripture, etc., and interpretations vary.

Whether or not you agree with the policy or this interpretation of Jewish law, the decisions about how to worship and who to involve are ultimately up to Sinai’s leaders.  They have taken that responsibility seriously, with considerable sadness and continuing attempts to understand what it means for those affected.  Many thanks to those who have contacted the members of the existing Sinai Choir to offer support, and particular thanks to organist/choirmaster Aryell Cohen, to Rabbi David Wolpe, and to Cantor Marcus Feldman, for the kindness and humanity they have exhibited during this difficult transition.

Because this situation is both controversial and still in progress, please treat all involved with respect and understanding.  The news has been the subject of a great deal of speculation, discussion, and even anger — online and IRL — and there is much misinformation floating about.  We at the List hope to continue working closely with Sinai to support their ongoing music programs, and will help them connect with local vocal pros whenever possible.  Please bear this in mind as you come to your own terms about this change in the local landscape.  We’ll post updates as appropriate.

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