Letter to the Congregation April 14, 2022:
Dear Or Ami Family,
March 26th was bittersweet as Congregation Or Ami honored and celebrated Cantor Doug Cotler’s music, life, and legacy. Amongst tears and laughter in the theater, we took another step to mark the transition toward retirement of Or Ami’s founding clergyperson. If you missed the concert or want to relive those beautiful moments again, watch our video at orami.org/ONE. Additionally, please save Friday, June 24th, as we will celebrate Cantor Doug’s final service as our cantor.
This is a major lifecycle moment for Congregation Or Ami filled with so many emotions: joy for the cantor’s journey, sadness as we say goodbye, and warmth as we name him Cantor Emeritus. It also brings trepidation as we begin the next major step of our musical life: a year of transition and a search for our next cantor.
We would like to share Or Ami’s plans with you, mapping out the background for our planning including a year of transition and next steps for the search of our next cantor.
Background to the Planning Process
The planning process began two years ago as we mapped out a transition plan at our Board Meeting in February 2020. However, eleven days later the Covid pandemic hit and our transition plans and the Cantor’s retirement were postponed as we focused on caring for the community and on enabling Cantor Doug to stay with us through June 30, 2022.
Recently, Or Ami’s board explored an updated Musical Transition and Cantorial Search Plan (the “Plan”), which we want to share with you. This Plan provides Or Ami with the opportunity to relish our Cantor’s music, explore the breadth of contemporary Jewish music, enjoy the talents of our own homegrown singers who were mentored by Cantor Doug, and thoughtfully consider who our next cantor will be.
Transition Year: A Year of Music
In the coming year 2022-2023, our Plan guides us to enjoy four kinds of Shabbat experiences:
- Music Lab Shabbat, expanding our view of the Jewish music scene by bringing in guest cantors, prominent Jewish composers, and deep thinkers about the contemporary Jewish music scene to educate and inspire us. (These guests will not be future applicants for our cantorial position).
- Music of Or Ami Shabbat, featuring our own homegrown Cantor Doug-mentored musical congregants, so we can enjoy the warm embrace of our inheritance.
- Kid-ish Club and Tot Shabbat, designed as services for our youngest congregants and the adults who love them.
- Shabbat of Exploration, offering either prominent thinkers at our services, Saturday Torah Study organized by our Rabbis, or Home Shabbat.
Each quarter we will announce a Musical Menu which will offer more specific plans for each Shabbat event over the next few months. Developed by our clergy, the Musical Menu will be coordinated by Rabbinic Intern Sam Thal and congregant Scott Rabin. Be prepared for familiar music, new compositions, varied voices, and multiple musical instruments.
High Holy Days 5783/2022
Our High Holy Days (HHDs) Production Team – Harry Friedman, Karin Pofsky, Peter Kraut, Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Cantor Doug Cotler (yes, he is helping us through these HHDs!), and Rabbi Julia Weisz – have been hard at work since October 2021 to develop plans for the upcoming HHDs. Recognizing the depth of talent in our own congregation, our huge archive of Or Ami chorale and cantorial music, and guided by the cantor’s amazing vision (while being mindful of the uncertainty of the pandemic’s continued evolution), we have developed a plan that will work whether we are at full attendance in the Thousand Oaks theatre, a hybrid/on-line/partial attendance, or if we need to be fully online.
Our HHDs services will feature the talent Cantor Doug has been inviting to the bimah at HHDs services for years. We turn to them to comfort us, guide our prayers, and uplift us. All singers and music are being prepared and rehearsed by Cantor Doug. Each will be produced by congregant and nationally known composer Alan Lazar. Rabbi Paul and Rabbi Julia will bring wisdom, humor, and hope. Archived and new music videos will uplift us. In addition, Cantor Doug will show up in surprising ways to carry us through. Be prepared for an inspiring set of HHDs services.
Our Cantorial Search
Congregation Or Ami will be participating in American Conference of Cantors (ACC) placement process to ensure that we find an excellent, inspiring, experienced cantor to guide us forward. The ACC is the Reform Movement’s cantorial organization, which, through its support for and cultivation of excellence among cantors, strengthens Reform Jewish life in North America. It is imperative that we follow this process in order to keep the integrity of this sacred search.
Our new cantor will need to be equipped to be attentive to the joys and challenges that our Partners face over the course of their lives, using both a unique calling to music and prayer and a sense shared responsibility with our rabbis for offering spiritual leadership to the congregation. The ACC’s placement procedures ensure a robust search process while making sure all parties needs are met. By welcoming a full-time cantor to our clergy team, Or Ami will be in the position to deepen our Henaynu caring, diversify our musical programs, and expand our congregant involvement in adult and youth chorales, bands, and songleading corps.
We are excited to announce that Marla Landis and Kevin Palm will co-chair our Cantorial Search Task Force, a team that also includes Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Linda Blumenthal, Erin Mayer, Rachel Paul, and Hugh Roberts. Our President Craig Steinhauer and Rabbi Julia Weisz also serve as ex-officio Task Force Members.
We are deeply appreciative of the many other Partners who offered to participate in our search.. While the current cantorial search climate requires a smaller, more nimble Cantorial Search Task Force, our process has built-in multiple opportunities for participation and feedback in the search process from Or Ami Partners. We want your voices heard and insights shared. The entire congregation will be able to offer immediate, real-time feedback on musical experiences, our longer term music vision, and ultimately, the experiences with the cantorial candidates who are brought to the synagogue to audition and interview.
Musical Transition Year and Cantorial Search Webpage
We are building our Cantorial Search webpage – orami.org/cantorsearch – which will keep the congregation informed of our process and upcoming plans. We will also post our quarterly Music Menu of Shabbat services, our longer term musical vision, and links to feedback forms for use after guests share music with us.
Our Journey Ahead
Finally, we know from our own experiences and those of synagogues all over the country that when a beloved, long term (founding!!) cantor leaves the congregation, the transition is marked by sadness, a sense of loss, anxiety or even fear for the future, and a worry that the synagogue “will never be the same.” We need to honor these feelings in ourselves and others. We need to recognize that our leaders and clergy share some of the same feelings as we all process the emotions of this transition.
So we need to be our best selves – caring for each other on this journey ahead. Like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, we are venturing into the unknown. But let’s be better than them. Where they kvetched and complained and argued, let’s breathe and talk and be in touch with our inner emotional selves.
We are Congregation Or Ami, a light of My People – God’s people – and we have a history of facing challenges as opportunities and every time emerging creatively and compassionately as a stronger community.
We are always here if you want or need to talk about all this.
Rabbi Paul Kipnes President Craig Steinhauer Rabbi Julia Weisz
Or Ami Cantorial Search Task Force
Marla Landis and Kevin Palm, co-chairs
Rabbi Paul Kipnes
President Craig Steinhauer, ex-officio
Rabbi Julia Weisz, ex-officio
Marcy Balogh, Consultant