t is almost surreal to think that the High Holy Days have gone just as quickly as they came. I am inspired by a reading I came upon in our prayerbook, Mishkan Tefilah:
“If people fall, can they not also rise? If they break away, can
they not return? The stork in the sky knows when to migrate.
The dove and the swallow know the season of return. What
human instinct knows the time to turn back? What cue sparks
the conscience of the soul? We pray to sense this day anew,
attuned to the call of sacred living.”
In the wake of this season of renewal, I think about what it means to live a sacred life. How can we embody holiness and embrace ourselves as klei kodesh , as holy vessels? Every year, Hebrew Union College faculty and rabbinical, cantorial, and education students get together at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center in Canaan, Connecticut for our kallah , a few days of scholarly learning, reflection, and renewal. This year, our topic of focus was on the holiness in our lives. I walked away with one major thought that has carried me through this month: that the holiness we experience in our lives is a result of our openness to receiving that holiness. Holiness lies in connection, whether it be in the connections between us and other people, between us and God, between us and nature, or being connected with ourselves. For me, the key to finding that holiness is in our own vulnerability. When we are vulnerable, we look to others for guidance, to God for guidance, to our own strengths to uplift us. When we open ourselves up and put down our walls, we are more receptive to being inspired by the wisdom of others, and to making meaningful, deep connections with other people.
As I begin my journey as your student cantor, I am inspired by the holy connections I have made and will continue to make in the year ahead. I have been inspired by the hard work and dedication of our incredible choir and accompanists as they gave countless hours of their time to help uplift our High Holy Days services. I am inspired by Rabbi Howald and his menschiness. I am inspired by how much this congregation truly takes to heart the phrase “it takes a village”. I am inspired to pray together every week. I find so much beauty in the fact that prayer is one of the most vulnerable things you can do, and yet, we do it together. Prayer asks us to step back put our lives into perspective, to make ourselves small, to hope. The fact that we come together as a community to do something so personal is so beautiful and so holy, and we draw on each other for strength. As we continue this journey of holiness together in the new year, may we continue to be inspired by each other and God and be open to finding and embracing the holiness in our lives.
Student Cantor Jennifer Benrey
Shalom, Temple Israelites!’
For those whom I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jennifer Benrey, and I am incredibly excited to be your student cantor beginning this September!
I was born and raised in Miami Beach, FL, and come from a diverse Jewish background. My mother is a Hungarian Ashkenazi Jew and my dad is a Cuban Turkish Sephardic Jew. I am what we in Miami refer to as a “Jewban”. My Judaism is influenced by both my Reform Jewish upbringing and also by the customs and culture of my Cuban Turkish Sephardic family. I am fluent in Spanish and grew up reading the haggadah for both Rosh Hashanah and Pesach in 4 languages: English, Hebrew, Spanish, and Ladino.
I am currently in my 4th year of cantorial school at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at HUC-JIR. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Florida State University in 2013, where I earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree in Choral Music. I had the pleasure of teaching Jewish and secular music (and math) in Miami in various capacities prior to my cantorial studies while also serving as the assistant conductor of two Jewish community choirs and leading services regularly at several synagogues across Miami. Choir is a huge passion of mine, and I am very much looking forward to working with the adult choir this year!
I am currently spending my summer as the cantorial intern at Central Synagogue in Manhattan and have served as the cantorial intern for the past two years at Temple Beth-El in Jersey City. I have been very lucky to have had incredible clergy mentors and congregants in these communities and in other communities where I have served. I currently live in Jersey City and am engaged to my fiancé, Dan, who is from St. Louis. He is also a cantorial student and very much looks forward to meeting you all soon!
I consider myself extraordinarily fortunate to be able to grow as a cantor at Temple Israel and am excited to get to know you all and your families and to rejoice together in song!
Student Cantor Jennifer Benrey