What a thrill it was to bring in Shabbat Shira with so much joy and beautiful music! I am so grateful for the participation of our incredible Junior Choir, Adult Choir, our soloists, and our Rock of Israel Band members. It was certainly a team effort to learn so much music and lead it beautifully, and even despite some last-minute challenges, we were still able to pray and sing together with ruach. It truly takes a village, and I am so grateful.
February is often viewed as a month of love. While certainly, this month brings with it a time to appreciate and dote on our partners, I view it as being deeper than that. It is not often on our calendar that we take time to acknowledge this most basic instinct of ours to love another. We love our spouses, siblings, parents, children, grandchildren, friends, pets, the list goes on. At the root of this love is connection, the connection between us and another, and perhaps something more. Recently, I have been exploring through my own reflections those moments in which I feel God’s presence. I was surprised to find that I felt God most when I connect with another person, sharing stories, being vulnerable with each other, being there for each other when you need each other, even sharing a funny moment. It is these moments of connectedness that bring that God spark, the goodness in the world, a shared instant of perfection amidst all of our imperfections. God finds a way into it all.
Our liturgy too contains prayers of love, what I affectionately call “the Sh’ma sandwich”, a part of the section of our service titled Sh’ma and its Blessings. Ahavah Rabbah/Ahavat Olam states that God showed God’s love for us by giving us the Torah. We then proclaim our faith in God with Sh’ma. After that, in V’ahavta, we say that we will love God with all of our hearts, souls, and muchness, and that we will fulfill the commandments and teach them to our children. It is a two-sided relationship we have with God, a connection, and at the center of this relationship is love. We want to love and be loved. However, we, who are created in God’s image, b’tzelem Elohim, extend our love to others but often neglect to turn inwards and find that God spark within ourselves. Perhaps to love God is also to love yourself and practice self care, connecting with our inner needs and wants and acting on them. I pray that this month be a month of unbounding love for each other and for ourselves and that we continue to be aware of those sacred moments of connection 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 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