Growing up, the sound of the seder in my family was people taking turns reading in English, Spanish, Hebrew, and Ladino as well as some terribly out of tune singing in Hebrew and Ladino. My family created their own Turkish Sephardic Haggadah we used for many years until the schmutz overtook them. I would be referred to as Mrs. Afikomen Lady, for having found the afikomen so many times. I think of my whole family screaming out “Yuhuluhuluhulu” after making the Hillel sandwich at the end of the first part of the seder.
The taste of Pesach in my mind is the lechuga (lettuce) and schmurah matzah dipped in the mushy, date-rich charoset I hated as a child. My mom and I made it a point to always make our own chunky Ashkenazi-style charoset because we liked it better. I also savor the Rosh Hashanah seder foods my family makes at both Rosh Hashanah and Pesach seders because we love them so much: prasa (leek patties), espinaka (spinach patties), and buñuelos (essentially fried matzah meal dough with sugar sprinkled on top). I also can’t forget matzah ball soup. My mom one year made matzah balls that were like rocks and the entire family still won’t let her live it down.
Each year, I think about how rich my family’s tradition is and how I can incorporate some of my culture into new settings, since now I am the one leading seders and am the one passing on tradition. I bear the torch of my family’s legacy. Much of what I grew up with is different than others’ traditions, and I find it so meaningful to continue learning about all of the rich traditions people have that are unique to their families and congregations. I am so looking forward to spending Pesach together for the first time this year and learning from each other and singing together loudly before and after we stuff our faces.
Wishing everyone a Pesach sameach,
Student Cantor Jen 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