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What they say about us
Steve Griffiths of Lincoln, England says…
Being a military pilot and flying instructor, I was particularly taken by the EAJL metaphor of flying on eagle’s wings. From take off to landing I have enjoyed a most rewarding and thrilling flight which I would like to share with you.
I have been a Lay Leader and Shliach Tsibbur of various small communities in England and Europe as my military career progressed. I had never been formally taught how to lead services, but military life gives one the experience and confidence to speak and sing in public. I had become reasonably competent in Erev Shabbat, Shabbat Torah and Musaf services, but had never tackled anything as long or complex as Shacharit.
I have known Cantor Jacky Chernett since 1985. She saw in me the potential to ‘spread my wings’. Through tapes, CD-ROMs, music manuscript and above all, personal tutorials, she helped me to learn High Holydays (HHDs) Pesukay D’Zimra, Torah and Yizkor services, plus Yom Kippur Mincha. These I have led over recent years at the Kol Nefesh Masorti (KNM) kehilla in North London. Through Jacky’s inspiration, she has encouraged those of us who lead HHDs services to learn new parts of the Machzor. So, I opted this year to learn the Rosh Hashana Shacharit service. I bought the musical Machzor and CD-ROM by Hazzan Pinchas Spiro from the Cantors Assembly in New York and was ready to start.
The Take Off
The task, though, was too large and complex to enable me to learn it alone. I needed a mentor. By happenstance, EAJL was just leaving the nest and seemed the ideal vehicle for my studies. I sent in my details, hopes and ambitions. Within a matter of days I was partnered with Hazzan Alan Smolen of the Beth Judah Conservative Synagogue in Ventnor City, New Jersey. Although I already had Skype, he had Yahoo Messenger, so I downloaded the latter and we were off.
Hazzan Alan was a Kentucky Colonel while I had a great interest in American Football, so we soon found common ground to break the ice, get to know one another and plan the modus operandi of the mentoring. We did not use a webcam, but that did not matter because the technology made it seem as though we were in the same room. I set the pace by planning how much I felt able to learn in the period from one session to the next. With the five hour time difference, we connected about every three weeks at 1pm his time/6pm my time. Each session lasted from 30 minutes up to an hour depending on work done and progress made.
I work best with tight but manageable deadlines, so I had the perfect motivation to get into the books, study the texts, practise the nusach and where necessary research the sources. Hazzan Alan proved to be a great mentor, not afraid to correct errors, but in a supportive and motivational way. He also added his views on certain texts and offered alternative melodies, sending MP3 versions where necessary. From January through to May of this year (2008) I entered the joys, challenges, demands and responsibilities of learning to lead a congregation in a very central prayer service.
Having completed the study, I took a couple of weeks’ holiday in the USA and decided to visit Hazzan Alan to say a personal thank you for all his support. It was a real privilege to have worked with him. He epitomises everything that is the best about EAJL, its ability to connect the right expert for the right student, its ability to cross international boundaries at the click of a mouse, its willingness to embrace modern technology and above all else, its recognition of the urgent need for liturgical study and its ability to meet that need. My thanks also go the Cantor Jacky for her inspirational founding of EAJL and for her continued support as I travel this exciting liturgical journey.
CHANA KARMANN-LENTE, HAMBURG, GERMANY says
Empowered on EAJL’s wings…
It was at the launch of EAJL during the European Masorti Conference in Paris, that I first met its director, Chazan Jaclyn Chernett. This encounter had a real great aftermath: I got encouraged to start Beit Shira, and I was accepted as one of the first students at the Academy!
As the prayer leader of Beit Shira, a Conservative chavura in Northern Germany, EAJL offers me the unique chance to back up my voluntary work with professional learning. Whereas until half a year ago my only resources were my theoretical knowledge I gained while graduating in Jewish Studies, and my practical experience from serving as a prayer leader and Torah reader in a Liberal community, EAJL now has teamed me up with my personal mentor - a conservative cantor from New Jersey! The concept of EAJL enables people to study together independent of time and location. With EAJL, professional education becomes compatible with a lively family, a full-time job, and the ongoing work for our emerging community.
There are two important factors for EAJL's success: a strong network of cantors, and the use of modern technology: video-calls via Skype! I meet my mentor generally on a weekly basis - due to the time difference, the best day for this is Sunday. As soon as the ringing sound comes from the loudspeakers, our study turns into a classroom. And there she is on the screen: Cantor Marcia Lane of Temple Beth El in Oakhurst, and a member of the Cantors Assembly. Like in a chevruta we seem to be sitting vis-à-vis at a table - this is just amazing. For the next hour we will work together on our first module of the academy's training program – Shacharit le Shabbat. From theory to practice we cover everything, with a special emphasis on traditional nussach. We share melodies, analyse traditional approaches, continuously compile a siddur, and we always discuss about the best way to implement it in Beit Shira. Marcia is a wonderful and patient mentor and a constant resource of knowledge and advice. Our sessions are a highlight of each week!
It is EAJL’s mission to support new and evolving Jewish conservative communities in Europe. For Beit Shira, EAJL is providing the chance of turning from dream into reality by ensuring a strong spiritual backing. When you pass by a synagogue you can tell from the nussach you hear what day and what part of that day it is. When you pass by a non-orthodox prayer room in Greater Hamburg and you here nussach chanted at all, you know that this is Beit Shira - a small Masorti chavura, just emerging, and yet with high-standard services. Credit for this goes to EAJL!
Toda raba, Jacky!
MONIQUE MAYER, LONDON, UK says
It's been a wonderful journey through the Shabbat with you, and your passion for nusach is so inspiring. I think sometimes as Rabbinic students we get very caught up in the intellectual side of Judaism, making it easy to forget that other aspects such as nusach can be important to our own--and our congregants'--spiritual nurturing.