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Jewish congregation welcomes new cantor

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012 | Posted by

By MELODY KARPINSKI / Santa Rosa Correspondent

Cantor Stephen Abelson (Courtesy of Congregation Shomrei Torah)

Congregation Shomrei Torah of Santa Rosa welcomed their first official cantor Stephen Abelson earlier this month. Abelson previously served as an assistant cantor at the Temple Israel in Minneapolis.

According to congregation President Bruce Falstein, the synagogue began looking for a cantor last fall, after receiving word that their liturgical soloist would be moving out of the area. Abelson was chosen after an extensive nationwide search.

“Cantor Stephen is very knowledgeable about the musical liturgy and has a soaring, majestic voice that is very uplifting,” said Falstein. “But equally important, he has an incredibly sweet and compassionate demeanor.”

Music has long played a part in Jewish religious tradition, and cantors are in essence, worship leaders. “Many prayers are sung, either as a solo by the cantor or by the congregation led by the cantor,” said Falstein.

Abelson received his training at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s H.L. Miller Cantorial School in New York City. After graduating from seminary, he began work at Temple Israel, where his father served as head cantor for over 30 years.

The difference between a cantor and liturgical soloist is in large part due to a cantor’s status as clergy. While a liturgical soloist may be on par musically, a cantor is also an ordained clergy member. “Their training is similar to that of rabbis, although not quite as rigorous,” Falstein said.

Falstein said cantors are usually a part of larger congregations, and “smaller ones aspire to have one as we did.” While their previous liturgical soloist was “beloved” and left “very large shoes to fill,” Falstein believes Cantor Abelson will become “equally admired and beloved.”

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Ann Hutchinson is our Santa Rosa correspondent.
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