One of the richest parts of our inherited Jewish civilization is the vast treasury of our people's music, accumulated by gifted Jewish musicians in all the countries of our history. In the Jewish world, the Hazzan has typically been the creative proponent and communal resource of that tradition.
Hazzan Jack Kessler ordaining Hazzan Daniel Kempin & Hazzan Steven Klaper. Photo by Janice Rubin
In the current era, with vast information technology available to us, we encounter unprecedented access to Jewish music as a global phenomenon, and yet really deep immersion in Jewish culture, its rhythms, values, history, traditions, and its musical heritage is hard to come by. And, as Reb Zalman would often say: “Music is the carrier wave of the message.” While the dilution of once-rich religious and ethnic cultures and their assimilation into the dominant culture is a common theme to groups faced with assimilation, the unprecedented access to new forms of transmission is a powerful tool with which we can renew our strength as a unique spiritual civilization.
It was for this goal that some years ago Reb Zalman deployed Hazzan Jack Kessler to develop a new kind of cantorial program that would train hazzanim who are grounded in tradition and who can also navigate the shifting territory of our times to keep our music alive, relevant, and growing into the future. They agreed that this would entail training people with a spectrum of skills that go far beyond pure vocal performance and the skill-set that once was sufficient for someone to be called a hazzan.
As of 2015, the Cantorial Path of the ALEPH Ordination Program (AOP) has 14 students, making its enrollment about the same size, or slightly larger, than enrollment in other cantorial seminaries.
ALEPH hazzanim are trained not only in the vocal performance aspect of cantorial song and prayer, but engage in graduate-level Jewish studies, and acquire sophisticated pastoral skills so that they can function as clergy with a wide range of capabilities, including as sole spiritual leaders for Jewish communities.
The ALEPH Cantorial Program covers three main areas:
Music, Nusach, and Davvenology: In addition to the two-year core curriculum in classical Ashkenazi nusach, we have a series of short (typically ½ semester) courses in non-Ashkenazi music (Sephardi, etc — see below) that give students access to the rich banquet of global Jewish music, plus courses in Jewish music history and Middle Eastern modality. Considerable attention is given to ancillary musical skills: becoming a baal niggun, leading chant-style singing, etc. The Davvenen' Leadership Training Institutue (DLTI) trains our hazzanim to lead effectively in a wide variety of contexts and creatively blend both traditional and contemporary emerging styles. High-level vocal coaching trains students to bring their full neshamah into their singing voice, in a way that is natural, accessible, and encouraging of congregational participation.
Jewish Studies: Cantorial students take a range of courses on the AOP grid, including Biblical Civilization and Text, Hasidism, Deep Ecumenism, Jewish Philosophy and Theology, R' Zalman's thought, the academic Jewish liturgy courses, the Life Cycle course and residential practica.
Pastoral skills: Students take the year course in pastoral counseling, plus one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) or equivlent.
Hazzan Jack Kessler was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC. He coached Hazzanut with David Koussevitzky, studied composition with Miriam Gideon, and received the Albert Einstein Memorial Prize in Hazzanut, the Cantors Assembly Prize and the Jacobson Memorial Prize in Hazzanut. He went on to have a twenty-year career serving Conservative congregations. He received a Master's degree in voice from Boston Conservatory (Deans List) and pursued two years work in composition in the Graduate Department of Music at Brandeis University; studied with Arthur Berger and Harold Shapero. He has been a teacher of hazzanut and voice for 30 years, and has continued his own vocal training during this time. He is a master Ba’al Tefillah and Ba’al Korei, and can leyn most of the Torah on sight. A decade ago, he developed the innovative Torah Cantillation Program now published as Leynen in the Fast Leyn with accompanying cd. He created the Nusach for the Jewish Liturgical Year study program of recordings and sheet music for weekdays, Shabbat, Shalosh Regalim, High Holidays, other holidays and festivals and life-cycle observances. He has also been a student of Reb Zalman’s and involved in B’nai Or, P’nai Or and ALEPH since 1985.
Other faculty include ALEPH graduate Hazzan Abbe Lyons, who supervises music theory, and Rabbi Hazzan Bob Freedman, who supervises Hebrew proficiency. Further music courses are taught by specialists in their respective fields. Cantorial students complete the other required coursework in programs and courses taught by ALEPH rabbinic and rabbinic pastor faculty. Cantorial students can register for all courses within the entire AOP course catalog for which they have the applicable prerequisites.
Teachers from the last few years include:
- Hankus Netsky — Eastern European Jewish Music
- Dr. Marlena Fuerstmann — Applied Global Jewish Music
- Avraham Danan — Moroccan music
- Hazzan George Mordecai — Iraqi music
- Hazzan Ramon Tasat — Sephardi
- Hazzan Jalda Rebling (ALEPH graduate) — Tehilim
- Dr. Alex Knapp — Jewish music history
- Samuel Thomas, Ethnomusicologist — Maqam (the Middle Eastern modal system)
- Brian Schachter — Modal Harmony
- Dr. Saul Wachs — Zemirot Poetry/ and the 3-semester Liturgy Text sequence
- Rabbi Nehemiah Polen — Niggun
- Joseph Tayoun — workshops in the use of percussion to accompany tefillah
In 2015, the ALEPH Ordination Program ordained two hazzanim, including the fourth hazzan from Germany. Our 2016 gradating hazzanim serve congregations in Washington DC and NYC.
Through the rabbis and hazzanim we are training, the ALEPH Ordination Program is changing the face of Jewish life in Europe, throughout the US and Canada, and around the world. Our graduates are serving in a spectrum of congregational contexts, and are embarking on unique ventures to bring Jewish spiritual experience alive for the unaffiliated and those seeking deeper meaning in their Jewish lives.
Applying to the ALEPH Cantorial Program
- If you are not yet active in a community or havurah involved with Jewish Renewal, you will want to find out if there is one near you. There are about 50 such groups, many also affiliated with one of the denominations of American Judaism.
- If there is no Renewal-oriented community near you, we invite your participation in other ways. You can get involved in an ALEPH project and you can participate in retreats, workshops, and classes offered by ALEPH, such as the Kallah and Ruach HaAretz, and by other centers such as Elat Chayyim. Attendance at special events sponsored by ALEPH, as well as other Renewal-oriented, rabbis and teachers is also encouraged.
- All applicants to the ALEPH Rabbinic Program are Chai-level members of ALEPH. A Chai member makes at least an $18/month commitment totaling $216/year. This Chai commitment is undertaken as a permanent commitment on the part of each student and musmach. To become a Chai member visit our donation page.
The application process for the ALEPH program is unlike the application process common in most academic institutions.
The formal written application procedure includes submitting documentation of prior learning and degrees, letters of recommendation, a spiritual autobiography, a Hebrew diagnostic, and a proposed first-year learning plan. However, central to our application process is a period of mutual discernment in which our VAAD, teachers, and students come to know you. At the same time, this period of discernment enables you to consider whether this hevra, this process, and our Renewal-style Jewish community is right for you. By studying together and davvenen’ together, by being with you on retreats, in classes, in shul, in hevruta, and by conversing and counseling with you over the course of your preparation, we come to a generally mutual decision that you and this program are a good fit, and that you indeed have the skills and resources necessary to succeed.
Because of the decentralized nature of this program, in which students and mentors may live on different continents, we promote a protracted admission process that enables our core faculty and VAAD members to meet with you in different contexts and environments over the course of your preparation. An applicant who is accepted is often already well-integrated into the program at the time his or her acceptance is made formal.
A packet with application materials, as well as detailed information about the program, may be obtained after an initial email exchange with the Director of the Cantorial Program, Hazzan Jack Kessler. If you're interested in obtaining this packet, please contact the ALEPH Ordination Program Administrator at (215) 247-9700 x21, firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a $25 application fee payable before receiving the info/application packet.
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