Cantor Rita Glassman

Cantor Rita Glassman will be Temple Kol Ami's second cantor in the synagogue's history. She starts July 1. 

Temple Kol Ami just hired its second cantor in the synagogue’s history. More than 30 years ago, TKA’s first cantor served only a few months.

Now, due to TKA’s significant growth over the last 10 years, Rabbi Jeremy Schneider said he needs another ordained clergy member “to serve the congregation’s needs and programs and give me the support I need to serve 400 families.”

Cantor Rita Glassman, currently the interim cantor at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, starts July 1 and will serve as interim cantor for a year.

Hiring an interim cantor with a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge was key, said Schneider.

And Glassman has many years of experience. Before Philadelphia, she served as cantor for Temple Shalom in Dallas, Texas and Shereth Israel in San Francisco, where she worked with Nancy Drapin, TKA’s executive director. Drapin was Shereth Israel’s executive director for seven of the 10 years that Glassman was that synagogue’s senior cantor.

“Her warmth and understanding of human nature plus her strong voice and emotional interpretations of music enhanced every worship experience,” Drapin said of Glassman, via email. “I would never miss an opportunity to be transformed, to sit with my husband and take in the full meaning of Rita’s interpretations and the joy she exuded as she sang and played guitar and piano. We are very lucky to have her join our staff team.”

Glassman left Shereth Israel to become a board-certified chaplain. She’s also a composer, published songwriter and recording artist.

“Music is a powerful healing force in the universe,” Glassman said. “I really believe in the power of communal prayer. It helped us get through the pandemic in Philadelphia.”

Glassman considers music to be the vehicle she uses “to bring tikkun to the world,” she said.

She looks forward to being of help to Schneider and taking her cues from him about the congregation’s needs. She also hopes to be able to give the congregation something beyond that — “what they never dreamed they wanted,” she said.

Schneider said he’ll be “freed up to do more for the congregation” by having a partner who is fully ordained.

Emily Kaye Wiss, TKA’s current cantorial soloist, will leave in June. A cantorial soloist is not an ordained position. In an email to the congregation on Feb. 4, TKA thanked Wiss for “her amazing vocal talent” and for being “a musical light bringing enthusiasm for song, Jewish music and tutoring to our congregation.”

Glassman said she has “a lot of respect for soloists and I’m very respectful of anyone who pours their heart into that, but I’m really excited about what I can bring in terms of my experience and as a member of the clergy.”

TKA’s Feb. 4 email explained that a cantor is an ordained member of the clergy and can “officiate at all life cycles events, can sit on the religious courts for purposes of conversion to Judaism and can make pastoral and hospital visits for the purpose of helping people through difficult times.”

Schneider pointed out that TKA has grown so quickly — growth that continued during COVID — that it has become essential to have another ordained clergy member on the staff.

Glassman understands. “It’s a big job to be a spiritual leader of a congregation and I look forward to bringing all that I have,” she said.

By the time Glassman arrives, TKA might be back to a more regular in-person format. Last Friday, April 16, TKA was able to hold Shabbat services in person for the first time since the pandemic began.

“And it was the most spiritual Shabbat of my career,” Schneider said.

He compared the feeling to when he first celebrated Shabbat in front of a congregation as a new rabbi. At that time, things felt new, but he was also “scared out of my mind,” he quipped.

But last Friday, “it felt brand new and special, and yet, I knew exactly what to do,” he said. “I could feel the energy of the room and people’s appreciation about being in the room. The responsive readings sounded louder and more meaningful.”

Schneider said that when the congregation said the Shehecheyanu, “there wasn’t a dry eye in the room — including me.”

Being together again after more than a year felt very special and he had goosebumps the entire night, he said.

Last Friday there were 30 synagogue members who pre-registered in the sanctuary. That is how things will continue with services going forward. Schneider asked everyone who came to let 30 different members sign up next to ensure the whole congregation has the opportunity to attend. JN

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