For second-year cantorial student Sidney Ezer, what brought him to an active Jewish life was not something joyful or easy, but the experience he had when going through a time of loss and mourning several years ago. “During the year of saying kaddish for my father, I started learning to lead services for the first time. I also started reading Torah again, which I hadn’t done since my bar mitzvah.
“I wasn’t an avid synagogue-goer,” Sidney says. “I didn’t go every Shabbat, just during the High Holy Days, so leading services was very foreign to me when I started. So while I was going to shul every day, I took the opportunity to learn about leading services and about the Jewish life cycle. I started leading services and felt good about it, and I picked it up very quickly.”
He was encouraged to look into H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music by his new cantor in Toronto, but Sidney was hesitant because, although he sang in his synagogue choir, he had no serious musical training. “I never took a music course growing up, not in high school or college,” he says, “so I never played an instrument or learned to read music. I learned all my parts by ear.”
Sidney thought his lack of training made admission to the program impossible, but cantorial students at JTS come from diverse musical and Jewish backgrounds. It’s a whole spectrum that includes people who have a very strong musical background but very little experience in the synagogue, people who have strong liturgical knowledge but very little musical training, and everybody else in between. Sidney planned to come to New York only to visit the school, but he ended up auditioning and being accepted.
“During that year of saying kaddish, I was learning about different cantillation styles, including the Iraqi and Moroccan ones, and my rabbi asked me if I’d considered becoming a cantor. It had never crossed my mind before then.” He adds, “I’m still mesmerized by the fact that I’m here in this program.”