I think it was a few months ago in this space that I wrote an article about change. I mentioned that despite its necessity to evolve and move forward, the thought and actuality of change can be uncomfortable. Many of us don’t welcome the prospect of things being different, and in fact, it’s not uncommon for some to push back against it.
Well, here we are, once again, with the opportunity to go outside our comfort zone and embrace something new. I’m speaking, of course, about Kelly Cooper joining us as our new cantor effective July 1. To say that she is joining us is a bit of a misnomer, given that she and her family have been congregants of Temple Israel for many years.
I recently caught up with Cantor Cooper at a trendy, upscale outdoor café in Santa Monica, where rays of golden sunshine were dripping on our table, and the nearby ocean breeze was wafting through the air (not really, but that was much more fun to write than to say we exchanged emails, which is what actually happened).
In our not so trendy email communication, Cantor Cooper shared some of her thoughts about becoming our new cantor.
SG: How do you feel about becoming the next cantor at the temple you have been a congregant of for so long?
KC: I am thrilled. I love this community so much, and this feels like coming home.
SG: I’ve heard you have had a lot of success doing Tot Shabbat services over the years. What are your goals when conducting a Tot Shabbat service?
KC: When I conduct a Tot Shabbat service, my main goal is to keep the children as well as the adults engaged. I taught Music Together for six years, and in that time, I learned how to create an arc, or multiple arcs, so that the kids go on a journey from lower energy songs to higher energy, then back again. While we are on this journey, I introduce important prayers like the Barchu and Shema, and they stay engaged throughout. Also, when the parents are engaged, the kids are too.
SG: We have a very diverse congregation with different preferences when it comes to prayer and melodies during services. How do you plan to address and manage the different preferences?
KC: I am going to try my best to include something for everyone knowing that I won’t be able to please everybody all the time. It will be a journey, and it will take some time for me to really get to know the congregation’s preferences, but I hope that people will reach out to me to let me know what they love. My goal is to weave together musical experiences that combine the new with the old, the traditional with the modern. I also hope to have special Shabbat services that feature certain styles, composers, etc. Hopefully, with the congregation’s feedback and over time, people will hear melodies they love.
SG: Tell us a little about your journey to become a cantor.
KC: I wanted to become a cantor when I first heard Cantor Perryne Anker sing when I was around 13 years old. She absolutely uplifted me with her voice, and I hoped to do the same for others one day. I took a few detours along the way, though. I became a professional singer, singing both in Los Angeles and New York. We moved back to Long Beach when I was expecting our first child, Max. One day, Sharon Amster Brown came over to my house and asked me to lead the Tot Shabbat services. The rest is history. I knew at the first service that this was my calling. When the congregation started singing along, I realized that facilitating prayer is much more spiritually uplifting than performing, and that I needed to follow this path. Sometime after, my husband’s fraternity brother recommended AJRCA to me. He was there studying to become a Rabbi. The brochure he sent me said that Cantor Perryne Anker was the Associate Dean of the cantorial program. At that point, I knew it was b’shert, and I applied.
SG: In your mind, what makes Temple Israel the very special place that it is?
KC: Temple Israel is so special because of the people. We have such a diverse and supportive community filled with people who really care about each other, Long Beach, and the world in general. This is a tight knit community where people know they belong and are truly cared for.
SG: Even though you are not yet ordained, you have been the Cantorial Soloist at Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach for the last three years. What kinds of responsibilities have you had there during that time?
KC: I lead all the services: Shabbat, High Holidays, Tot Shabbat, and Festival. I tutor the B’nei Mitzvah students, teaching them their Torah portions as well as reviewing all their prayers. I conduct lifecycle events with the Rabbi. I am actively engaged in the pastoral care of the community. I teach sixth grade Hebrew and lead Tefilah during religious school. I create special musical Shabbats throughout the year, rehearse the band, and work with the choirs (High Holiday and Youth). They have a full-time onsite preschool, so I am actively involved teaching them music every week and leading a Friday morning Shabbat service. I also teach an adult trope class. Finally, I do pretty much anything else they need, and I am passionate about all of it!
SG: With you having the opportunity to speak to our congregation through this bulletin (assuming anyone is still reading my articles after nearly two years of drivel), what would you like to say to everyone?
KC: I want to let everyone know that I am so filled with gratitude to be given the opportunity to serve this amazing community. I look forward to seeing those I know, and getting to know everyone I don’t. I hope we celebrate many years of simchas together!