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"BHC is a vibrant, caring community that warmly welcomes, embraces and engages..."

- Martha Weiman

Clergy Column September 2008

Closer to the Divine

My first paying job as a singer was as a boy soloist on the High Holy Days. I held that position for three years from age 10 until my voice began to change a little after my Bar Mitzvah. The Orthodox synagogue where I sang soprano was Petach Tikvah Congregation right here in Baltimore, where Cantor Hillel Lipsicus (z'l) held sway.

Cantor Lipsicus had a sweet baritone voice and twinkle in his eye. He was famous for peppering his chanting with musical quotes from operas, such as La Traviata and Aida, and he had a way of engaging the congregation with little melodies interspersed amid the long passages of dhavenning. His voice conveyed a delight which was infectious. We were a choir of boys and men who were arranged around the cantor-we little ones pressed against the front of his podium at its lowest point where we could see over the top. Cantor Lipsicus stood in the traditional custom with his back to the congregation, so that we alone had the privilege of seeing his expressive face as we sang with him the majestic music of the Days of Awe.

It was from Cantor Lipsicus that I learned to love the music of the High Holy Days and the way that music can bring a spirit of joy even to the heavy words of the liturgy. His chanting was an inspiration in the tradition of cantors who truly love the prayers that they are singing-they love the sounds of the words and the feeling behind the prayers. Each syllable seems to be a precious jewel. This is a legacy that I have attempted to carry on in my composition and singing throughout my career.

It is with a sense of great humility that I return to where it all began for me. I have grown in many ways and had many wonderful mentors throughout my years as a cantor. But as I approach another Rosh Hashanah, I reflect as I always do at this time of year on the man who most inspired me in my early development. You will hear some of his melodies in this year's High Holy Day services and I hope you will feel his loving spirit coming through me, for Hillel Lipsicus was a man who loved his sacred role and through his music brought all of us closer to the Divine.

L'Shanah Tova, a good and sweet year to all of you from the Solomon Family.

-Cantor Robbie Solomon