Cantor Samuel Cohen - Kehillat Ma'arav Westside CongregationCANTOR SAMUEL COHEN

Recently, we had a Bar Mitzvah at KM and the celebrant asked, “Why become Bar Mitzvah with a service when one automatically becomes Bar Mitzvah just by turning 12 or 13?” The student then went on to explain what it meant to him to become a Bar Mitzvah. This got me thinking: why did I become a cantor? Why does a lawyer become a lawyer, a doctor a doctor? Did I become a cantor because my father was a cantor or my grandfathers were both cantors? Because my two older brothers are cantors? Surely it is not only because of my family history?

About two years ago, the Cantor’s Assembly gathered 100 cantors together and traveled to Poland and Israel, documenting the entire trip. This led to the creation of “100 Voices: A Journey Home,” and if you have not seen this documentary, I highly recommend that you take a look. The group first goes to Auschwitz, where they sing and pray in memory of the souls lost in the Holocaust. The cantors then travel to Israel and proceed to sing throughout the entire country. Watching these cantors singing wherever they were reminded me of why I am a cantor. I express my connection to Judaism and my roots in the most profound way—through the depths of music. Music is able to reach somewhere deep in the soul, and singing in a synagogue or a holy place only heightens the experience and strengthens this connection.

I mention this because as I prepared for last month’s trip to Israel with the KM community, several thoughts were spinning in my head, including, of course, excitement. I lived in the north of Israel for two years when I was 18 and 19 and have returned a few times to visit, but I have not been back to Israel in the last ten years. Ten years is a long time and many things can change in that time. I know how much I have changed in the past 10 years, and I couldn’t imagine how much Israel had changed since I was last there, especially with the tech boom and the past war, Protective Edge. I was so excited to see the growth and development! That said, I am happy to report that the strong-natured personalities of the people of Israel are one thing that have certainly not changed much (thank God).

As I packed, I was gathering my electronics together: iPod Nano, iPad, iPhone, laptop, etc (as it is impossible to live without any of those for ten days), when I realized that I would not be able to charge a single one of them in Israel as I did not have the right plug adaptor. I have all the high tech gadgets one could want, with all the wires, but the wrong plug. Without the right plug, I had no charge, no juice, no life. For me, music is my plug adaptor; it is the cross-country, multilingual, multicultural adjustor. It is the way people who have nothing in common can connect, grow, become friends, and give juice/life to each other. This is why I became a cantor—to plug in!

Through my long-awaited reconnection with Erezt Yisrael, the Holy Land, I found the right adaptor. I hope to continue to be reconnected and granted new juice/life as I continue to sing for many years to come.