Feb 16, 2010

Jewish Week: "JTS Revamps Cantorial School"

Jewish Week: "JTS Revamps Cantorial School"

by Stewart Ain


If Conservative movement watchers have been waiting to see just how Jewish Theological Seminary Chancellor Arnold Eisen would stamp his imprint on the school, they may now have their answer.
Bucking the recommendation of a highly regarded outside consultant, Jack Ukeles, Eisen has decided to keep open the seminary's H. L. Miller Cantorial School. 

The school has 34 students, and Ukeles proposed that it close as part of a strategic restructuring. But Eisen, 19 months into his post, overruled Ukeles, opting instead to eliminate the dean's position at the school and revamp it so that it is better integrated with the rabbinical school. The dean for the past 12 years has been Henry Rosenblum, himself a cantor.

"He was adamant that the school stay open," Matthew Klein, a cantorial student, said of Eisen.

To squelch reports on the Internet that the cantorial school was closing, Alan Cooper, the seminary's provost, sent a memo to the faculty last week assuring it that the school would remain open and that there were no plans to merge with the cantorial school of the Reform movement's Hebrew Union College. However, he said, the seminary hopes to improve its collaboration with HUC both in Israel and New York.

He said also that a director would be hired for the cantorial school after Rosenblum's departure June 30. 
Klein said students at the school were "very hurt" by Rosenblum's termination, calling him "one of our greatest teachers and spiritual mentors."

"We are also extremely disappointed by the lack of communication and lack of transparency from the administration in reaching this decision," he continued. "We hope that the chancellor will reach out to us and work hard to build a strong connection with the cantorial student body through this time of transition."

In an e-mail earlier this month, Eisen said the seminary is going through an "institutional assessment" over the next coming months and that the cantorial school would be examined to "determine how we can most effectively develop a model of religious leadership that prepares our future cantorial graduates for the multiple roles they will be expected to perform. We also want the H. L. Miller Cantorial School to play an increased and more direct role in efforts to revitalize synagogue worship."

A spokeswoman for the seminary said some strategic decisions would be announced beginning in the spring.

Rabbi Daniel Nevins, dean of the rabbinical school who will oversee the cantorial school, said in an e-mail to the JTS community that he assumes the cantorial school's director will be a cantor.

"It is generally healthy for the cantorial school to be directed by a cantor, just as a rabbinical school should be directed by a rabbi and the educational school by an educator," he wrote. 

He said also that there would be "increased cooperation" with Hebrew Union College cantorial students on "certain non-liturgical aspects of musical training." 

Rabbi Nevins added: "I do not know yet what form the cantorial program will take. The first step is obviously to assemble a team of stakeholders to help define the future direction of our cantorial program and then to hire a program director. There are many questions about what American Jews want from their cantors; the best favor that we can do for our students is to make sure that they graduate with a strong portfolio of skills beyond singing the liturgy."

And Rabbi Nevins said the seminary would be increasing partnerships with Yeshiva University, the Union Theological Seminary, City College and other institutions of higher learning here.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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