Cantor Shana: Welcome to MJCBY

Posted on April 20, 2015

DSC00204 ShanaOnigmanCropped

Coming Home

I was so thrilled and delighted to be offered the position of Hazzan at Morristown Jewish Center just before Pesach!  I will officially start my duties as full time Cantor on July 1.  During my time at MCJBY, it has been such a joy to be welcomed and embraced by the members and staff of the Morristown Jewish Center. I want to thank every one of you who has reached out to welcome me and my family, in person or by email, to offer congratulations and to celebrate. It has been a very unique and interesting experience to spend an entire year working in a synagogue as a teacher and tutor;  therefore, getting the privilege of learning about MJCBY through experiencing it directly before I start as the Cantor. I am so grateful for the support and communication of the staff and lay leadership along the way.

There is something very special and wonderful about this synagogue and its community that has made it feel like home to me from the day I first set foot in the building. I have yet to put my finger on exactly what it is. I thought at first it might be that MJCBY felt similar to the tiny synagogue where I grew up – a haimish congregation in the suburbs.  MJCBY is such a warm and historical congregation: There are the names of the founders on the walls as well as their children and grandchildren among the members. Artifacts on display attest to the rich history of the place, and enthusiastic historians among the membership are available to share the stories of the synagogue, and there is always at least one lifelong member listening who exclaims, “I never knew that!” A gathering of generations, especially on the holidays, brings noisy life, color, and joy to the building, the echoes of which I can still hear late in the peaceful evenings after the last B’nai Mitzvah students have gone home.

But this could describe any number of established congregations, so I suspect there is something additional that makes this congregation feel like home. It might be the cooperation and pride with which the leadership works to make the synagogue continue to function smoothly. Over the course of the past year, whenever my friends or family would ask me about my work, I’d find myself marveling about the teamwork, telling them how everyone works in pairs: “There’s two presidents and two school directors. The Rabbi’s wife does programming so they’re like a team, too.  Everyone seems to be in chevruta here. It’s great!  There are a thousand platitudes about democracy being messy and unwieldy, but as far as I can tell the leadership at MJCBY puts a real value on the opinions of its membership, leading to a sense of pride in the synagogue among its members.

Or, it could be that this is simply bashert, and feels like home because it is home. When leading Shabbat services on the eighth day of Pesach, at the close of the individual recitation of the Amidah, I reached the paragraph in which I am always reminded that this is the right moment to offer individual  requests, a plea to God for my own needs, wishes, and desires.  For each of us, this is meant to be our own moment of a direct audience with God. It was at that moment that it hit me that I had nothing at all to ask for, because I was perfectly happy to be right where I was: in this building, with this wonderful and welcoming congregation, for whom I have been honored to be assigned the task of the newest sh’liakh tsibbur. It was similar to visiting the Kotel for the first time, and realizing I didn’t have a note to put into the wall to ask for anything, because everything I had ever needed was right where I was. The sense of gratitude and joy can be almost overwhelming when you know in your bones that you’re finally home.

On behalf of my family, thank you all again for welcoming us: my husband Matthew, our children Lila and Ilan, and myself, into your wonderful community. Please introduce yourselves to us often, so we can learn all your names and stories. We are delighted to join you!

Cantor Shana Onigman