Following a wonderful Shabbat (usually comprised of being in very good voice, interesting Bar Mitzvah, and great food) I found myself being driven through the gently rolling hills between the Philadelphia airport and Blue Bell, PA, on the way to a concert with my close friend and fabulous mezzo-soprano, Hazzan Elizabeth Shammash, of Tiferet Bet Israel. Not that Lizzie and I need an excuse to sing (we enjoy the rehearsals as much as the concerts), but this concert was the culminating musical event of a year-long project; the writing of a new Torah for the congregation in which just about every member took part. From filling in letters to Torah study, this was a well-conceived project that made everyone in the community feel closer to each other and the synagogue.
Lizzie and I have similar backgrounds, but in different generations. She has had great success in the opera and with major symphony orchestras around the world. She has recorded numerouss CDs for the Milken Archive and, after many years of singing classical music, decided to enroll at my alma mater, the H.L. Miller Cantorial School - J.T.S., where I met her while doing my almost monthly coaching day there. It takes fortitude to decide to become a hazzan these days. Conservative Judaism is changing daily and no one really knows where it will be in the next 5-10 years. We are assurred that the independent minyanim are the wave of the future. I am certain that they will stay strong for a long time to come. But, there are many families for whom a synagogue that provides for their religious, social and pastoral needs in a more classical way will also continue. There will be fewer "large" synagogues but there will always be room for a hazzan like Elizabeth Shammash; wonderful voice, great work ethic, personable and mature.
One of the best perks of being able to occasionally travel and sing around the U.S. is that I get to meet Jews and experience the congregational life of many synagogues. I can tell you that our community, Anshe Emet, Chicago, is unique among a handful of congregations. But, I believe, the Conservative Synagogue will re-emerge as the model for living Judaism as long as there are rabbis, hazzanim and hard-working volunteers working together to create the Masorti model for the 21st century.