Singing In Sisterhood

Chevy Chase was the scene of the annual Women Cantors’ Network Conference earlier this week, as more than 80 cantors, educators, soloists and other Jewish musical professionals filed in to town for the biggest WCN event of the year.

“It’s a great way to reconnect with our roots,” said Lisa Levine, who chaired the event as cantor at the host congregation, Temple Shalom.

WCN has members from denominations including Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist from all over the world, something that Levine considers one of the organization’s strongest assets.

“We cross denominational boundaries,” she said. “We’re trans-Judaic.”

The conference program reflected the diversity of the group’s membership.

Speakers both from within the organization and from outside addressed topics that affect cantors from all denominations of Judaism. One talk focused on creating music that appeals to all demographics represented in congregations. Another talked about strategies for helping congregants deal with loss. Another  discussed ways female cantors can bring some of the rituals and practices of Jewish women into the congregation.

“So many of us are isolated and don’t get the opportunity to listen to music and learn new music,” said Levine, adding that WCN fills that need.

Levine joined the organization in 2011 after attending one of WCN’s conferences to promote a book she had written on yoga and Judaism.

“I just totally fell in love with this group of women,” she said. “It’s a great group.”

But not all members of WCN are women.

“The conference has a sense of camaraderie that appeals to me,” said Alan Rubinstein, one of the group’s few male members. He tried other cantor groups, but WCN offered him the support he was looking for, and the opportunity to meet and learn from leaders from other denominations was an added bonus.

“This is a very warm group,” added Rubinstein, who is cantor emeritus at Baltimore’s Bolton Street Synagogue.

This year’s conference was titled Roots and Wings, a name that reflects WCN’s mission to both connect to the past and move toward the future. One of the highlights involved touring the Library of Congress to see some of the Yiddish documents housed in the nation’s capital.

Jinny Marsh co-chaired the event with Levine. She has been a member of WCN since 1992, when female synagogue leaders were few and far between. Since then, she said, WCN has provided a support system for women as they begin to play a bigger role in synagogue life.

“It’s a collective of knowledge and support,” she said of the organization. In addition to the yearly conference, WCN operates a listserv where members can email questions or concerns and receive input from fellow Jewish musical professionals in response.

“We’re there to help each other grow and learn,” said Marsh.

Along with programs and workshops for attendees, the conference also featured more than 20 vendors selling jewelry, CDs and other Judaica. Ten percent of the proceeds made by venders at the event were donated to dreamMakerS, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that serves children of parents with multiple sclerosis.

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