Cantor Jan Morrison is “everything that you would want in a clergy member,” said Robin Rosenfeld, administrator at Columbia Jewish Congregation, which said farewell to Cantor Morrison on June 30. Although she will still be volunteering in the community and involved with CJC’s programs and choir, she has retired from the congregation to spend more time with her children and grandchildren and perhaps travel with her husband.
Morrison has been a part of Columbia Jewish Congregation for longer than most. Her family joined the congregation around 1976, and she raised her children in it. She came into her leadership role in 1994 and has been its cantor ever since, outlasting at least five rabbis and leading the congregation through its transition from being unaffiliated to becoming Reconstructionist.
“Believe me when I say there is no program, no matter how well thought out, and no speech, no matter how cleverly crafted, to contain all that Cantor Morrison has done for our community or for me,” said Rabbi Sonya Starr. “It is impossible to describe her impact on the community. She has been an integral part of CJC since long before she became our cantor. Her enthusiasm, music and desire to make everyone feel special will be missed.”
As a cantor, a large part of Morrison’s impact has been musical. Through her involvement with the Women Cantors’ Network, she brought new music and new prayers to the congregation. She is particularly proud of the changes to the congregation’s chorus.
When she first became cantor, the choir was simply backup for the cantor. Since her appointment, however, it has evolved to take on more challenging music and now provides opportunities for members to create music.
“This is very much a singing congregation, and their singing is welcomed,” said Morrison. “The lusty singing is joyous, and I think it is really a hallmark that the congregation loves to sing and participate. I am a firm believer that singing is praying twice. That’s not original; St. Augustine said that, but it’s true. Music is the piece that carries it for people when the words don’t mesh with what they are thinking.”
Morrison believes that some traditions she has started will be continued: for example, musical Shabbats singling out a particular composer that provide congregants with music education. She has also done a lot of work with meditation and chanting.
Jon Blankman, a member of CJC for nearly 20 years and a singer in the choir, described Morrison as having a tremendous influence on him.
“She taught me how to chant from Torah, how to lead a service and how to be a better member of the choir,” he said. “She always has had a positive influence and attitude on me and my family, and we have enjoyed our affiliation with CJC largely because of Jan.”
Morrison has done far more than lead the congregation in song. She is invested in the families and individuals that are members of the community and did a lot of work with pastoral counseling, working with families for funerals and hospice work.
“When I look back, I am most proud of the fact that it has not been just music for me,” she said. “I have been a part of people’s lives, and that, I believe, is how it should be. The real blessing for me is being able to watch and participate in people’s lives. I’ve named some of these children, b’nai mitzvahed all of them, and now I am marrying them and naming their babies. It’s the dor l’dor piece that makes it for me, being so connected all the way through.”
Although she is now retired from congregational life, Morrison will still be present in the community and intends to continue helping with life-cycle events such as births, weddings and hospice care.
“There is a real element of sadness [to leaving],” said Morrison. “I really love these people. They are just so much a part of my heart and my soul, and for the last 25 years, it has consumed me. I have really loved what I have done here. I hope everybody has a job where they feel as appreciated and respected as I did at CJC.”