Cantor Lizzie Weiss
Cantor Lizzie Weiss is Cantor of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills California.
Tell us more about your Jewish background growing up.
Perhaps the best way to answer this question is by quoting the most common reaction I get when people hear that I am one of three members of clergy in my family. That is, “Wow! There must have been something in the water!” I grew up with a strong sense of Jewish identity and a certain unexplainable pride. Judaism (and its ingrained community) brought out the best in me and in my family members. Religious school and Camp Swig/Newman was very much a part of my life as was going to school. We grew up attending 2-3 temples the first 10 years of our lives and then found our way to Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. It was there that I got more involved in singing on the bima, and performing on stage in our religious school musicals and other intergenerational productions. My artistic growth was fostered at Temple Emanuel by our Cantor Yonah Kliger, along with many mentors who recognized not only my talent as a singer but also for my potential to be a leader.
How did you end up on the path to the cantorate? Is there any one person or event that influenced you?
To begin with, my uncle Rabbi Kenneth J Weiss z’l, was a beloved Reform Rabbi. I sensed a strong, calm, and wise leader from my earliest memories. Being clergy was about being present for people and that is what my uncle embodied. In my teens, my older brother, Scott Hausman-Weiss, became a Rabbi. Along with the attributes that my uncle held, my brother also possessed a deep passion for teaching and engagement. My brother, who at one time wanted to make films, used his energy and hands-on educational skills to develop his identity as a Rabbi. Between my brother and uncle, I started to see just how varied the job of a rabbi could be. From an early age, people constantly told me that they thought I would be a cantor. But I continued on the path towards Broadway. Still, I believe that in my heart I saw that I could take my passion and target it into the cantorate in the same way that my brother and uncle concentrated their inherent attributes into the rabbinate. Along with my brother and uncle, I was given myriad opportunities to develop my bima presence and repertoire by Cantor Yonah Kliger and by Cantor Perryne Anker who was my voice coach from my Bat Mitzvah on. Lastly, I will tell you that there was one more moment that sealed the deal for me. I was watching the movie “100 voices” and Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi looked into the camera and said, “If I wasn’t going to be a Cantor, then who would be!” This really struck me. If I, who grew up singing at temple, involved in Jewish camping, with a strong sense of Judaism, didn’t become a cantor, then who would?!
Your older brother Scott Hausman-Weiss is a rabbi and your triplet sister, Sara Hass, is also a cantor! Please tell us more about that. Do you two ever collaborate?
Yes! My triplet sister Sara Hass is the Cantor at Temple Israel of Long Beach. Sara graduated from HUC in NY the same year that I graduated from AJRCA. Sara actually decided to go to cantorial school before me and began her prep to attend HUC. A few months later, I had returned from touring the country with a Broadway National Tour. Inspired by my sister and ready to commit to the cantorate myself, I decided that I would attend AJRCA so that each of us would have our own space as we ventured on the intense five-year journey. Sara is my go-to person when I need ideas. And my favorite person EVER to sing with! We collaborate as we build new programs, services and repertoire for our choirs. We hope to do some more collaborations between our synagogues, but for now we are just each other’s biggest fans!
You’re a young cantor credited with bringing more families into your congregation through innovative programming and outreach. Can you tell us more about the kinds of musical and educational programs you helped create and why they work?
Recently I wrote an article for the ACC that highlighted my deep commitment to engaging people through integration not just innovation. When I began work at my temple, I noticed that there had not been a kid choir for about 15 years. It was clear that this was my first goal. I started the “Soul Singers” as an opportunity for each young singer to develop in a way that was relevant to them. This musical group began leading our Shabbat Spark family services. I believe that in order to cultivate Jewish prayer leaders, it is important to empower each singer and give them significant responsibility so that they can see the fruits of their labor.
This past year I also created a strings only “Shabbat of Love.” I love the juxtaposition of a nostalgic string sound, with contemporary music and familiar melodies. This service also gave us the opportunity to celebrate many types of love within our congregation. I am proud that this has become a yearly tradition! Again, in order to build upon the success of this service, we continue to integrate congregants into the framework of the service. I constantly have to check myself and make sure that I am not creating something new just because I want to, but rather because there is a call from my community for the new. This past year, I also started our new “Sisterhood of Emanuel.” Almost 50 women showed up to our inaugural meeting. Many people say, “Why would the cantor be in charge of a sisterhood?” But the answer is that part of being a cantor is cultivating relationships within the community and the sisterhood was an important place to start!
What do you love about being a cantor?
I love that every day is different. I love that I don’t feel like I am going to work each day. I love that I have and will be able to continue to develop the career path I want. I love that with each new milestone in a congregant’s life comes learning opportunities for me and life changing experiences for them. I love that for at least two services a week I can step out of my “programming” brain and pray. Lastly, I just love that I can be a part of this unique career, unlike anything I could have ever imagined.
What are some of your goals moving forward both personally and professionally?
I look forward to continuing to learn from colleagues who can provide invaluable insight to the cantorate. I hope to further integrate nusach and other traditional sounds into our services as I engage our youth. I hope to develop a concert and or record a CD of the music that is being developed within my community.
Do you have any interesting hobbies or interests that we might not know about you?
What can I say? I am obsessed with my 7-month-old of niece, Lucy (Sara’s daughter) and also with my adorable 8-year-old puppy, Amos.