Cantor Nancy Bach & Cantor Inbal Sharett-Singer
Tell us what led you to the Cantorate?
Nancy Bach: I was a ‘second career’ student (really second-and-a-half) when I started HUC in 2008. My first career had been as a musical theater actor; I was not a good ‘Gypsy’ and couldn’t wait to get off the road and back home. After I stopped performing, I went on to a 15-year-career in marketing and communications, producing sponsored arts festivals for various companies, the last of which was The New York Times. While parts of that career were great and a lot of fun, I found it increasingly difficult to not use the parts of me that I most valued: my need and ability to connect with others in meaningful relationships (most everything seemed very rushed and transactional in the business world) and I really missed making music. I was doing a lot of yoga in those days and my spiritual self was being nurtured by Buddhist philosophy. At that point, I took a step back and began to probe more into my own religion and began my Jewish Journey which very quickly aligned, such that I was able to bring all these interests and parts of me together. The tipping point was meeting Cantor Dan Singer, at Cantor Bruce Ruben’s suggestion. Dan was so lovely and open at the get-go, and generously invited me to join him to lead services at his congregation. At that point, my switches started igniting and my Jewish education began its early formation. A few years later I applied to HUC.
Inbal Sharett-Singer: I came to the United States to fulfill my dream of becoming an opera star. I had enrolled at Brooklyn College and was majoring in opera performance. How was I to know that my stay at Brooklyn College would engender a seismic change in my life? I did not realize it at the time because the change came slowly. But before long, it overcame me and touched every fiber of my being.
It began when I took a modest position teaching at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, founded by the religiously devout and distinguished defender of world Jewry, Stephen Samuel Wise. There I met religiously modern dedicated Jews. I also met Cantor Dan Singer, who brought a rich and beautiful musical repertoire representing the breadth and depth of Jewish heritage to worship every week. My interest in Judaism – and its music – began to grow. Eventually, Cantor Singer, who later became my brother-in-law, influenced me to consider a career as a cantor. I applied to the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York.
How and why did you choose the part-time path? Tell us more about your roles.
NB: For right now, this is the path that enables me to both be a community leader and also spend lots of time with my son, who is 3.5 years old. (Yes, I was blessed with the most lovely little boy just a few months after ordination. A miraculous story if anyone cares to hear more….let me know.) I am an older mom and I’m pretty confident that Caleb will be my only child. Having waited so long to have a child, I really felt it was important to have a work-life balance that gave me the space and time to be there for him, and to build a structure for our lives that helps me keep peace in our home. Right now, I am a part-time cantor at The Village Temple – a small Synagogue in Manhattan that has gone through a fair amount of change and turmoil over the past few years. I am currently working with a rabbi partner (an interim rabbi) who is incredibly understanding of the parameters of my contract, and with whom I have a terrific working relationship. Beginning in July, my part-time role will increase slightly, such that I’ll be there for all Shabbat and chagim, as well as partial days a few other times during the week, when I’ll teach, run the B’nei Mitzvah program and meet with staff and congregants. It works because everyone is very flexible and understanding. I have trusting relationships with everyone on the Temple staff and we all know that we want the arrangement to work.
In addition to my role at the synagogue, I do a little bit of teaching and officiating mostly for the unaffiliated. I am currently working with Village Temple to create a win-win situation, to offer membership benefits to those couples who I work with outside of the Temple. I actually really love the work I do with non-congregants and feel very lucky to be able to have pieced this whole picture together.
ISS: I chose the part-time path because together with my husband, Jonathan Singer, I am a mother to two young children, Amit who is 3.5 and Noa who is 1.5. I see it as a high value to be closely involved with my children. It is important for me to nurture and support them, especially at their young age. My roles at Riverdale Temple, where I have served as a student cantor for three years and am currently entering my third year as their ordained cantor, include leading all Shabbat services, Tot Shabbat, High Holy Days and Festivals, as well as teaching at our religious school and tutoring our b'nai mitzvah students.
What are the perks of working part-time? What are the challenges?
NB: As I said above, the flexibility of scheduling is key for us right now.
The challenges are twofold. 1) I know that I am missing out financially by not having a more complete benefits package. But with smart saving over the years and really good financial advisors, I feel that I can make the trade-off work, and it is well worth it for these particular years when my son is still so little. 2) I also wonder about what my son and I are missing out on by not being 100% there as part of the community. That will change next year as I start to spend more time, particularly on the weekends, at Village Temple, and my son will likely go to a little bit of the pre-K religious school. I’m excited to see how that goes.
ISS: One of the perks of working part time is to be able to spend time with my children most of the week. I get to be with them from morning to night. I enjoy being involved with the nursery school community as a mom, not only as a cantor. I go to playdates and parks and we have fun together!
The major challenge is that it is hard to separate my roles as cantor and mommy. I constantly get emails and calls about issues that need to be dealt with in my congregation. I am an over-achiever and enjoy working hard. I always have ideas about improving, sustaining and growing our congregation and many times I dwell on them while I am with my children. Although I have set days for work it is extremely challenging to "turn off" my cantor engine. Another challenge is that my role does not include officiating at funerals or leading shivah minyanim at my congregation. Often times I feel very sad that I am not a part of the solemn times with my congregants whom I am very close to. Of course, I try to come as much as I can to shivahs, but most of the time I am solely responsible for my children and cannot leave.
What advice would you give other cantors seeking to pursue this route?
NB: Be honest with yourself. No parent, rabbi, cantor or anyone else can tell you what is right for you. Listen to your own gut, heart and experience. And if you need to make a change to trim your job back (or increase it) for any good reason, have faith, rather than listening to the fear of what might not be.
ISS: I would advise other cantors who seek the part-time route to make sure to set very clear boundaries for their work and non work times. The more specific you are the better you will be able to achieve success in your duties in and out of the congregation.
Tell us more about your other passions and interests outside of the cantorate?
NB: My life is fuller than full right now – to the point that I get the NY Times delivered almost every weekend and have read it twice in the past three years! So that about sums things up. That being said, I have just committed to running the NYC Marathon. Insane, yes – exciting YES! Between my years at HUC and then these past few years of working really hard as a mom and a cantor, I am not taking the care of myself that I always did before I started HUC. I am hoping that by training for this event on 11/5/17, that I will take off the pounds that I can no longer call baby-weight, and re-set things. I hope that my longer runs will be meditative, which leads me to my other interests – yoga and meditation. Other than that, right now, the excitement of discovering a new playground or sandbox in any borough of NYC with my son Caleb fills me with more passion than I ever could have dreamed of!
ISS: I enjoy our sacred family time, when it is the four of us whether at the zoo, the park or singing songs together in the car. I love being outdoors. I practice pilates. I love teaching and studying vocal technique, seeing fantasy movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean, visiting my family and friends in Israel, and eating good food!
Cantor Nancy Bach is the part-time cantor at The Village Temple in New York.
Cantor Inbal Sharett-Singer is the part-time cantor at Riverdale Temple in New York.