Volunteer of the Month: Wendy Autenrieth
Cantor Wendy Autenrieth is a 1987 graduate of HUC-JIR DFSSM. She serves as the cantor at Temple Bat Yam in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
In what capacity have you volunteered for the ACC and how has volunteerism shaped your work?
A few years into my cantorate I was invited to join the ACC Board during Vicki Axe’s presidency. I have served on the ACC Nominations Committee for the past six years and most recently co-chaired the ACC-GTM Ft. Lauderdale convention with Lisa Segal.
Our colleague, Sheri Blum, was a wonderful mentor to me in the early years. She guided me along and supported my early involvement. I have always been supportive of the ACC and the philosophy of giving back is consistent with the volunteering work I do regularly in my own community. Taking ownership is very important. In the community where I live and work I do a bunch of volunteer work, even at a local church. It is important for me to give back. For the past twelve years I have been delivering food once a month through a local agency.
What’s the best part about being a Cantor?
There are so many things, but primarily the interaction with people. It is so special to be there for them and this has been very rewarding for me. Although I love the music and the lifecycle experiences…it is the daily interaction with my congregants that has been the most rewarding.
What is the most serious problem facing the cantorate presently and in the future?
Retention! Joining a synagogue is not the priority that it once was. This must continue to be relevant in order to survive, especially for younger people. At Bat Yam we see a lot of empty nesters and seniors. Older people often attend Friday night Shabbat services but not so many younger people. Our school gives out English and reading parts now for our once a month family service and we have seen a little more involvement with our younger families as a result but I think we have a long way to go.
What influenced and/or motivated you to become a Cantor?
It’s a good story. As a young person I always taught music. During college I stepped away from Judaism for a while, but then I returned to New Jersey and began to teach. My mentor, Cantor Ted Aronson hounded me once I got out of college about going to cantorial school.
I really questioned it. Do I really want to go back again? I was married with two little kids. Well, between Ted and my husband, Bruce, I was talked into it. I then met with Jon Haddon, who was the director of the school at the time and it just felt that the timing was right. I drove into NY from NJ four days a week. My kids were 2 ½ and 5 ½ so it was difficult.
What is one thing you’d like to tell us about yourself, that we might not know about you?
I had a life changing experience on December 29, 1980, when my oldest son was three, and my youngest son was just 10 months old. From that moment, I looked at all kinds of things differently. There was an explosion in the house we lived in at the time. Thankfully, we all survived, but I learned from that moment to celebrate every moment, every day, every year.
I love what I do. It was and is the right thing for me. It is a way to thank God that me and my family are still here. It has kept me, and continues to keep me whole.