BY SARA KAPLAN / AJT //
Temple Emanu-El has a new cantor, Lauren Adesnik, a recent graduate of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College. She was ordained this past May.
Cantor Adesnik, who was recently married and moved to Atlanta earlier this summer, has been singing classical and Jewish music for most of her life. She has performed starring roles with both the Repertory Opera Company and the Contemporary Opera Company of Los Angeles.
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As a student, Cantor Adesnik taught hundreds of B’nai Mitzvah students at her home synagogue, Temple Judea of Tarzana, Calif. She also worked with other temples across the greater Los Angeles area teaching adult education classes and leading congregations in prayer.
The Jewish Times recently spent time with Cantor Adenik, talking about her childhood, schooling, decision to become a cantor and recent move to Dunwoody. Here are some highlights of our conversation.
AJT: You just recently moved to Dunwoody. What excites you most about moving here and joining Temple Emanu-El?
Adesnik: I’m looking forward to everything. Right now, I’m just trying to get through the High Holidays … But professionally, I’m looking forward to meeting the community that’s here and forging new relationships.
Five years ago I started cantorial school (it’s a five year program) and now I look forward to finally beginning what I set out to do. Almost four years before (starting school), I was tutoring B’nai Mitzvah students; so, really, what has been a 10-year journey is pulling together and I’m happy to finally settle down and do what I love.
AJT: How did your love of music begin?
Adesnik: My mom will tell you that I have been singing since I was a baby; and I have very early memories of singing. My mom was a classical pianist. She would sit me on her lap and she’d play these kid’s songs and I would sing along with her. I think I have always been singing; it’s just been second nature, which is neat.
AJT: When did you first think about singing as a career?
Adesnik: I remember when I was 10-years-old and I had just watched the Olympics. I announced to my mother that I wanted there to be an Olympics for singing so I could enter.
I think that’s when I first knew that I wanted to sing professionally. I had no inkling of becoming a cantor, although by the time I became a Bat Mitzvah people were suggesting it. So turning singing into a career was that Olympic moment for sure.
AJT: What first drew you to cantorial music?
Adesnik: When I was seven-years-old, I saw my cousin become a Bar Mitzvah and I became obsessed. I didn’t know what it was then. I think looking back on that experience now, I felt some sort of presence that was greater than myself.
For me, personally, I would call that a connection to G-d. It’s different for everyone obviously, but when I was seven, all I knew is that I saw my cousin and I thought, ‘That’s really cool, I really want to do it,’ and I started a year-long process of begging my mother to send me to Hebrew school.
AJT: You eventually became an opera singer. What brought your focus back to cantorial music?
Adesnik: I was out of college for about three or so years and I was singing opera. I graduated when I was 21-years-old. As a young singer, you audition a lot and you don’t make any money.
So I started thinking, ‘well, what can I do to support my opera career?’ In high school I had tutored B’nai Mitzvah. I thought, ‘Well, it’s a skill I know and the schedule is flexible.’ So I called every synagogue in the San Fernando Valley and the very last synagogue I called was Temple Judea where I ended up as a B’nai Mitzvah tutor.
I hadn’t been to synagogue in maybe five years and I showed up to a Friday night service and I was floored. It was so vibrant and all in Hebrew … there I was, sitting in a service that was all in Hebrew, and I had no idea what was going on and I really thought I didn’t fit in.
And that’s the way I felt until I ended up at Temple Judea and I heard a cantor who is now my mentor and a very dear friend. She actually married me and my husband this past May. I was like, ‘Wow!’ … and I told myself that this is what I wanted to do.
AJT: Was there any one event that helped you make the decision to move professionally from singing opera to becoming a cantor?
Adesnik: Even at that Friday night service, I wasn’t totally convinced I wanted to become a cantor. I was still thinking that I could be an opera singer and that the tutoring gig was just something on the side.
About six months later I saw my first Bar Mitzvah student on the bimah. He was a troubled kid. I mean, he was the kid who one day showed up with a purple mohawk! Every week he would throw down his Torah portion and be in tears. I was just trying to get him through it.
But when he finally made it to the bimah, and to see this transformation come over him; he felt so accomplished. And I realized when his grandmother turned around and said, ‘You have such a beautiful voice. Why aren’t you a cantor?’ And I said, ‘You know what, I don’t know.’
I then spoke with my mentor and she opened up every door for me.
AJT: What excites you most about being a cantor?
Adesnik: Well, everything. I love to learn and, hand in hand, I really love to share what I’ve learned for all ages. I teach adults, B’nai Mitzvah and the little ones, too. At the heart of it all, it goes back to connecting with people. I’m a people person and I really just love that connection.
There is something really unique and special about bringing a sense of Jewish connection to people’s lives and that’s very fulfilling to me.
At the same time, I get to share my voice through teaching. It’s another way outside of singing that I can be a presence. I can take something and learn to make it accessible for people, and that’s really fulfilling.