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From Cantor Ruth

07/05/2019 07:33:47 PM


In traditional Judaism, it is believed that men should not listen to the voice of a woman singing (kol isha), because it can lead to impure thoughts. So, women are not even to be heard singing the prayers, forget leading them! Even at a conservative synagogue, a man came up to me after I had led services and told me that, for the first time, he understood the prohibition against kol isha, that my voice had “transported him.” I wasn’t quite sure how to respond! Um, sorry? Thank you?

I’m a member of the Women Cantors’ Network. Many of the women are amazingly talented composers and they’ve just published a songbook of their compositions. I heard a subset of them at a concert recently and I’m so looking forward to sharing some of them with you in the upcoming years. They named the book Kol Isha.

In fact, I just returned from the annual Women Cantors’ Network Conference. It’s always a wonderful experience. Visualize 100 women, all of whom are involved with Jewish music in some capacity: cantors, cantorial soloists, musicians, choir members, Torah chanters. Now picture a fully supportive environment, where no-one asks or cares about your “credentials.” No one is “better” than anyone else. All are there to learn, share, help each other and sing beautiful music together. It’s a very special experience. I always leave energized and in awe of the amazing talent and goodness of these women. The services are sublime, 100 women singers singing in harmony!

So what sorts of things do we learn at these conferences, in addition to hearing beautiful new music? The Keynote session on day one addressed how we build community at our synagogues. There were excellent practical suggestions and useful checklists that I’ll share with our leadership. We were also sensitized to the many subtle ways in which people can feel excluded, some of which I had not really thought about before.

Then there was a session on how to compassionately work with people when their loved ones have died and you’re preparing the funeral and shiva. I was so impressed with the rabbi’s insights, spirituality and gentle approach.

There was a workshop on DIY Percussion — how to make instruments from materials that would otherwise be thrown out! Lots of fun and a good project for the school.

This was followed by a workshop on Body Mechanics. The prayer book is surprisingly heavy when not held correctly, as is the Torah. And we do a lot of standing! Years ago, a chiropractor told me that High Holidays were always a particularly busy time for him, helping people who held their prayer books incorrectly. The workshop also covered Vocal Mechanics. Given my desire to continue doing what I love so much, these pointers were much appreciated.

The conference ended with a wonderful workshop on traditional and creative Torah study. I left, energized, happy, grateful and really looking forward to next year in Oklahoma City!

This will be my last Shofar article, as Rabbi Shosh will take over this responsibility when she starts at HCS in mid-July. It has been such an honor and privilege to be sole clergy this past year. HCS is a wonderful congregation and I feel so immensely blessed to be a part of it. Rabbi Shosh and I have already begun collaborating and we are both very excited about working as a team with Jill, our creative and amazing Hebrew School Principal. Onwards and upwards!



Cantor Ruth


The women who sang Haredi extorters away (6/30/19)

"Shoham residents Susie Bar and Dr. Kinneret Shefer didn't want to become web stars. But when a group of extreme ultra-Orthodox men arrived in their community again to interrupt the construction of a new industrial area, claiming it would disturb ancient tombs — that don't actually exist — they couldn't remain silent. So, they sang.

They came to Shoham for a second time late June and as usual, got in the construction pit and halted works despite an Antiquities Authority report that determines no graves ever existed in the area. Local women were outraged to hear about the demand for bribe and quickly arrived in the scene, where they burst out singing Halleluiah.

The ultra-Orthodox provocateurs, who believe women's singing posses sexual characteristics that men should no listen to, were quick to run away, covering their ears. Construction resumed and the crisis was over."

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE:,7340,L-5539746,00.html?fbclid=IwAR0j3URDqGSNxPTcbOJPUld8c59aJzAAqM5qH8X_CR0V1Y9_a3LTFIfKock


05/07/2019 02:02:22 PM


Many of you have heard me sing Gesher Tzar M’od on the High Holidays:

Kol haolam kulo, gesher tzar m’od. V’ha’ikar, lo l’fached k’lal

Its words are attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, a Jewish mystical rabbi. Translated, they read “The whole world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is not to fear at all.” In challenging times, these words often go through my mind. Now is such a challenging time. My mind is still adjusting to our new reality in the US. While still rare, violent attacks against our houses of worship are no longer unthinkable.

Five weeks ago, I attended a gathering at the Hudson Valley Islamic Community Center. They were reeling in the aftermath of the Christchurch attack and the community went there to show their support. They had a large room set up with chairs. The size of the crowd greatly exceeded their expectations. They had their work cut out for them adding more and more chairs. It ended up with standing room only at the back. Their community was given a clear message that they were not alone. The same is true for us. We are not alone. We have the support of the vast majority of Americans. We have the support of our brothers and sisters at the HVICC. We have the strong support of the Somers police. We must not be ruled by fear. Fear depletes and diminishes us. I felt so sad when I read today about a Jewish woman who was afraid to attend synagogue or to identify as a Jew. It’s an understandable response, but so very unfortunate.

When I lived in California, earthquakes were a reality of our lives. Every place I entered, I’d immediately think “What will I do if an earthquake hits while I’m here?” Then I’d file that information away and proceed to enjoy myself. I didn’t live in fear but I didn’t ignore reality. One day, a 6.3 earthquake hit nearby. I was in the midst of a diaper change with a 1-year-old Joel. Both of us spent the next 45 seconds under a solid desk, my advance plan. Friends of mine were in a bank. They stood and watched in amazement as the huge plate glass window right in front of them undulated. It never occurred to them until later how dangerous their response had been. They had not planned in advance.

We must be wise about our synagogue security. The Yorktown police chief, who spoke at the HVICC gathering, specifically addressed all houses of worship when he said “You must harden your targets. You must make it difficult to get in so that they’ll look and decide to go elsewhere.” He made the point that it’s not just mosques and synagogues but also churches that have been attacked.

I’m so very grateful to Robert Fischer and Harvey Katz, who have been attending to security concerns for our HCS community. As a result of their foresight and hard work, we know what we have to do. However, they can’t do it alone. They need helpers and we need money.

I was raised from a young age to understand that both our effort and our money are needed to help our community and make the world a better place. While we all have different levels of available time and money, I encourage each of you to do whatever possible to help make HCS a place where we can join together to worship, eat, learn and be together in joy and safety.



Ruth Ossher

03/13/2019 12:24:50 PM


I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about belief in God. Yesterday, a teenager I was teaching asked me if I believed in God. She does. And, recently, another child very respectfully asked how he could say the words of our prayers when they assume a belief in God that he’s not sure he has. Baruch ata Adonai, Elohainu melech ha’olam, Blessed are you Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, it’s the start of every blessing. Is it reasonable to say it if you don’t believe in God?

Firstly, I want to say that I love that our children are grappling with this issue as are many of our adults. Jews are supposed to question, not just accept things.

So, how do I answer these questions? I always begin by saying that I’m sharing my thoughts. Yes they’re based on Jewish study, but still, they’re just my thoughts. I tell them the expression “Two Jews, three opinions.” Judaism isn’t just about set answers, we’re meant to grapple with things.

Often when people say they don’t believe in God, their idea of God is the “old man” in Heaven looking down on us, answering our prayers and pulling strings for us. I don’t believe in an intervening God either. And yet, often I experience, or hear about others’ experiences where there seem to be coincidences that can’t be explained. My explanation is that we’re all interconnected in some way that we don’t yet understand. And that there is some sort of force beyond us. And I call that force God.

So why do I find our prayers so meaningful when I don’t believe in an intervening God? I’m aware that many of these prayers are ancient and they help me feel part of a long line of Jews. This connection to our past also struck home when I recently had genetic testing and found I had a gene that predated the destruction of the first Temple!

Another way I give our prayers meaning is by looking at their themes. The blessings, to me, are about gratitude for what we have: bread, wine, vegetables and fruits, freedom, life, our blessings go on and on! There’s been many studies outlining the health benefits of gratitude. How wise our ancestors were! We have various prayers asking for peace: Sim Shalom, Shalom Rav, Oseh Shalom. That’s easy. The Mi Chamocha reminds me of the joy we felt when we were truly free and safe from slavery. It reminds me of the importance of freedom and helping others achieve it. V’Shamru makes me think of how wise our ancestors were in understanding the importance of not working all the time.

I also find that the beauty of the music transports me. Prayer is so much more than finding meaning in the words. It’s why so many of our prayers are sung. Music moves us.

So, I want to thank our children, for raising such important issues. What are your thoughts about God?

At our recent LunchNLearn, one of our congregants quoted Einstein. I’ll end with a few quotes from Einstein:

A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty - it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude… (Albert Einstein)

I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings. (Albert Einstein)



01/14/2019 01:07:52 PM


Cantor Rush Ussher

From Cantor Ruth:


We ended this secular year with a wonderful demonstration of the power of community. Each year on the anniversary of the death of a mother or father, husband or wife, sister or brother or children, it’s traditional to attend services and say kaddish. For that, 10 adult Jews are needed. One such kaddish fell on the recent holiday break when many of our regular service attendees were going to be away. We put out a request and HCS members responded with gusto. We had our minyan very early on and by the time kaddish happened we had a good-sized group. It was heartwarming to see HCS community in action!


I’ve been thinking about the power of our joining together in prayer. Every service I read our misheberach list, the names of congregants, their family members or friends who are in need of prayers of healing and of strength to deal with their illnesses. We then sing Debbie Friedman’s Misheberach. Often, I hear directly from people on the list about how much it helps them knowing that we’re praying for them. They tell me they feel lifted up. Some believe the prayers have a direct effect, others aren’t sure but absolutely know that they feel less alone and more supported. It feels wonderful to know that we impact people that way.


Speaking about community, our Hanukah service and dinner was a great success! There were around 90 people attending and the service was great fun. Jill and I are discussing making some changes to our Friday night services. We’ll be doing some experimenting and, of course, welcome all feedback.


If anyone is interested in leading the English readings at Shabbat morning services please let me know. It doesn’t need to be often, whatever fits your schedule. I would appreciate the help.


Lastly, the BFOR study is still open. This study tests Ashkenazi Jews for BRCA mutations. So why bother to get tested? Simply because, if you know you have this genetic mutation, there’s improved screening, risk-reducing medication or preventive surgery that can save your life. I have the mutation and have chosen a combination of improved screening for breast cancer and preventive surgery for ovarian cancer. I’ll be happy to discuss it with you if you’d like. I strongly encourage you to participate in the study. It’s simple, free, convenient and, potentially, life-saving for you and your children. If every Ashkenazi Jew in the US got tested, 100,000 lives would be saved!


Ruth Ossher

Cantorial Soloist



Wed, July 8 2020 16 Tammuz 5780