Every summer, Jewish congregations throughout Connecticut prepare to welcome new clergy. The Ledger caught up with this year’s group of rabbis and cantors, some who are already on the job, and one who is on her way.
Southern tradition, Northern clime
Rabbi Rachel Bearman
Temple B’nai Chaim, Georgetown
Born and raised in Memphis, Tenn., Rachel Bearman grew up attending Temple Israel, one of the largest Reform congregations in the U.S., which her ancestors helped found in 1854. She was active in NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) and attended a Union of Reform Judaism summer camp.
It was her family’s deep commitment to Judaism that sparked Bearman’s desire to enter the rabbinate. “As a child, I saw that my parents and grandparents were leaders in my synagogue, and in high school, I began to understand that Jewish communal life would be an important part of my future as well,” she says. “I was very lucky that everyone in my family supported my career choice. In fact, if you ask my mother, she’ll tell you that she’s known that I would be a rabbi since I was three years old and would tell anyone who would listen that I loved being at temple.”
After earning a BA in religion at Middlebury College, where she served as president of Hillel, Bearman went on to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and was ordained in May. She served as a rabbinical intern at two Ohio synagogues – Temple Israel in Dayton and Temple Sholom in Springfield – and as a student rabbi at Temple Beth El in Muncie, Ind.
“Because of my upbringing and education, I have always had a deep and abiding love of Reform Judaism,” Bearman says. “As an adult and a Jewish professional, I can say that what is most attractive to me is Reform Judaism’s commitment to egalitarianism and to welcoming people of all orientations, identities, and backgrounds. Additionally, I deeply respect the way Reform Judaism balances faith and intellectualism, tradition and modernity.”
Bearman succeeds interim rabbi David Lipper, who stepped in to lead Temple B’nai Chaim last spring when Rabbi Leah Cohen joined the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale as executive director.
“I am thrilled to be a part of Temple B’nai Chaim,” Bearman says. “I hope to bring my experiences as a religious school teacher, youth group advisor, chaplain, and community leader to my collaborations with our dynamic and driven staff and lay leadership. I believe that my skills, enthusiasm, and vision will allow me to serve this wonderful and welcoming community.”
Off the bimah, Bearman is a voracious reader and an avid crocheter, taking singular pride in the Viking helmet she created for Chanukah a few years ago.
The not-so-accidental chazzan
Cantor Luis Cattan
The Conservative Synagogue, Westport
Luis Cattan was born and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay, the product of a “mixed marriage:” his father’s family had escaped Turkish anti-Semitism in 1919; his mother’s family fled a pogrom in Sukhostav, Galicia 10 years later.
Becoming a cantor “just happened,” he says, though he was steeped in Jewish life and learning from an early age, attending Jewish day schools from pre-kindergarten through high school. He was active in Jewish youth movements and served as youth director at his synagogue. At age 13, he joined the congregational choir. Two years later, the newly-arrived rabbi invited him to accompany the cantor. Cattan also began to participate in services as a shaliach tzibur (lay leader).
“That experience is definitely part of my reason for becoming a Jewish communal professional,” he says. “If I weren’t a cantor, I would be doing something related to Jewish education and the Jewish people. It’s my calling.”
He spent a year in Jerusalem at Machon L’Madrichei Chutz La’Aretz, the institute for youth leaders from abroad. After returning to Uruguay, he studied music at the School of Lyric Art in Montevideo and was mentored by several vocalists and cantors. At his rabbi’s suggestion, he enrolled at the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano, the Buenos Aires-based affiliate of the Jewish Theological Seminary, tailoring a cantorial curriculum at a time when the school did not yet offer a dedicated track for cantors.
He spent a year at public university in Montevideo before transferring to the private Catholic University of Montevideo to study marketing and advertising, as one of eight Jews in a class of 100.
“It was interesting being a very highly-identified Jew studying Catholic subjects, but I did very well because of my religious background,” he says. He was selected by fellow students in his major as the first Jewish delegate to the university’s academic council.
Cattan continued private cantorial study while working in communications, finally deciding to make his Judaic calling his sole occupation. In 1988, at age 20, he became assistant cantor of Nueva Congregacion Israelita, a 1,000-family congregation founded by German immigrants in 1939. He completed the seminario in 1992.
From 2000 to 2003, Cattan headed the Latin America Desk of the World Zionist Organization, organizing and promoting Israel-related programming throughout South America and Mexico. It was a time of economic crisis in the region, with an overwhelming number of Jews seeking to make aliyah. Cattan and his wife began to consider immigrating as well.
“When I was 15 or 16, I had decided that I wasn’t going to live in Uruguay as an adult,” Cattan says. “I didn’t feel I identified with the majority of the population and the ideas. Out of four people, three don’t like Israel or the Jews, so it’s not the place to be.”
He and his wife, Silvia, a Jewish educator and education psychologist, and their three children relocated in 2003 to Miami, where Cattan served as cantor of the Cuban Hebrew Congregation of Miami for five years. From 2008, he has been cantor of Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus Miami.
He is a member of the Executive Council of the Cantors Assembly and recently co-chaired the organization’s annual convention.
“Everything in life has a cycle, and for me it was a time to start looking,” Cattan says of his decision to leave Miami. “From the first 10 minutes in the first interview at The Conservative Synagogue, I felt that it was a very interesting place: it looked very professional and at the same time, had a lot of involvement from the laypeople. They were very enthusiastic and committed, with a clear idea of what they wanted for their congregation.”
The Cattans now have four children: Maia (17), Uri (14), Mili (13), and Ilai (4).
Cantor Magda Fishman
Temple Beth El, Stamford
A native of Jaffa, Israel, Fishman began her musical training at age 10, at the Ironi Alef arts school in Tel Aviv, where she studied acting, singing, and trumpet. She landed a place in the Tel Aviv-Yafo Youth Orchestra and, at 18, as a trumpeter and singer in the Israeli Defense Forces Orchestra.
After her military service, Fishman joined the Tel Aviv-Broadway Musical Theatre Project. On a U.S. tour, she auditioned at the Manhattan School of Music and was later accepted after returning to Israel. While attending the school, she served as a cantorial soloist at Sutton Place Synagogue. At the urging of Cantor Henry Rosenblum, then-dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Fishman enrolled at the seminary’s H.L. Miller Cantorial School in New York. Invested in 2011, she has served in cantorial positions at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan, Congregation Beth Am in Los Angeles and, most recently, North Shore Synagogue in Syosset, N.Y.
She has performed extensively in Israel and Europe, and at venues throughout North America, including the Kennedy Center, the National Gallery of Canada, the 92nd Street Y Festival, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the Walter Reade Theater, and the Israeli Embassy in Washington. She is the recipient of the prestigious America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarship and won First Prize in the Cantors Assembly “Cantorial Idol” competition.
As a cantor and singer-musician, mezzo-soprano Fishman brings a blend of traditional and contemporary styles to synagogue services. Over the years, she has built a large following among a wide spectrum of audiences. Her repertoire includes liturgical masterpieces, Israeli songs, jazz, musical theater, and her own compositions.
“With her background and experience, I have no doubt that Cantor Fishman will quickly become a dynamic force at TBE in helping make our services and all of our programming more inspiring, more meaningful, and more inclusive,” says synagogue president Sylvan Pomerantz.
Fishman will live in Stamford with her husband, Zarin, and their son, Yair.
Inspired by the big questions
Michael S. Friedman, Senior Rabbi
Temple Israel, Westport
A native of Great Neck, Long Island, Michael Friedman grew up in a multi-generational family dedicated to Reform Judaism. “We really dived into synagogue life,” he says. “There was never any doubt that my brother and I would become b’nai mitzvah and be confirmed.”
The seeds of a rabbinical career path were planted in high school, when Friedman was “dragged kicking and screaming” into a youth group by one of his rabbis at Temple Beth-El. “I loved it,” he says. “For the first time, Judaism became mine: I could explore, ask questions, and learn about it on my own terms.”
Friedman became immersed in the group and expanded his engagement in Jewish life, participating in social justice activities and leading services at his synagogue. An even more significant turning point came at age 17, when Friedman took his first trip to Israel as part of Project Understanding, an interfaith group of Catholic and Jewish high-school juniors.
“Growing up in Great Neck, almost everybody was just like me – Reform and Conservative Jews,” he says. “On the trip, I met and became very close with a whole other group of individuals who were like me in cultural ways but who had very different ideas of what their faith called on them to do and be and believe, and how it shaped their lives. Add to that the fact that it was my first time in Israel, a transformational experience for any Jew. I was inspired to ask the big questions – who am I, what do I believe, what are my thoughts about God, Jewish peoplehood, and Jewish community?”
Back home, Friedman brought these queries to his rabbis, who “had some great answers to the pretty central questions I was asking,” he says. “I started thinking about becoming a rabbi.”
But as an undergraduate at Yale, the thought began to seem far-fetched in contrast with more “normal” career paths like law or teaching. Friedman was still drawn into Judaism via many avenues – the Judaic studies department, Jewish fraternity life, and Hillel, as well as engaging in political activity and teaching Hebrew school.
“By the end of college, that old idea buried in the back of my head came back to the forefront, and I thought, ‘I guess there really is something about this desire to become a rabbi,’” says Friedman, who went on to study at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC), receiving ordination in 2004.
For two years, he served as director of high-school programs at the Union of Reform Judaism and spent the next two years as assistant rabbi of Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, N.J. He comes to Temple Israel after six years as associate rabbi at Central Synagogue in Manhattan.
As a rabbi, he still carries the big questions with him: What holds us together as a Jewish community and people? What makes us unique among faith groups or ethnic groups? What do we mean by “chosenness?”
And the biggest question: “Why do we believe Judaism is important for us, for our children, or at all? Why do we put so much time and energy into thinking about this and wanting to perpetuate this? These were burning questions for me and I realized that I’m not the only one asking them.”
This is the conversation that Friedman, now 37, brings to Temple Israel as he gets to know his new congregation. “The question I pose to everyone is, why bother being Jewish?” he says. “Why drag your kid to Hebrew school at 9 on a Sunday morning, why pay dues, why light candles – why do you care about Judaism? These are the kind of questions that people sometimes wonder about in the middle of the night, but I believe that the Jewish community doesn’t encourage us to ask them enough.”
While prior generations may not have asked or even understood the question, why be Jewish, Friedman says that it is of central importance to his demographic cohort. “Our age-group is proud to be Jewish; we’re just not sure what it’s all about and why we should care, let along spend our time, money, and effort,” he says. And that’s what he sees as the heart of his rabbinic work: to help congregants understand what Judaism can do for them, how it can improve their lives, and what it can offer that is unique among faith traditions.
“The Jewish people is not about certainty; in fact, ‘Israel’ means ‘God-wrestlers,’” he says. “When you come into a shul, does anyone give you a test as to what you believe? We say, ‘come on this journey, ask some good questions, think.’”
Friedman, who relocated to Weston with his wife, Haley Lieberman, succeeds Rabbi Robert Orkand, spiritual leader of Temple Israel for 32 years until his retirement in 2013. “Rabbi Orkand and Cantor [Richard] Silverman provided longtime, stable leadership and gave so much to this congregation,” Friedman says. “I wanted to be part of a community that is exploring what a 21st-century congregation might look like. Our willingness to wrestle is more important than the certainty of our faith, and we want to be on a journey together of discovery and growth.”
Outside his synagogue role, Friedman is a member of The Running Rabbis, a non-profit group created by two of his HUC classmates that uses running as a tool for tikkun loam. In November, Friedman will run his sixth New York City Marathon as a guide for an athlete with a disability, through the non-profit organization, Achilles International.
Cultivating spirituality among elders
Rabbi Daniel Braune-Friedman, Director of Pastoral Care
Hebrew Health Care, West Hartford
Daniel Braune-Friedman was born and raised in Montrose, N.Y. in what he calls a “not-so-traditional home.” While studying at UMass Amherst, he became interested in Judaism, to the point where he considered the rabbinate. When his father died, he sought to become more active in a Jewish community, but wasn’t sure which denomination to join. That proved to be a challenge when considering rabbinical school, so he put the thought in the back of his mind and finished college.
After graduating, he studied at Yeshivat Darche Noam in Jerusalem and worked for the National Jewish Outreach Program in New York. He learned about a fundraising position at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in Riverdale, N.Y. During the application process, he mentioned to the founder and then-head Rabbi Avi Weiss that he was considering rabbinical school. While Friedman didn’t land the job, Weiss offered him a place in the incoming class.
To get up to speed with his Orthodox associates, “Rabbi Dan,” as he is affectionately called, attended a mechina (“preparation”) program, receiving ordination in 2009. During his studies, he facilitated and participated in several social-action programs in many different countries. For his Jewish and interfaith outreach, he received the Irving Weinstein Memorial Award for the Advancement of Interdenominational Cooperation.
While a rabbinical student, Braune-Friedman also completed an internship in clinical pastoral education at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, a valuable survey of behavioral science, supervision, and group work – “what becomes of you, as a potential chaplain, when you walk into a room,” he says. He held rabbinic internships at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Congregation Bais Abraham in St. Louis, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in New York, as well as campus rabbinical internships at Washington University in St. Louis and New York University.
Braune-Friedman and his wife, Hannah, served as Jewish chaplains at Oxford University in England, where their two children were born. They were homesick and wanted their kids to be part of their extended families back in the U.S., so they looked for positions at several American campuses, while also considering jobs in healthcare.
To receive board certification in the U.S., chaplains must complete four 10-week units of clinical pastoral education. Friedman completed his first unit while serving as a rabbinic intern at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York in 2006, and the rest over the past year in a residency program at Hartford Hospital, where he also works as a chaplain and receives supervision. He focused his specialty project on pastoral care to elders with dementia and will complete the residency program in late August.
While at Hartford Hospital, Braune-Friedman has worked in an intensive care unit and on call, serving patients of all religions and in many different settings, from the emergency department to those actively dying.
“There’s a rawness when people are sick,” he says. “They are ready to expose themselves and deal with their spirituality and talk about it openly. This work has been really meaningful, like Yom Kippur every day – people really want to pray and connect at these really vulnerable moments.”
Braune-Friedman visited Rabbi Gary Lavit, longtime director of pastoral care at Hebrew Health Care, and learned about the range of his responsibilities that came with the position, from supervising the kitchen to conducting Shabbat services to connecting with patients and their families as a chaplain. In May, when Lavit announced his retirement, Friedman thought the job would be an excellent match.
“Eldercare is so important,” he says. “So many rabbis, educators, and Jewish leaders are excited about lifecycle events like birth and b’nai-mitzvah, but I’m not sure how many are interested in eldercare and elder spirituality. I’ve heard that there’s more interest in a life review and God and the afterlife and questioning and understanding God when you’re age 70 and up.”
The position encompasses much more than the residents and patients of Hebrew Health Care. “So many of our staff are not Jewish but Gary had such a connection with them,” Braune-Friedman says. “It’s so important to know how effective our staff is, what a unique job this is in connecting with everybody and creating a home in this big institution, not only for our residents but also for our staff.”
The Braune-Friedmans live on the grounds of Mikveh Bess Israel in West Hartford, where Hannah, a professional social worker, is the new shomeret (attendant). When he isn’t on the pulpit at Hebrew Health Care, he davens at Beth David Synagogue in West Hartford.