Tami Cherdack’s ‘soul shines through her voice’
By Cindy Mindell
GLASTONBURY – Over its 32-year history, Congregation Kol Haverim in Glastonbury has been led by four rabbis and several High Holiday cantorial soloists, but only one fulltime cantorial soloist. The weekend of Nov. 4 and 5, the Reform congregation will honor Cantor Soloist Tami Cherdack Sherman for her 20th anniversary with the synagogue (although it is officially her 21st year with the congregation).
Congregant Dr. Eva Salzer was on the cantorial search committee, convened in 1995. “When I received Tami Cherdack’s demo tape, as soon as I heard her beautiful voice, I knew she was the person we were looking for at Kol Haverim,” Salzer recalls. “She has the most incredible quality to her voice. It is sweet and melodic, soothing yet powerful. It makes you feel warm all over.”
A native of Miami, Fla., Tami Cherdack Sherman has been performing and recording since age 16 and has won several vocal competitions, awards, scholarships, and fellowships. She received a scholarship to attend the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she earned a Master of Music degree. She was subsequently awarded a full Doctoral Fellowship by the University of Connecticut to teach voice and direct the “Women in the Arts” program.
Before joining Congregation Kol Haverim, Sherman served as cantorial soloist at Temple Tifereth Israel in Malden, Mass. and as a guest soloist for synagogues throughout the U.S. A coloratura soprano, Sherman has performed and recorded in many genres of music, ranging from popular contemporary, musical theater, big band, jazz, and opera to religious and klezmer. She performs regularly with The Klezmen.
“Since I arrived at Kol Haverim, my overall feeling has always been one of gratitude,” says Sherman, who lives in Glastonbury with her husband, Aaron Sherman, and her son Daniel. “I feel so lucky to have found my ‘true calling’ here in the place we all love and proudly call home. Doing one’s part to help your Jewish community thrive in whatever corner of the world you end up is very rewarding. It’s so gratifying to be part of the continuation of your traditions. It’s an ageless goal to be a stepping-stone from what came before to what comes after. Our circle of life continues here.”
Sherman helped dedicate the congregation’s new building in 1998, the same year a music fund was established to support programs at the synagogue like the annual educational Shabbat Shira, as well as the in-house adult and youth choirs and band, visiting musicians and singers, and the annual children’s musical-comedy Purim shpiel performed with a live band – all of which Sherman organizes and directs.
“Tami is always introducing new liturgical musical pieces and loves to invite congregants to sing on the bimah,” says Salzer, who is among the many members who do so. “When I go up to sing with her, I’m always nervous and as soon as she puts her hand on my elbow, I feel calm, I feel like everything’s going to be fine.”
Sherman is a spiritual leader in the true sense of the word, according to Salzer.
“She is devoted to Judaism and to Congregation Kol Haverim, and that’s evident in her prayers and in her leadership,” Salzer says. “Her soulful delivery of the prayers comes so much from her heart that she reaches deep into the hearts of the people who are privileged enough to hear her. She raises you up to the heavens, and every note she sings brings you closer to God. She also provides great support to the community. She shows kindness to any members who are sick or who may be going through difficult times, and offers support to their families. She’s there in good times and bad, offering a kind word, a shoulder to lean on, and an ear to listen. She’s a very steadying force.”
There are several highlights that stand out for Sherman over the past 20 years. In late 2011, she was invited to perform Jewish holiday music with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. She worked with renowned Jewish musicians like Debbie Friedman z”l, Cantor Jeff Klepper, Danny Maseng, and Julie Silver at the Hava Nashira Songleading Workshop in Wisconsin, and later worked with Silver in Connecticut.
“Officiating at my own son’s bar mitzvah and getting married to my bashert with four of my cantor colleagues singing on my pulpit and our whole community in attendance as an extended family were both unique and moving life experiences,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed learning from some of the most brilliant and dedicated rabbis and colleagues, and getting to be a part of the lifecycle events of the congregants.”
Retired cantor Jerry Krasnow of Manchester first met Sherman 20 years ago at a communal cantorial program at Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford. As a sometime Kol Haverim congregant, he is often invited by Sherman to join or replace her on the bimah. When Krasnow’s mother passed away in 2000, he was scheduled to officiate at a bar mitzvah, and Tami volunteered to step in – eight months pregnant. When Sherman’s father passed away a few years later, she asked Krasnow to lead the Yizkor service on Yom Kippur in her stead.
“Tami is a spectacularly wonderful person and so capable,” Krasnow says. “There’s a vibrancy about the congregation because of her. She can do everything from traditional to contemporary. The new trend in the Reform movement is to take music that could have been on Broadway and put Jewish words to it. She is so good at it that she creates feel-good Judaism at Kol Haverim that you feel whenever you walk in.” In October, Sherman and Krasnow co-led the Yizkor service. “It was wonderful,” he says. “Where else can you be a retired cantor and enjoy that kind of welcome?”
“Since I came to Congregation Kol Haverim, one of my greatest joys has been to work with Tami Cherdack Sherman,” says Rabbi Stephen Wylen, who joined the congregation as its interim rabbi this past July. “Tami, of course, has a beautiful voice. More importantly, she shapes her voice to the service of God in our holy worship. It is fair to say that the worship service of Kol Haverim would not even be imaginable without Tami. It is a pleasure to collaborate with Tami. She is easy to work with and pleasant to be with.”
Looking back over 21 years of service, Sherman says, “I hope I have raised the level of spirituality and prayer experience through the beauty of our shared Jewish musical heritage,” Sherman says. “I always try to be as warm and inviting to the congregation as they have always been to me and my family. We want to encourage a sense of inclusion and a strong sense of community. I truly hope that I have fostered a spirit of song and prayer that brings our congregants closer to God and to each other.”
In his short time at Kol Haverim, Wylen has developed a deep appreciation for his colleague. “Like the Ark of the covenant which the Israelites carried through the desert, Tami is gilded on the outside and on the inside,” he says. “Her character and personality are worthy of emulation and admiration. When one is singing before a crowd, there is no ‘hiding.’ The soul shines through the voice. Having just officiated the High Holy Days services beside Tami, she lifted up my soul through the power of her own soul. It was, for me, a wonderful High Holy Days. As her friends in the congregation honor Tami, I am pleased to be counted as one of them.”
Congregation Kol Haverim celebrates Cantorial Soloist Tami Cherdack’s 20th anniversary: Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4-5. Info/RSVP: kolhaverim.org / (860) 490-8900.
NOTE: In last week’s “What’s Happening” calendar, the Ledger inadvertently noted that Tami Cherdack was being honored by Kol Haverim upon her retirement. Cherdack is not retiring. She is clebrating her 20th anniversary with the synagogue. We apologize for the error.
CAP: Tami Cherdack