2017-05-10 / Home

M’kor Shalom’s Anita Hochman

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff

Cantor Hochman, circa 1992Cantor Hochman, circa 1992
Cantor Anita Hochman met her heroine, singer Janis Ian, in April. At the meeting were (from left), Ian, Hochman, and Robyn Sole, Hochman’s partner. Cantor Anita Hochman met her heroine, singer Janis Ian, in April. At the meeting were (from left), Ian, Hochman, and Robyn Sole, Hochman’s partner. Anita Hochman was just starting to teach herself guitar when the future cantor discovered music that rocked her world. Pioneering singer/songwriter Janis Ian, the daughter of a New Jersey chicken farmer turned music teacher, was all over Philadelphia radio airwaves in the mid-1970s with her anthem “At Seventeen.”

“It was her albums I listened to over and over again,” said Hochman, who was actually 17 when she first heard the song. “She was absolutely my first musical influence. I would literally sit next to my record player and try to figure out the chords on my own by listening to the music.”

As Hochman winds down her 36-year career as the longest serving clergy member of the 43-year-old Reform synagogue, nothing could be more fitting than the send-off planned in her honor: a concert June 4th featuring Janis Ian and the presentation of the 2017 Marylee and Stuart Alperin Leadership Award. But that’s not all there is to it. M’kor also sent Hochman and her partner Robyn Sole to Nashville, Tenn. for a weekend trip in April to meet up with Ian, a two-time Grammy winner.

“It’s hard to describe the experience of not only getting to meet someone who is so important to you, but sitting down and having lunch with her,” Hochman said. “There were these explosions going off in my head.” For Hochman, who arrived at M’kor as a 24-year-old grad student in 1981, the past few months have been an emotional time since announcing her semi-retirement. A pioneer in her own right—she was not only South Jersey’s first female cantor but also one of the first women to break into what was a male-dominated field for millennia—her continuity and passion for bringing people together through music have helped define the Cherry Hill synagogue.

As of July 1, she will become cantor emeritus, working parttime to support the synagogue’s incoming cantor Elaya Jenkins- Adelberg, who is currently a cantorial intern at East End Temple in New York.

Hochman, a native of Levittown, PA, started at M’kor at a time when its original 18 families had expanded to 350. Replacing Cantor Terry Stern, who left to make aliyah, she inherited a choir of 20 enthusiastic singers.

Marylee Alperin, a founding M’kor member and choir member, recalls how Hochman challenged the group to expand upon their repertoire, opening them up to new composers and arrangements.

“We all grew together and Cantor really groomed us,” Alperin recalled. “She has so much talent in her own right and was so great with choral music, guitar and the piano. She was able to develop a choir of great magnitude and quality for volunteers.”

In 1987, the choir was honored when Hochman asked members to back her up for a performance before her professors at Gratz College to fulfill her master’s degree in Jewish music.

Throughout the years, choir members have branched out, becoming involved in folk ensembles, the Bayeet (house) band and even the very ambitious M’korstock festivals of music, art and Jewish culture that the synagogue sponsored three times.

Hochman was also a force behind organizing community concerts featuring area cantors and singers throughout the years, including musical performances to mark landmark occasions, including Jerusalem 3000 in 1996. In addition, she put together two concerts to pay tribute to the music of Debbie Friedman. But she is perhaps best known for creating the Unity Choir, an ensemble comprised of almost 100 singers from synagogues and churches throughout the state that draws close to 1,000 to services and Martin Luther King memorial performances annually.

“We are all serving God and all singing the music of our people,” Hochman observed. “It’s that much more beautiful and enriching when we can all do it together.”

She has been by the side of 15 rabbis over the years, but counts the last eight years, ushered in by the arrival of Rabbi Jennifer Frenkel, as a time of renewal.

Frenkel said she felt an immediate connection with Hochman when she arrived as a young assistant rabbi.

“From the beginning, I recognized in her a spirit that drew me in—someone who cared so deeply for the people in this congregation, someone who had been through so much—such challenging times and incredibly joyous ones—and someone who was so humble yet so talented,” she said. “And ever since then, I have been so fortunate to work alongside not only an incredible clergy partner, but a best friend.” 

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