2017-07-19 / Voice at the Shore

Shirat Hayam bids farewell to Hazzan Jeffrey Myers

HAZZAN JEFFREY MYERS
By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor

How much difference can a hazzan make in the life of a congregation?

A big difference, if that hazzan is Jeffrey Myers, according to Shirat Hayam members who spoke at a farewell Shabbat service and luncheon for Hazzan Myers on June 24. The farewell tribute was held just a week before Myers’ departure from the synagogue where he had spent seven years as a clergyman.

The Hazzan’s departure was the result of the newly-merged synagogue’s efforts to maintain a balanced budget, said Sheila Friedman, the past co-president of Shirat Hayam who was president of Congregation Beth Judah when it merged with Temple Emeth Shalom last summer. Although the merger helped the two congregations financially, it was not a magic bullet. In the face of continuing financial challenges, synagogue leaders decided they simply could not afford to keep Myers on staff, said Friedman. Instead, congregant Harvey Wolbransky will serve as volunteer cantor for Shirat Hayam.

Letting Myers go was a painful decision, said Friedman. “He will definitely be missed.”

The farewell service and luncheon for Myers, planned by congregant Stella Ann Borenstein, was more joyful than sad. For Myers and his congregants, the occasion provided an opportunity to celebrate and voice their mutual appreciation.

“Hazzan, you have planted your creativity, sense of fun, and intelligence in this congregation, and we’ve grown because of you,” said Donna Josephs, one of a handful of congregants offering speeches in tribute to the Hazzan at the conclusion of the Shabbat morning service. “We are changed for the good because of your dedication, beautiful chanting, and intellectual teaching. Thank you for enhancing our Jewish lives.”

Josephs recalled how the Hazzan had visited her mother in the hospital (“All she could talk about was your dapper hat!”) and co-officiated at her brother’s funeral, remaining at the gravesite until every other funeral guest had departed. Josephs also spoke of how much she learned from taking Hebrew and other classes with Myers, as well as his creative and humorous approach to Purim Spiels and Sunday school programs.

“How many Hazzanim have props at the ready, including a rubber chicken,” quipped Josephs.

Twelve-year-old Brynne Wiser also spoke. “When I first came to this synagogue, I was about 4 or 5 years old….and I didn’t know what was going on. However, with the Hazzan’s help, I learned that services are educational and inspiring,” she said. Brynne also said how much she enjoyed being part of the children’s chorus, conducted by Myers, which performed annually at Seashore Gardens and Shalom House. “He made it so interactive and fun for the kids, and I’m so glad I got to go every year.”

Brynne concluded: “I know that I can speak for everyone here when I say that we’re going to miss him greatly.”

Rabbi Jonathan Kremer also lauded Hazzan Myers, recalling how he had touched congregants through the many classes he taught, his singing and Torah reading, his outreach to congregants in their time of need, and his service to the larger community through the Downbeach Ministerium, an interfaith clergy group that worked together to meet community challenges.

“For all that, we express our appreciation,” said Kremer. “May you be successful in all your endeavors.”

The Hazzan, for his part, acknowledged the many people he had “been blessed these past seven years to work with,” giving special thanks to Cantor Emeritus Ed Kulp, office staff members Ethel Levenson and Karen McKinney, and maintenance man Derrick Anderson. He also thanked Rabbis Kremer and Geller, the many religious school staff members, and, most of all, his congregants.

“Thank you to you, my congregants,” he said, “for the opportunity to represent you to God in prayer.”

Myers also thanked his wife, Janice, and his children, Rachel and Aaron, for the many sacrifices they made to allow him to pursue the profession that he loved. “Mine is a sacred calling, and although Janice will sometimes ask me, ‘Do you have to answer the call?’ I cannot put God’s call to voicemail. I answer it.”

“I don’t know if you will ever truly understand the fire and passion that burns deep in me, that God calls me to do this. When I see a parent’s pride in their child becoming a B’nai Mitzvah… when I hold a hand to comfort you upon your loss …when I share a l’chayim with you on joyous news, when we all sing the Amidah together—that’s who I am, and what I do. They are inseparable.”

Now, said the Hazzan of his family, “We move on to our next chapter in life.” Myers is currently pursuing other job opportunities out of the area. 

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