2018-07-18 / Home

Cong. M’kor Shalom welcomes Rhoda Harrison as its new cantor


Voice staff

The first time Rhoda Harrison heard the voice of a female spiritual leader on a bima was during a visit home from college for the High Holidays. It was the late 1980s. A Philadelphia native, Harrison was captivated by the presence of a young woman leading her home congregation in song and prayer. The woman, she learned, was an intern studying to become a cantor from Hebrew Union College, the seminary of the Reform movement.

“A light bulb went off,” said Harrison, Cong. M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill’s new cantor, who recently moved from Baltimore. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a possibility.’ I hadn’t connected those dots before.”

For Harrison, who had started her undergraduate years as a voice major before switching to psychology, it was an unshakable experience. Even as she kept plugging away at her original plan to apply to psychology grad school programs, there was a nagging voice in her head. It was only after securing a spot in a clinical psych PhD program that she decided--on a whim--to reach out to HUC about becoming a cantor.

“I had apparently missed the application deadline, but they still let me audition,” she recalled. “I was accepted and then I had 10 days to get to Israel.”

With her lyric soprano voice and a love of liturgy, Harrison never looked back. After receiving her Masters in Sacred Music and Cantorial Investiture from HUC in 1993, she moved straight away to Maryland for her first pulpit job. Over 25 years, she has served as cantor at two Baltimore area synagogues, first at Har Sinai in Owings Mills and later Temple Emanuel (recently absorbed by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation)--where she also assumed rabbinic responsibilities as the congregation’s lone clergy member for eight years.

Along the way, she received her Ph.D. in Jewish Studies from the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University (formally Baltimore Hebrew University), earned a Rabbinic smicha from the Trans-denominational Rabbinical Academy and is raising two girls: Rachel, 18, who is entering freshman year at Northeastern University in Boston and Ande, 20, a student at Temple University. In her free time, she is a fitness fanatic who throws herself into running and crossfit, and also performs cabaret on the side.

Thanks to her days at Camp Harlam (where a young Anita Hochman, M’kor’s long-serving cantor, was a song leader) she picked up guitar in middle school and also plays piano, flute and piccolo.

Her move to M’kor Shalom is admittedly a major change of pace--but it all makes sense. She is returning to her home region now that her daughters are in college and is back to the kind of work she finds most rewarding, she said

“My love is to be a cantor,” said Harrison. “I love scholarship and I love teaching and am happy to write a sermon. But, when it comes to the bima presence and serving a congregation, I’m thrilled to be a cantor.”

She replaces Elaya Jenkins-Adelberg, who left after a year to be closer to her family in California. Hochman, cantor emerita, retired in 2017 while continuing to serve the congregation on a part-time basis.

M’kor Shalom Executive Committee Member Stephanie Zinn, who was co-chair of the cantor search committee with Stuart Alperin, said the committee was impressed both with Harrison’s range of experiences as well as her eagerness to figure out how best to serve M’kor families.

“Even through she spent several years in a synagogue serving as a single clergy member, her style is very collaborative,” said Zinn. “She was excited about joining our amazing clergy team and I think she will be a tremendous asset to the team. She relates well to all range of ages and already seems very comfortable.”

Cantor Harrison will be meeting with congregants during summer events, including M’kor at the Shore, 8 p.m. July 28 at the Margate home of Rolane and Steven Sunshine as well as Beach Blanket Barbecue, a family event 5-7 p.m. on Aug. 8.

For more information, contact mainoffice@mkorshalom.org.

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