Meet Our New Assistant Cantor: Sara Anderson

By Erica Slutsky | Communications Manager

Tell us a bit about your background and education/training and what led to you Emanu-El.

I grew up in Los Angeles and my family was very involved in our synagogue, Stephen Wise Temple, where I went to elementary school. T’filah (prayer services) and Hebrew were my favorite parts of school. Additionally, I grew up singing on the Bimah alongside my childhood cantor. My love for music, specifically liturgical music, came from my experiences of singing in synagogue as a child. I had always felt seen and understood by my rabbis and cantor, and they encouraged me from a young age to consider this path.

I went to an audition-based arts high school in LA with a rigorous music program, where I was able to begin to find my voice and feel comfortable singing in front of people. After that, I studied classical voice at UCLA, and continued to lead High Holiday and Shabbat services at Stephen Wise during that time. Upon my graduation from college, I still wasn’t certain that the cantorate was right for me. I moved to New York to earn a master’s in classical voice from Mannes (School of Music, of the New School), and those years away from my home community were what solidified my vocation as a cantor. My classical singing felt empty, and I missed Jewish music and community immensely.

After some nudging from my mentors, I decided to go to HUC-JIR. When I returned from my Year-in-Israel, I continued as a summer and holiday intern at my home synagogue, as well as at East End Temple in Gramercy. I interviewed to be the Cantorial Intern at Emanu-El at the end of my third year, and have been a part of the community for two years now. I knew immediately that if there was a possibility of staying on post-ordination, I would take it…and, here I am!

How do you view your role as a cantor?

As an instrument of Torah, I strive to help Jewish people find meaning and beauty in prayer. I believe that, as we cultivate deeper relationships with one another, we inch closer to God. My role as a cantor is to foster connection with the melodies that preserve our history and to create community as we sing new songs together.

What has your position at Emanu-El involved so far? What are your favorite parts of it?

I have led t’filah weekly in our Religious School, officiated at B’nai Mitzvah and other lifecycle events, helped to plan Shabbat and holiday services with our incredible musicians and choir, delivered sermons, received mentorship from Cantor Glazman, and worked alongside our incredible rabbis. The leadership of the synagogue has provided me with countless opportunities to grow., So much of my “on the ground” learning as a student has taken place at Emanu-El.

No single aspect of my position feels less important or meaningful than the others. Given that my first year was almost entirely virtual, I most value the increasing opportunities I have had to interact with both staff and congregants in person.

What are you looking forward to as our new Assistant Cantor?

I most look forward to getting to know members of the community that I haven’t yet had the chance to spend time with. I’m excited to be involved with our Young Members, to collaborate with our clergy and staff on programs, and to continue to plan meaningful worship services. I eagerly anticipate having the time to immerse myself in the community more fully— to teach, study, celebrate, comfort, and sing.

Watch Sara Anderson sing “Shalom Rav” by Cantor Jonathan Comisar from our Shabbat service on March 25, 2022.

This article was originally published in Volume 93, Issue 2 of the Temple Bulletin, January 2022.

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