In the aftermath of the massacre at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers has stood out for his indefatigable moral clarity and inspired spiritual leadership. While many in the country, and the world, have come to know him through the many interviews he has given in the media over the past two weeks, until this tragedy, few outside his congregation had ever heard of him. Or so it would seem.
Here is an insightful look into who exactly Jeffrey Myers is, written by his good friend and colleague, Hazzan Steven Stoehr.
Who is this man who so eloquently navigated some of the most turbulent waters of emotions and politics during the nightmare which took place at the Tree of life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on October 27, 2018?
Jeffrey S. Myers was born in Newark, NJ. His career would become replete with education and educating.
He began his synagogue life in Roselle, NJ, and was a constant presence at the Suburban Jewish Center. His close connection to his cantor, Cantor Samuel Seidelman prompted him to sing as a boy soprano in the choir. He would eventually learn to daven, read from the Torah and chant Haftarah. He would ultimately take over as choir director at age 15, and continued in that role for the next ten years.
After earning his B. A. from Rutgers University and then his M.A. from the Jewish Theological Seminary in Jewish Education, he studied privately with Cantor Zvi Aroni and then enrolled in the Cantors Institute where he received his B.A. in Sacred Music and Diploma of Hazzan (Cantor).
As a hazzan, he served pulpits in both Illinois and New Jersey before going to Congregation Beth-El of Massapequa, NY. His continued tenure as hazzan lasted on the East Coast until he took over as Rabbi/Hazzan at Tree of Life just one year ago.
The committees and appointments on which he has served for the Cantors Assembly include but are not limited to: Regional Chair, Education Committee Chair, United Synagogue Education Committee and Teen Suicide and Drug Abuse Commission liaison, National Camp Ramah Commission and the CA Executive Council.
In Pittsburgh, the man who stood before his community and city, and, via news reporting, shared his insights and perspectives with a world audience, is a cantor at heart and a rabbi by present profession. And yet, it was not during a couple of years studying for his certification as a rabbi and months of serving as a rabbi where Myers cultivated his wisdom and gravitas, his composure and breadth of knowledge which would guide him through these days; it was as a cantor. Jeffrey has been a member of the Cantors Assembly since 1984 and recently earned his ordination as a rabbi.
His academic degrees speak to his training, but the polishing of his skills and soul came from years of serving as a hazzan. It is #whatcantorsdo.
The ability to manage and administrate and act in a politically savvy manner, all the while placing his ego in check and putting the welfare of his community members first is the hallmark of a great clergy person, no matter the title of rabbi or cantor. It is everything which we witnessed Rabbi Myers exemplify that reflects on the modern day hazzan.
Every day, cantors take part in life-changing moments for their community members. Every day, we engage in personal study for the sake of being prepared to address the many unexpected curveballs life throws at us. Every day, we are yearning to partner with God in caring for His children. Every day, we try to better ourselves so we are better prepared to play all the roles that our community needs us to play.
Following the day of that now infamous Shabbat, the words of deep insight and wisdom which Jeffrey offered to the varied audiences left an indelible imprint on our minds--indeed, on our entire country--and offered a balm of healing to our wounded hearts. They floated through the air with grace and reached our ears with unparalleled perfection in the moment of need. By his words, the cries for hope were heeded; the need for healing was attended; the prayer for peace was delivered and the promise of a tomorrow void of hate was handed over to the collective whole through his words, both penned and uttered.
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