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B’nai Jehudah announces ‘interim’ year of music

Coleen Dieker

The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah has announced to its congregation that it is embarking on a journey of musical exploration that they are calling “an interim year of music.” Coleen Dieker, the

congregation’s lead accompanist, will serve as its interim music director through June 2015. She will coordinate all the musical needs of the congregation for Shabbat and holidays. She will be aided by a group of volunteer and paid musicians, together creating a new collaborative style of music for B’nai Jehudah.

During Rosh Hashanah 2011, Senior Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff announced the formation of a “Tefillah Team.” All in the congregation were invited to reflect on various aspects of the congregation’s erev Shabbat services. Over the course of the next year, over 100 congregants attended at least 10 Shabbat services and offered online comments, as the clergy experimented with different aspects of tefillah (prayer). The results were analyzed by a volunteer task force, led by congregant Rabbi Neal Schuster. The results, as Rabbi Schuster reported to the board of trustees, showed that “music and message” were the two most important elements during Shabbat services. These two elements determined to a large extent the impact an erev Shabbat service had on an individual.

Two years into continuing to experiment with music and tefillah, the board of trustees agreed to two important changes in its staffing structure: the creation of a new position — that of chesed/pastoral care director and that of music director. Cantor Sharon Kohn, who has served as the congregation’s cantor for the past 11 years, accepted the position of chesed/pastoral care director. A Music Director Advisory Task Force was appointed to work with Rabbi Nemitoff and Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner to recruit the congregation’s new music director. This new music position would be responsible for the musical life of the congregation, being a tefillah partner with the rabbis, helping to shape a new “sound” for the community.

Because of the compressed timeframe for their search in which none of their initial applicants had that right combination of skills and gifts, B’nai Jehudah is taking this interim year to be one of further musical exploration as it continues its recruitment process for a permanent music director.

Recognizing a gift within their midst already, Coleen Dieker has agreed to serve in an interim music director role this year. In making the announcement, Senior Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff stated, “Her musical skills and gifts are extraordinary and she is willing to share them with us more fully.” Dieker attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., and plays piano and violin. She teaches and performs throughout the Kansas City area and is proficient in music theory and arranging.

Nemitoff explained how the coming year will look: “We will support her own vocal gifts with volunteer and paid vocalists. This presents us with the opportunity to experiment with a new collaborative music style, where most services will have more than one instrumentalist and/or vocalist participating. This style is one used successfully in many dynamic congregations nationally. We will also be changing the physicality of the music. The music of our tefillah will occur in a collaborative style on the bimah.”

Another element of the congregation’s plan for the year includes having Rachel Black serve as soloist for Shabbat mornings, being accompanied by the congregation’s other keyboardist, Natalia Rivera. Black has been the soloist for the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, and is pursuing a career in Jewish music. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, is a composer and performs in venues regionally.

As Rabbi Nemitoff concluded in his letter to the congregation, he stated, “We believe that this model has strong merit to it. It gives us the time to find the right person and to better articulate what we are seeking. It gives us stability and energy for the year musically. ... It gives our own congregants an opportunity to step forward and share their musical gifts, to support our efforts. ...This year will be the year of music exploration at B’nai Jehudah.”