By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — Departing Cantor Richard Cohn will be honored for the nine years he has spent with Temple Emanu-El during a special Friday evening Shabbat service and dinner held in honor of him and his wife Marsha.
Cantor Cohn, 60, has been named director of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music in New York — the cantorial school of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. It is the oldest extant Jewish seminary around and the main seminary for training rabbis, cantors, educators and communal workers in Reform Judaism.
The veteran cantor describes the Friday event as “a beautiful Shabbat evening with our community” and a celebration of that community.
Cohn, who has been a cantor for over 34 years, said he’s looking forward to his new job, but will find it difficult to leave such wonderful people in such a storied institution.
“There’s a really bittersweet quality to this transition,” Cohn said Monday. “What I’m about to do is very different from being a cantor and I will certainly miss the relationships with all the people from different backgrounds and circumstances.”
The cantor said the members of the congregation have all become very treasured companions.
“There have been great friendships and camaraderie that have marked our years in Dallas,” he said. “We have been extremely fortunate to serve in such a congregation — in such a joyful and nourishing community. The Dallas Jewish community as a whole has been a wonderful home for us during our time here.”
David Stern, senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El of Dallas, said he’s going to be sorry to see Cantor Cohn leave.
“He’s been a tremendous gift to our community,” Rabbi Stern said. “He’s an outstanding spiritual leader, he’s compassionate, very wise and very musically talented. He understands deeply the role of music in prayer. He’s a wonderful leader and partner to the clergy team.”
An issued statement by Temple Emanu-El laments Cantor Cohn’s departure but acknowledges it is a fantastic opportunity.
“We are both saddened for our congregation, and thrilled for our teacher and friend,” the statement read. “Cantor Cohn introduced us to contemporary Jewish music; brought the best musicians of our movement to Temple; united and enhanced our choir; worked closely with lay leadership to broaden the role of music at Temple; added energy and heightened spirituality to our worship through music; and launched new traditions such as Jazz Shabbat.
“His teaching has enriched adults and bar and bat mitzvah students, and he has mentored several student cantors as well as talented Temple teens, some of whom have gone on to music careers.
“As a partner leading services over the past eight and a half years, he has showed us all new ways to pray and bring God and Torah closer to our hearts. In addition, his wife Marsha has been a mainstay in our community and choir, and a founder and leader in our Mussar spirituality groups.”
At Emanu-El since 2006
Cohn has served Temple Emanu-El of Dallas since 2006, following 25 years at congregations in suburban Chicago. He was a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under such conductors as Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, James Levine and Sir Georg Solti.
Cantor Cohn has often been the soloist in Bloch’s Avodath Hakodesh (“Sacred Service”), including performances in Israel with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. He has also been a featured conductor at the North American Jewish Choral Festival. From 2001 to 2007, he was president of the American Conference of Cantors, the professional organization of the Reform cantorate.
On May 17, he will be one of four Dallas-Fort Worth cantors who will perform with area choirs in celebration of Jerusalem Day.
Cantor Cohn will complete his service to Temple in June, and a search committee is expected to help identify Cantor Cohn’s successor.
The College-Institute’s decision was made after a rigorous search process, Cantor Cohn said.
“It was very thorough,” he said. “There were two visits to New York for interviews and other preparation. It is an important time of transition in the New York cantorial program and they were thorough when planning what the next steps in that transition would be. I presented them with my best vision of whom we could best move forward and they shared with me their sense of what was happening at their college institute and what they thought would be most beneficial for the reform movement.
“So now it remains to see what will actually occur. But I am very excited to see what happens next beginning in July.”
He said he will be part of an exceptional seminary and graduate school program and it will be a new type of environment for him.
“My years in Dallas and the strong experiences I have had here have prepared me well — they’ve left me with a point of view that will serve us well,” he said. “Jewish music — music, really — is fundamental to the experience of congregations and public life. Through music we create meaning. We make it possible for people to connect with themselves and others with the life of the spirit. … As I move on to leadership in the national community, these same values will continue to guide my work.”
He said he will still be able to participate in the High Holy Days at Temple Emanu-El in September.
“Even though we are recognizing our transition now I’ll be able to participate in High Holy Days one more time in the fall,” he said.
The farewell event is free, and the community is invited to attend. Services begin at 6:15 p.m. in Olan Sanctuary and the complimentary dinner will follow immediately in Tobian Auditorium.
Those staying for dinner must RSVP to Rachel Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org or 214-706-0000.