“I wanted to serve more than I wanted to perform,” says cantorial student Melissa Berman. She’s a third-generation JTS student: her father was ordained by The Rabbinical School, and her grandmother graduated from the Teachers Institute, now Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies. She grew up in the Conservative Movement and studied opera in high school and college.
While a senior at Duke University, Melissa was accepted to a conservatory but ultimately decided to attend the H. L. Miller Cantorial School because she wanted to be more than just a professional singer. She wanted to be one among the klei kodesh, the “instruments of holiness” who serve in the Jewish community. “Studying hazzanut is a process. I’m developing into a hazzan every day,” she says.
One of her favorite things is teaching others: she tutors kids who are studying to become b’nai mitzvah. “Recently, somebody asked me to help his daughter prepare for her bat mitzvah. Not only to read and to chant, but to know what it means, and to impart that through her cantillation, which is a lot to ask of a thirteen-year-old! I had taken a biblical grammar class at JTS and so I was able to show her how the literary choices of verb sequences in the Bible help create meaning in the text. It was so cool to be able to do that!”
The choice to become a cantor was natural for Melissa. “It combines two of my passions: Judaism and music. I feel so lucky that I’ve found a way to merge them in my professional life.”