Hazzan Ivor Lichterman checks the kitchen of Congregation B’nai Israel before Passover. All of the chametz, or leavened bread, must be cleaned from a home before Pesach, and tables scrubbed and covered if they are going to be used during the holiday.
Hazzan Ivor Lichterman brings some high-holidays energy to Passover as a cantor and spiritual leader.
Pesach, to use the Hebrew term for Passover, is a big holiday, but it’s half a year away from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish high holy days of penitence and atonement at the beginning of the religious year.
A microwave not ‘kashered,’ or made kosher, is taped up for Passover.
For Pesach at Congregation B’nai Israel in Sylvania, the area’s Conservative temple, “I do a service of Reaffirmation, capital ‘R,’ Reaffirmation” of a person’s being Jewish, Hazzan Lichterman said. Hazzan is the Hebrew term for cantor and is Mr. Lichterman’s preferred title.
The Reaffirmation service will take place at 9:30 a.m. today at the synagogue, 6525 Sylvania Ave., Sylvania.
“It’s exactly six months from Rosh Hashanah; it’s exactly six months from the [Jewish] new year,” the cantor said. “So what? Is a good Jew going to wait once a year for a new year to come around to reaffirm? To show up like a ‘good’ Christian who’s going to show up just on Christmas? That isn’t good enough.
“The Jews became the Jews on Passover,” he said, referring to the biblical story of the beginning of the exodus, the Hebrews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. “They should be expressing their affirmation now,” not just at the traditional time, the Jewish new year.
In addition to the Reaffirmation on the first day of Passover, the congregation will have a Yizkor service the eighth and final day of Pesach at 11 a.m. April 30. That observance remembers the dead.
“We do that four times a year,” Hazzan Lichterman said. “The majority of Jewish people don’t do that four times a year. They do it on Yom Kippur, because on Yom Kippur the Jews come to shul [synagogue]. Again, six months from Yom Kippur; is it enough to memorialize your loved ones only once a year?
“Passover is a perfect opportunity, and [this memorial service] is on the last day of Passover, so we tell the people, ‘At least come on the first day of Passover [and] come on the last day of Passover.’”
Hazzan Ivor Lichterman checks the kitchen at Congregation B’nai Israel in Sylvania. A sign alerts members that the dairy kitchen is kosher for Passover.
The high holidays and Passover have “an affinity; there’s a connection between the two,” Hazzan Lichterman said. “You shouldn't have to wait once a year for this renewal and this Reaffirmation to come around. Now is the time, and we'll have a good crowd.”
The Passover Seder, the dinner celebrating Jewish freedom that includes the story of Moses being divinely directed to liberate the Hebrews in Egypt, is another element of Pesach. Congregation B’nai Israel does not have a community Seder, in part because of the requirements of making the synagogue’s kitchen fully kosher for Passover.
“Anyone who needs a Seder, I find homes for them to go to,” said the cantor. “The Passover is very much home-observed” traditionally, he said.
Congregation B'nai Israel does not have a resident rabbi. After Rabbi Moshe Saks moved to Scranton, Pa., in 2013, the synagogue’s board chose not to recruit a new rabbi.
Rabbi Jason Miller of Detroit is available for the times when a rabbi is required, such as the high holy days. “I have visited the congregation anywhere from once a month to once every two months,” the rabbi said. Rabbi Miller owns a technology company and started a kosher certification company.
Rabbi Miller said that B’nai Israel “is very much like a lot of Conservative congregations, which have declined in membership over the past number of decades. But that does not translate to the strength or vitality of the congregation. While the total number of congregational families is smaller than it once was, the congregation is very strong and energetic and, I believe, headed on the right path.”
“We took in a lot of new family members this year, interestingly, including young families with children,” Hazzan Lichterman said. “It's not like they say, ‘Oh, they don't have a rabbi. Let's go to the temple next door.’ They still see some incentive to come here.”
A cantor is responsible for music and liturgy. “Cantor Lichterman is first and foremost a cantor,” Rabbi Miller said. “He has an absolutely beautiful voice, very talented musically, wonderful command of the liturgy, wonderful control of his voice. He’s a pleasure to listen to.
“And an added bonus, he is a dynamic leader,” Rabbi Miller said. “So he is able to competently fill in as a religious leader whether you look at that as a rabbi or cantor.”
Though Hazzan Lichterman does “more than double the work” he would as just the cantor, “I'm fine with the way things are right now, and we're managing very well,” the hazzan said.
Congregants “feel I’m qualified. They like my sermons every weekend,” he said. “There are people who feel our long-term goal is that we should have a rabbi. I don't know what the plan is.”
The congregation is preparing for its 150th anniversary celebration, which will include six events stretching from September, 2016, through June, 2017.
Earlier on the calendar is a trip to Israel for 16 members of B'nai Israel's confirmation class in June, and Hazzan Lichterman will be the chaperone. Rabbi Miller will fill in at the synagogue.
In December, Rabbi Miller will lead a trip to Cuba that is “open to anyone in the congregation or outside of the congregation,” he said. “That's something I’m excited for; it’s a wonderful opportunity to see Cuba and the Jewish parts of Cuba.”
The focus for Pesach, though, is the ancient journey from Egypt to Israel.
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