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Music in Praise of Rabbi Sussman

Last Shabbat evening, the KI congregational family joined together for a joyous and moving tribute to Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, our retiring Rabbi. I conducted a special musical program presented by our sensational volunteer choir, Shir KI, professional vocal quartet, including Abbe Chapman, soprano; Jenifer Smith, mezzo; Steven VanName, Tenor; and Ed Meyers, bass; four additional singers, and an instrumental ensemble of KI members Jeff Miller, trumpet; Phil Kates, violin; Marc Adler, flute; Adam Guth, drum set; and our virtuoso organist Andrew Senn. The assembled congregation truly loved all our music; they rose to their feet, cheered, and applauded loudly. The congregation was moved by the wonderful music sung and played so magnificently. Of greatest importance, Rabbi Sussman shed a few joyous tears!

I want to share with you the program we presented.

We sang a program of liturgical settings, Jewish folksongs, and classical favorites chosen to celebrate Rabbi Sussman. Some of the works were Rabbi’s favorites, and others were new to him and to the congregation. Here is our program:

  1. Psalm 92: The Shabbat Psalm, by Louis Lewandowski(1821-1894). Lewandowski was a German/Jewish composer whose music became popular in Germany, throughout Europe, and eventually in the United States to this day. His most popular works were composed when Lewandowski was composer-in-residence at the Neue Synagoge in Berlin. This setting of The Shabbat Psalm is sung all over the world. The most popular melody in this composition is Tzadik Katamar (Planted in the house of the Lord, they shall flourish in the courts of our G-d.) This tune is frequently sung by congregants in many synagogues without choir and organ. Andrew Senn wrote an orchestration for this work that was played for the first time last Shabbat evening!
  2. L’kha Dodi, by Louis Lewandowski. This melody for “Come, o Sabbath Bride,” is also by Lewandowski. The refrain is in waltz tempo. This has been a popular L’kha Dodi setting at KI for many years.
  3. V’Shamru, by Cantor Benjamin Grobani (1903-1987). Cantor Grobani was Rabbi Sussman’s childhood Cantor in Baltimore. Born in Berdichev, Zhitomir, Ukraine, Cantor Grobani served a Philadelphia congregation before settling in Baltimore, where he had a long and distinguished Cantorial career. Rabbi Sussman’s childhood recollection is of Cantor Grobani as “the oldest man in the world!” This setting features a slow and dramatic duet between the Cantor and the mezzo soprano.
  4. Rebbe Medley, arranged by Stanley Sperber. This medley of two east European Yiddish folk songs was arranged by my good friend and mentor, Stanley Sperber, the founding conductor of the Zamir Chorale. The first song, Rebbe Elimelech, describes a real historical Hasidic Rebbe who summons “the fiddler and the drummer” to play music with him at the end of Shabbos, after Havdalah. The second song, “Un Az Der Rebbe,” can be interpreted either as a joyous reflection on the power of the Hasidic Rebbe, or a mild sarcastic “putdown.” Whatever he does: laugh, dance, sing, his Hasidim repeat with gusto. But the last verse says, “When the Rebbe speaks, his Hasidim fall asleep!” This couldn’t happen when Rabbi Sussman speaks! Our performance evoked vigorous applause from the KI congregants!
  5. Y’varech’cha, by Max Janowski. The music of this Chicago based composer is well known to KI, because we sing his stirring versions of Avinu Malkeinu and Sim Shalom during the High Holiday services. This slow and emotional setting of the Priestly Benediction is in both Hebrew and English.
  6. Kaddish D’Rabbanan, by Debbie Friedman, Z”L, arranged by Cantor Sheldon Levin.  The immortal Debbie Friedman wrote this composition for the Kaddish prayer recited after we learn Torah from distinguished teachers of Torah!
  7. Aseih L’cha Rav, by Cantor Jonathan Comisar. This contemporary setting of Chapter 1, verse 6, from Ethics of the Fathers, a tractate of the Mishnah, teaches us to “Select for yourself a Rabbi, and then make for yourself a friend.” Rabbi Sussman is most definitely our worthy Rabbi, and most certainly our friend! This contemporary work was composed by Cantor Jonathan Comisar, faculty member of the Debbie Friedman School of Hebrew Union College, friend of Cantor Levy, and composer of “To Bigotry No Sanction,” the cantata commissioned by KI several years ago.
  8. Brindisi: Libiamo, by Giuseppi Verdi, from La Traviata. Rabbi Sussman loves opera, and wants his family, colleagues, friends, and congregants to be joyful! This eternally popular opera chorus, in Italian, a joyous drinking song, was the perfect finale for our program.  The duet sung with fire and charm by Cantor Levy and Stephen VanName accompanied by Shir KI and Andrew Senn, brought the congregation to their feet!

A Personal Tribute to Rabbi Sussman!

Rabbi Sussman, In May 2011, Cantor Levy brought me to meet you. I was retiring as Hazzan and Music Director from Beth Sholom Congregation after a 36-year tenure. You and Cantor Levy invited me to join the KI professional staff as choral director of Shir KI Adult Choir. Ellen and I discussed this innovative offer, and I decided to accept this new challenge.

The past eleven years went by so quickly! These years were filled with new congregational and religious leadership, new singers, new music, and a succession of fabulous Jewish musical events.

Five years ago, you asked me to serve as pastoral outreach professional, reaching out to congregants during times of stress and illness. Every year, I taught classes as part of the KI adult education program, and you invited me to participate in your Rabbi Speaks Zoom classes.

You encouraged me to be consistent with my personal commitments as a Conservative Jew.

You taught congregants to be proud both of their membership in KI, to be passionate Reform Jews, and to understand the lifelong consequences of both.

You enabled me to fulfill the commandment in Ethics of our Fathers, עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וּקְנֵה לְךָ חָבֵר. Make for yourself a Rabbi, and acquire a friend! (1:6). You supported, challenged, and encouraged me every day. You opened to me a new world of Jewish thought and affiliation!

Ellen and I shall be forever appreciative and thankful for your eternal friendship. With great admiration and our sincere prayers for your good health as you begin this next chapter of your life, we pray for good health “Ad Mei-ah V’Esrim/Until 120 years, at least!”

All the Tilman’s wish the Sussman’s and all our KI family Shabbat Shalom U’m’vorach.