I am in the middle of a packed sanctuary. I feel something rise within me, responding to the energy in the room. This is how I most comfortably and sincerely offer my personal prayers: as shalichat tzibbur, an emissary of my peers. Think of me as a little loop of palm frond, holding a lulav together.
The next morning, my classroom is in noisy disarray as we rearrange the desks and chairs. The students have just explained to me how the “buddy system” works at the camp pool, and I have told them about the Jewish buddy system, chevruta. Now, we’re breaking off into pairs to list how studying Torah in chevruta is like swimming with a buddy. As they dive in I walk around the room, checking in with each pair. Think of me as an ark, keeping the future afloat.
Later that day, the main sanctuary is empty except for myself and the Bat Mitzvah student. We’ve taken photos of her aliyah from the scroll she’ll be using; I’m texting them to her from my phone. We’re about to do a quick relaxation exercise and then a mental rehearsal of the Torah service. The next student will be here in ten minutes. Think of me as a shamas, lighting each candle in turn.
My roles are those of avodah, of service. Think of me being these things, all at the same time. I am a Cantor.
Melissa Puius is a Cantor-Educator serving lower Westchester County, New York.
She was ordained by and achieved a Masters in Jewish Education from Hebrew College in Newton, MA in June of 2013. She is a member of the Cantors Assembly, the Women Cantors’ Network, and Kol Hazzanim-Westchester Community of Cantors.
Melissa lives in Ardsley, NY with her husband Yoram and children Saul and Mira.