The perfect candidate had been right there all along.
After a looking nationwide for a new senior cantor, Westchester Reform Temple's search committee voted unanimously earlier this year to name Amanda Kleinman, the temple's associate cantor, to the post.
The temple will officially install Kleinman as senior cantor at its Shabbat services on Friday, Sept. 13.
Kleinman began at WRT eight years ago as an intern while studying at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, where she was ordained in 2015. Kleinman, who also holds a Master of Sacred Music from HUC-JIR, went on to become an assistant cantor and then associate cantor at WRT before landing her new role, which she officially began on July 1.
In her time at WRT so far, Kleinman has been recognized for her innovative and forward-thinking initiatives, including creating an adult confirmation program and leading a trip to Israel for high school seniors.
“In Cantor Kleinman, we have a warm, approachable and intelligent musical leader with a beautiful voice and beautiful soul,” Search Committee chair Joan Frankle said in a press release.
Kleinman said her new role is most exciting because she’s been able to grow her career while serving the same congregation and community from the start.
“I think it's rare for somebody to have an opportunity to really grow with their congregation in the way that I've had the opportunity to do,” said Kleinman. “This is the congregation that taught me how to be a cantor… so far I've seen my first bar and bat mitzvah class going into their sophomore years in college. It's exciting for me to think about the opportunity to really continue those relationships.”
Kleinman originally hails from Dallas, Texas, and grew up going to an Orthodox Jewish school in which girls weren’t allowed to lead prayer services or learn about certain subjects. Her family was very active in the Reform Jewish community and her love of singing led her to choose a school where she could pursue music.
As an undergraduate at Middlebury College, Kleinman said, she straddled the fence between her music major and her interest in Jewish studies. Though music was technically her academic focus, she was spending a lot of time traveling to Israel and studying Judaism when she realized she could do both.
“These were upholding the two things that I loved, which on the one hand was music and on the other hand was Jewish learning,” said Kleinman. “I had sort of a light bulb moment sitting at High Holiday services my junior year of college and hearing the cantor lead the service and thinking ‘Oh, wait, there is a way for me to do both of these things that I love.’”
Kleinman said the influence of her family was a major part of her decision as well, as both of her parents were members of the board at her community synagogue and her grandmother was not only a president, but also taught “Choosing Judaism,” a class for people converting to the faith or otherwise being introduced to the community.
“She mentored what it meant to live a Jewish life, what does it mean to celebrate Jewish holidays or create a Jewish home,” said Kleinman. “When she would have us over for dinner Friday nights for Shabbat, we would always have a joke about who our mystery dinner guest was going to be … I think [her] example was an important part of it for me.”
The outreach of Jewish leaders around her has also been a major factor for Kleinman, who said growing up in an Orthodox school didn’t give her many female spiritual leaders to look to. Kleinman said joining WRT and working with the many female clergy members there has provided her the mentorship and guidance she sought in her professional development.
“Once I applied to cantorial school and started being more involved with the Reform movement, I saw there were a lot of female clergy members,” said Kleinman. “The presence of people who are attuned to the unique opportunities and the unique challenges of women in leadership and have been supportive of me as a female professional in that role … have inspired me to be that same encouraging, supportive, inspiring presence to the young women in our congregation.”
Looking ahead, Kleinman said she is excited to continue working with WRT’s clergy and group of volunteers on innovative ways to engage the community. She considers WRT a synagogue that is excited to continue moving forward and finding modern ways to worship. She said upcoming initiatives are focused on children and families and making sure they take the time out of their busy lives to connect.
“I think one of our challenges today is how can we ensure that our worship and our music continues to speak to new generations of Jewish people and new generations of people who are coming to pray,” said Kleinman. “I think one of the purposes of worship is that it should leave people feeling inspired to move forward within the world with a sense of purpose for what it is that they're here to do … and I think music is what helps us feel that inside.”
Westchester Reform Temple is as 225 Mamaroneck Road, Scarsdale. wrtemple.org.