Cantor's Apps Bring Jewish Prayers To the iPhone Crowd

Emanuel Perlman Believes Ritual Must Make Room for Tech

A Holy Trinity: Emanuel Perlman (center) with his pocketshul.com partners John Kiel and Bill Riley.
Justin Tsulcas
A Holy Trinity: Emanuel Perlman (center) with his pocketshul.com partners John Kiel and Bill Riley.

By Simi Horwitz

Published February 14, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

The apps have no shortage of artistic pedigree, either. Perlman is a veteran singer and, like many cantors, supplements his income with high-level secular performances — from classical to jazz to pop. Every Monday for the past 15 years, Perlman has traveled to New York to take voice lessons with Bill Riley, whose roster of students has included the late Whitney Houston, Pete Seeger and Faith Hill.

I met Perlman in Riley’s studio, located in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. The studio was overflowing with string instruments, vinyl records, photographs, memorabilia and endless miscellany on the wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling shelves.

“There are so many gifts here,” Perlman said. “It’s like Hanukkah every Monday. I feel most alive on Monday.”

Without the benefit of a warm-up, and accompanied only by pianist Eric Sedgwick, Perlman, a tenor, launched into a Neapolitan song, followed by Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” Bette Midler’s “In This Life” and a cantorial piece for which he donned his yarmulke.

Throughout, the moon-faced Riley, his silver hair tied back in a long ponytail, listened thoughtfully, interrupting only upon occasion. Afterward, Riley, who is part Native American and is not Jewish, praised Perlman for his efforts to keep Jewish liturgy and tradition alive.

“I respect all peace-loving peoples and religions,” Perlman said of Riley. “We have one God, but we get to God through different doors. Mine has a mezuza.”

Riley has nurtured Perlman’s project from the start, and in fact played matchmaker, introducing Perlman to John Kiehl, co-founder of Soundtrack Recording Studios. Kiehl says he has an emotional bond to Jewish liturgical music even though he is Christian.

“It’s a predecessor to all other musical traditions,” said Kiehl, who is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a technology maven. He says he is especially drawn to the challenge of forging digital gadgetry with interactive features. The three men have been collaborating for more than a year.

When I remarked that their coming together was a lucky coincidence, Perlman balked at my choice of words. “A coincidence is God’s intervention without the publicity,” he said. “We try to prove the existence of God through coincidence.”

So far, Perlman and his partners have not made any money from their collaboration. Nonetheless, they are planning five more apps and continue to celebrate their journey and personal bond, which Perlman likens to a religious experience. Might all this sound a bit more like something out of a Mel Brooks sketch than a sustainable business model?

“I love Mel Brooks, but I’m not answering this,” Perlman said. “I’m in denial.”

Simi Horwitz writes frequently about theater for the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.