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Q&A: Nancy Abramson, JTS’s New Cantorial School Director

In July, Cantor Nancy Abramson will assume duties as Director of the H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Her appointment comes more than a year after JTS announced that it would be eliminating the position of dean of its cantorial school — and that longtime dean Henry Rosenblum would be leaving.

Abramson is currently serving as one of two cantors at the Park Avenue Synagogue, her professional home for the past 14 years. And this month, she will become Senior Vice President of the Cantors Assembly — making her the first woman to hold that position since the inception of the Assembly in 1947. Abramson, who says she’s looking forward to working with the dean of JTS’s rabbinical school — “not for him” — spoke recently with The Sisterhood about her vision for cantorial education, and the advice she’d give to women interested in working in the Jewish community.

Chanel Dubofsky: What are your hopes for shaping cantorial education?

Nancy Abramson: I hope to create an arts-centric space at the Seminary — make it a place filled with music in residence, as well as a sense that cantors are not just people who can chant Torah, but are Jewish artists and performers, who understand how music can move people’s souls. At the same, I want to make sure we’re producing students well equipped for the 21st century, forward looking instead of backward looking, who are comfortable and competent in all Jewish spaces.

Can you comment on the reason behind the change of title from dean to director?

The change is part of the reorganization of staff structure at the Seminary. The Cantorial School was in need of guidance, someone who is experienced as a cantor, to shape and direct the program. With the financial crisis came a panic that the Cantorial School would close. We will be here, alive, safe and singing.

What would you say to women interested in Jewish communal service?

I’ve raised three children while doing this work, 30 years, three congregations … and the experience of doing so has been valuable for [my children] because it’s really created an understanding of what it means to be part of a community. I applied to both cantorial school and business school when it came time to do so, and this work has been interesting and rewarding everyday. I don’t know if you can understand what that means unless you’re doing it. I’m so looking forward to being able to shape the next generation of cantors, to be able to say, “This is what I believe, and now I can help you believe it.”

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