On Shabbat evening, February 9, Hazzan Basya Schechter (ordained by ALEPH in 2016) and ALEPH cantorial student Diana Brewer joined forces with musicians and leaders of three congregations in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts – home of the next Kallah – for a Kabbalat Shabbat service at Congregation B’nai Israel of Northampton.

The collaboration came about when Mount Holyoke College’s Professor of Jewish Studies, Mara Benjamin, alerted the rabbis of four area congregations that Basya would be in the area giving a concert with her band Pharaoh’s Daughter. Rabbis Benjamin Weiner, Andrea Cohen-Kiener (another ALEPH musmach), Justin David, and Riqi Kosovske secured a generous grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and collaborated to bring the communities together for a Kabbalat Shabbat that won’t soon be forgotten.

As many as 400 people gathered from the Pioneer Valley and beyond for this special evening. The “house band” came largely from the Jewish Community of Amherst (JCA), co-directed by Diana, who has been serving as hazzan of JCA for a number of years. This collaboration is not a first for Basya and Diana, who have teamed up before in performances of Shechter’s collection of songs set to Yiddish poems by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel on her album “Songs of Wonder.” Musicians from congregations Beit Ahavah and B’nai Israel also contributed to the musical davvening experience.

“It was a wonderful chance to bring our shared ALEPH learning out into the world together,” Brewer reflected. “I think people really felt that connection.”

Rabbi Benjamin Weiner of JCA said of the experience, “It’s a rare thing in life that a vision turns out just about exactly as you hoped it would, but that was certainly the case for me with this event. Basya had a great time… she spoke of the ease with which we assembled ourselves around her, and referred to the experience of real moments of sublimity in the midst of the service itself.”

Diana Brewer (left), Rabbi Justin David of Congregation B’nai Israel (middle), and Hazzan Basya Schechter (right)
Blessings to, from, and within Colorado!

My heart overflows with gratitude. Experienced my first ALEPH ordination/Smicha and first OHALAH conference. Mazal Tov again to all our new clergy and thank you to everyone who helped create the sacred space of OHALAH.

I want to share part of my remarks that I made on Tuesday:

About six months ago, I found my soul yearning for something more both professionally and personally. There is more to my story as a Jew by Choice and as a Jewish professional working within the Jewish community. I was asked during the interview process how I would do in a room full of rabbis. And so here I am. I know I can do this. Just as I said standing on the Bima 4 years ago as an adult bat mitzvah, it doesn’t matter that I am a Jew by choice. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t grow up in a Jewish home or go to Jewish camps. God is always here. No middle man. I am not seeking salvation. What I continue to seek is meaning — a life of purpose, a life filled with love and connection. No posturing. No games. There is something to be said about not trying too hard. Fully embracing myself and those around me. Submerge. Surrender. Speak honestly and openly. Turning and re-turning.