Cantor Sheila (pronounced Shayla) Nesis has temporarily lost her office to the final stages of Temple Sinais building campaign until a staffer in the religious school wing loans her a spot.
After playing a brief round of musical chairs with unfamiliar furniture, Nesis positions herself comfortably, folds her hands and smiles. The room is hers.
Nesis, an Argentinean native, was hired as the Reform synagogues cantor exactly one year ago. The realization registers in her large eyes. How old am I? She laughs. My husband says Im 32 going on 33 but Im actually 31.
Shes transformed the musical ambience at Sinai with the Ladino technique acquired from her Sephardic cantor at Buenos Aires Conservative Templo de Libertad.
I learned to sing as I was learning to pray, she says, explaining that her family limited their observance to the High Holidays and Passover seders. That was it. But my older sister wanted to be a Bat Mitzvah and I started going to shul.
I remember falling in love with music at services. Wed be in the car with my parents and Id sing all the songs from shul in made-up Hebrew. I didnt know the real words.
The singing moved me. Thats how my journey began. Judaism came later in my life, but it definitely came hand in hand with the music. My Judaism and musical awakening happened together.
For many, music is an immediate portal into Judaism. Sometimes one melody encapsulates loss and grief, as well as incomparable joy. Nesis understands this power.
Services are like live performances, she says. Its an opportunity to be in a room, singing, with all different people and energies every single time. You have to be aware of the mood because it varies from week to week.