THEY STAND TOGETHER on the bimah nearly as one.
When he delivers a powerful sermon, she listens reverentially, a beatific smile crossing her face.
As she strums her guitar and sings, her mellifluous voice gently wrapping around the Hebrew, he nods his head in time, watching her with a combination of pride and joy.
A deep love for Judaism–and for one another–binds them together. Their interplay and mutual affection put congregants at ease, making Temple Beth Ohr, (TBO) in La Mirada feel like a large, loving family.
In a way, it is all in the family.
In an unusual but inspired paring, perhaps the only one of its kind in Orange County, Rabbi Mark Goldfarb, 56, and his 28-year-old daughter, Cantor Arielle Goldfarb, lead the services and spiritual life at TBO, which has about 200 families. Together, they have created a supportive environment that encourages the exploration of Jewish life and helped spur the creation of a vibrant, local Jewish community.
The father-daughter team has worked together at the temple for nearly four years. They hope to continue the partnership “as long as we can,” Rabbi Goldfarb said.
“There were times as a rabbi when I felt I had to create the worship service setting and the spirituality nearly alone when I worked with other cantors,” he said. “With Arielle, though, I feel like I can just come in and something organic is going to happen. Her music is going to move me, and I’m going to be able to transfer that to the congregation.”
No drama for this dynamic duo. The politics that can poison rabbi-cantor relationships elsewhere don’t exist between them, they say. That’s because of the deep admiration they feel for one another and the dynamics of the Goldfarb family in which Arielle grew up.
Mark Goldfarb and his wife, Deborah Goldfarb – the current chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Long Beach and West Orange County and head of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Long Beach – have long supported each other professionally, Rabbi Goldfarb said. The couple often brainstormed ideas or helped one another grapple with professional challenges in front of their children, Arielle, Ben, 26, and 22-year-old Micah. Those respectful, open interactions would later serve as a model for Rabbi Goldfarb and Cantor Goldfarb at TBO.
“She’s a real pulpit partner,” Rabbi Goldfarb said of his daughter.
Arielle Goldfarb joined TBO as cantor in June 2013. Her journey was anything but traditional.
Bored with her work as a graphic designer, Goldfarb decided she wanted to become more involved with TBO, where she had taught religious school to rave reviews. When a cantorial vacancy opened, Goldfarb told her father she wanted to apply. Rabbi Goldfarb, a big fan of her voice, gentle demeanor and way with congregants, recommended her to the temple board. After watching her co-lead a service, board members offered her the job.
“She has a vision of what she wants to create spiritually and musically,” Rabbi Goldfarb said. “You can’t teach that. There are cantors who go to school to learn just that, but Arielle’s got it.
Added Susan Carey, TBO’s Marketing and Social Media Chair: “The warmth and graciousness she shows toward all of our congregants is obvious each Oneg Shabbat when she makes the rounds to each table and spends a few moments with everyone. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”
For her part, Arielle Goldfarb holds her father in the highest esteem. She believes working together has brought them closer and made them both better at their respective positions to TBO’s benefit.
“I feel so much pride seeing my father in his element, seeing him take care of the congregation,” she said. “He is absolutely compassionate and a wonderful rabbi.”
Marc Ballon is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.