Walking into Rabbi Rebecca Schorr’s office, you are greeted by a guitar, piano and what seems to be an endless amount of Jewish books. It is this combination of passion for music combined with Schorr’s love of Judaism that has led to the release of her debut album, “Soul’s Delight,” with her band, the Shabbatones.
“Music has always been a very integral presence in my life, both in general and certainly religiously,” she said.
It has been a long road for Schorr, who grew up at and now works at Congregation B’nai Tzedek. Her father, Rabbi Stephen Einstein, has been serving the Fountain Valley synagogue since 1976.
When it came to Schorr’s love of music, it was a connection that has existed since she was young, when the late Debbie Friedman and Shlomo Carlebach were playing in her parents’ house.
“When I reflect back to when I was a child and what connected me to G-d, it was the music,” she said.
Growing up, her parents encouraged her to be involved in music and theater and to pursue it in college. Schorr chose to study at Ithaca College in New York, which originally started as a music conservatory in 1892. Going to the East Coast for college was something that was highly encouraged by her parents.
“We grew up under a magnifying glass here,” she said of herself and her siblings. “My parents thought that we should have the opportunity to explore our Jewish identity without being looked at under a microscope. We should explore our Judaism, try different things and just be Joe Average-Jewish-Kid.”
After going through rigorous classical music training in voice at Ithaca, Schorr started to think of her future after graduation.
“I said, ‘I love music, I love theater, but I can’t reconcile how I can have the life of a performer and be observant,’” she said. “It became pretty clear that I had to make a choice, and I couldn’t turn away from living a Jewish life. I had to have some other game plan.”
She knew she didn’t want to go to cantorial school because of the grueling process getting her bachelor’s degree in music took and the fact she was more interested in studying texts. But because of her father’s place in the rabbinical world, she was also reluctant to become a rabbi.
“People would say, ‘Are you going to be a rabbi like your dad?’” she said. “When they said that, they were asking a question, and I was thinking another question. They were [straightforward], and I was wondering if I could be like my dad. I was really scared of even contemplating that as an option.”
When she came back from college, she began to work as a Jewish professional in the Orange County community. When she was seriously considering going to rabbinical school, she decided to visit the late Rabbi Samson Levey. They spent the afternoon talking about her fears and concerns.
“I said to him, ‘I’m so afraid I can’t fill my father’s shoes,’” she said. “He said, ‘Well, you’ll never be able to wear them. He wears a different size.’”
This epiphany led her to go to Hebrew Union College and study to become a rabbi. While she studied for those five years, she still was involved with music, even being involved in the choir at the New York campus while she was studying there.
In her final year of rabbinical school, she interned at Temple Israel of Long Beach. They liked her so much that they offered her a job, and she stayed there for five years. During her tenure, she felt that she needed to add more music. She developed a service that was sung from start to finish, which was called “Got Shabbat?”, and helped form her band, the Shabbatones.
When she left Temple Israel, she was hired by the Merage JCC to be the director of Jewish education. At the same time, her father was going on sabbatical. Congregation B’nai Tzedek needed someone to help lead while he was gone, and Schorr took up the temporary job. When the cantor retired, Schorr was eventually hired as an associate rabbi for the congregation.
When she took up her post, several members of the congregation encouraged her to start up “Got Shabbat?” at their congregation. In addition, several members asked if there was a recording of her so they could hear her voice more frequently. Originally, this was just a flattering thought, but then she decided that she and her band would go into the studio. For her and Shabbatones, it was a different experience from the congregation.
“For the five of us, we have been working together for a long time, so it’s great to work on this project. It’s different from a rehearsal or leading a congregation in prayer, where you’re in the studio for three hours, and you can get giddy and get silly.”
However, getting the album out was more of a struggle than she anticipated, as halfway through recording she contracted meningitis, leaving her bed-ridden for several months and a year in physical therapy because of the muscular degeneration caused by the disease.
“We couldn’t go back into the studio to be able to do the rerecording of tracks or [work on] post-production stuff,” she said. After her illness and the personal tragedies of members of the band, they finally got back into the studio to finish the final product. Once the master was finished, Schorr said she was able to play it for her grandmother, who at the time was suffering from a brain tumor.
“It was a gift that I could share it with her,” she said.
Even though Schorr doesn’t expect her CD to go platinum, she said it was great to be able to experiment with tracks, ranging from a jazzy “Mi Chamocha” to singing “Yismechu” with her father. She hopes that the community will not only enjoy the music, but the meaning behind the texts that she and the Shabbatones bring.
“We have been working together for a long time, so it’s great to work on this project,” she said.
Currently, the album is available at the synagogue, the Golden Dreidle and on iTunes, which Schorr said was an incredible moment. In addition, the congregation will be hosting a CD Release Oneg on February 18.
For more information, contact Congregation B’Nai Tzedek, 9669 Talbert Avenue, Fountain Valley; (714) 963-4611; firstname.lastname@example.org.