AFTER 49 YEARS as Cantor of Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’a lot, Arie Shikler will retire in June to pursue numerous other artistic avenues. However, he will remain Cantor Emeritus at the synagogue he has served so well
When Shikler, a veteran of the Six Day War, came to the United States from Israel to study industrial design, he never dreamed he would end up being a cantor. “I had to make a living while attending college,” said Shikler, “and many of the Israelis he knows told him that teaching Hebrew was the best job he would be able to find.”
So he picked up the telephone book and started calling temples. Only one responded: Rabbi Bernie King of Harbor Reform, a small congregation on Lido Isle.
“Bernie and I had immediate rapport,” said Shikler, “but he didn’t need a Hebrew teacher, or an art teacher, and asked me what else I did.”
“I sing and play the guitar a little, “responded Shikler. When King said he was looking for a cantor, Shikler demurred, “I can’t do that.”
But King wanted to hear him sing and so Shikler pulled out a prayer book, and sang the V’havta to the rabbi and his secretary.
“Bernie looked at me and smiled,” said Shikler. “Congratulations you are our new cantor.”
Shikler was a secular Israeli and didn’t know any of the prayers. However, he spent the summer studying with a cantor in his family and with an orthodox cantor from Romania in preparation for what was to be the first of many High Holiday Services at what is now Shir Ha Ma’alot. He did take a three-year break to study and live in Europe, but returned to resume his position as cantor.
Shikler is known as being an innovator. “At the beginning of his career, he introduced the guitar as accompaniment during Shabbat Services,” said Senior Rabbi Richard Steinberg of Shir Ha Ma’alot, “the first to do so in Orange County.”
“Introducing the guitar into services “said Shikler, “shortens the distance between the bima and the pews.”
Shikler initiated several musical events which have now become a tradition. A favorite of many congregants is the Friday Night Live Service! Each month features a different theme that provides a deeper understanding of the rich musical heritage of the Jewish people. It has also provided Shikler with the opportunity to share his broad knowledge of international themes and melodies.
“Whether it is singing in one of many languages he speaks” commented Steinberg, “or playing an interesting instrument, Arie always puts his all into it. He sings not just with his voice, but with his eyes and his soul,” added Steinberg. “As the Talmud says, words from the heart enter the heart.”
“As a clergy partner you want somebody who shares your vision and passion and is one you can trust, said Steinberg. “Arie and I have shared that for 17 years and together have built a very successful synagogue.”
Shikler will be honored during the weekend of April 27-28th with a special Shabbat service led by his son, and a gala on Saturday night in his honor.
In addition to being a composer and arranger of music who has released five CDs, Shikler, is also a multi-talented artist, an accomplished painter and designer, with many products and exhibitions to his credit.
“Painting and drawing are two of my passions; but I haven’t had much time for them. I might also do some acting and I want to write a book; I have over 150 songs that I hope to record and want to start a foundation for the preservation of Jewish music and yiddishkkeit.”
But he will not disappear completely from Shir Ha Ma’a lot’s bima. “I still intend to show up from time to time.” The congregation is sure to be pleased when he does.
Rabbi Florence L. Dann, Beit Sefer Director of Temple Beth Israel of Pomona has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.