Arië Shikler is one cool cantor. Any congregant who has experienced his legendary Friday Night Live services at Shir Ha-Ma’alot can attest to that. As the attendees pray and groove to the music of the FNL Band, one thing is eminently clear—Arië is NOT your father’s cantor!
But soon things will be changing for this beloved cantor. Fifty years after he serendipitously became the guitar-playing song leader at what is now Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine, Arië will embark upon a new adventure. This one involves ticking off items on his bucket list—full time!
We caught up with him between meetings with his b’nai mitzvah students and asked him to reflect upon his stint at Shir Ha-Ma’alot.
How did you come to be a cantor?
It was 1968, just after the 6-day war and I came here to study Industrial Design at Long Beach State. I was working nights as a janitor when I decided to call every temple listed in the phone book to see if I could get a Hebrew teacher position. I thought, “Hey, I’m Israeli–I think I can handle that job.” Only one invited me to come down for a meeting. But when I came for the interview, the job had just been filled. The rabbi could see how disappointed I was, and he asked me if I could do anything else. When he learned I could sing and play the guitar, a sparkle came to his eye. The rest is history.
Describe some of your most memorable experiences at SHM.
I was brand new at the temple when the rabbi told me to quickly grab my guitar and accompany him to Hoag Hospital. We were visiting a 19-year-old boy who had been gravely injured and was upside down in traction. The rabbi and I got down on the floor so we could face him, and I played “Oseh Shalom” on my back while we both sang. Then the boy whispered, “Rabbi, could you please scratch my nose?” That’s when it dawned on me that our real job was to give comfort to people when they are downhearted. Countless funeral and hospital visits later, it’s still that early experience that remains with me.
Another indelible memory is when we moved the temple to our present home in Irvine. In an emotional pilgrimage, we walked from Eastbluff to Irvine carrying our three Torahs rescued from the Holocaust, one of which was from the Czech Republic. Years later, I had the opportunity to go with the temple group to Eastern Europe. It was a special moment when we chanted from our Torah on the very spot that the Czech synagogue once stood—where our cherished Torah was originally read. On that trip, I also got to visit my mother’s neighborhood in Sosnowitz, Poland and walked on the actual street where she lived. I felt as though several circles had been finally closed.
But if you are asking me about my favorite memory, that would have to be the meeting of my wife, Beth, here at Shir Ha-Ma’alot. (Cantor Shikler’s face lights up as he says this.) We served as members on the same committee and –- to my great fortune—our friendship grew into something much more.
Can you tell us something no one knows about you?
In 1975, I left California for three years and moved to Amsterdam to work as Chief Designer at Fokker Aircraft. While there, the Cultural Attaché at the Israeli Consulate approached me and asked for my help. Mossad wanted me to provide them with the names of Fokker’s Arab clients and the number of planes we were selling them. It was all very clandestine. For six months, I felt like James Bond, going to secret meetings in out-of-the-way restaurants, wearing my black trench coat and a fedora pulled down over my face. It was a little nerve-wracking, but I did it for my country.
Oh, and here’s something else you might not know. I designed the existing Shir Ha-Ma’alot logo!
What have you learned during your time at Shir Ha-Ma’alot?
The more you give, the more you receive. A drainpipe won’t work unless it can give out water from the bottom so that more rain can come in at the top.
What plans do you have post-retirement?
Where do I begin? Well, I plan to start a foundation for the preservation of Jewish Soul Music and Humor-Driven Yiddishkeit. I’m sure I will be doing more of my art and design, and maybe I’ll write a book. I’ll make a CD of my original songs. And I plan to go on the road with my 6-piece band, the Flying Falafel Brothers. But that’s only the beginning.
It’s no surprise that this Renaissance man’s bucket list runneth over. With an abundance of talents, friends, and love from the community, Arië will be enjoying his newfound time. At the end of our meeting, we asked the cantor which song lyrics speak most to the way he lives his life.
Not surprisingly, he broke into a chorus of Tim McGraw’s song, “Always Stay Humble and Kind.”
Hope Sherwood is a contributing writer to Jllfe Magazine