Sandy Bernstein wears many hats, the newest being that of cantorial soloist at Temple Judea since July 9. In addition she is enrolled in a five-year program at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California that will lead to a Masters degree in Jewish Sacred Music and ordination as a cantor.
“There’s a fair amount of juggling and compromise with work, school, family, and home,” said Bernstein, who has two daughters (Gabi, 9, and Naomi, 6) and two stepsons (Daniel, 19, and Matthew, 17) and lives in Torrance with them and her husband, Gaston. “It’s not always easy to get the kids to understand.”
Bernstein, a native Californian who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, said that she has wanted to be a cantor since the age of 12, but “life took me here and there.” She studied privately with cantors throughout her life, including Cantor Alan Michelson. Bernstein earned a BA degree at California State University, Northridge, majoring in music. She has served as cantorial soloist at a number of congregations in Southern California, appeared in cantorial concerts, and also performed in musical theater and opera productions.
“When I was 12, three things were important to me – Judaism, singing, and children,” Bernstein said. “A cantorial career encompasses all of that and more. I’ve now added the spiritual aspect of coming closer to God and helping others to do that. It’s an adult version of my original reasons.”
Bernstein, who will be working at Temple Judea’s Friday evening services, will lead those services along with the rabbi, the professional choir, and an accompanist. In addition, Cantor Josef Chazan will continue to handle, as he has done previously, all cantorial duties for Saturday morning services and one Friday evening service a month. Chazan’s duties will also include participation with Bernstein in the Erev Rosh Hashanah and Kol Nidre services and davening of the morning Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services (including Torah readings). Bernstein will handle the cantorial roles for Erev Rosh Hashanah, Kol Nidre, all High Holy Day Musaf services and Neilah.
“I’ve known Cantor Chazan for years, and he’s a delight,” she said. “The rabbi, the accompanist, and the choir have been easy to work with too.”
She added, “I’m so excited, because the reception to me has been wonderful. I look out into the congregation and see smiling faces. The congregants energize me, and I energize them. Everybody has been so welcoming.”
“We are excited having Sandy at Temple Judea as she shares with us her energy and passion for Jewish sacred music,” Rabbi Dennis Linson said. Her favorite music includes Shlomo Carlebach, the Moshav Band, and classical cantorial music, and she enjoys a wide variety of musical styles.
“I hope to bring some renewed energy to Temple Judea,” Bernstein said. “My kids will be coming to services, and I hope that will encourage other people to bring children. Eventually, we’ll get a younger crowd, reenergize the current population, and give everybody a good davening experience.”