Home August 2011 From Glee to G-d

From Glee to G-d

By Reina V. Kutner

For a while after college, Lizzie Weiss was stuck in high school.

For three years, she toured with the stage production of High School Musical in the role of Martha Cox.  She had auditioned and nearly made it into the cast of Glee.  But soon enough she decided to follow into the family business: Jewish clergy.

Weiss, as a second-year student at the Academy of Jewish Religion California in Los Angeles, is now the cantorial soloist for Congregation B’nai Tzedek after the departure of Rabbi Rebecca Schorr.  However, she follows in a long ling of Jewish professionals, whether behind the scenes or up in the pulpit.

“My uncle is a rabbi and my brother is a rabbi,” Weiss said.  “My sister is a triplet, and she is at HUC (Hebrew Union College) cantorial school in New York.”

Her life has rooted in the Jewish community, having grown up at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills.  However, Weiss was active in singing since the fifth grade.

“People started to notice that I was more than an average singer,” she said.  While she sung at Temple Emanuel in the choirs, she performed in community and kids’ theater.  Growing up, she also attended Camp Swig, something that helped her enjoy her Jewish heritage as much as her theater.

“It was never pushed on us, but we were always involved in synagogue,” she said.

Weiss went to UC Irvine for college, but remained dedicated to Jewish life.  At Emanuel, she was asked to join the professional choir.  Even after she graduated and headed to New York to do theater, she still returned home for the High Holy Days and would often sing during services.

After three years of High School Musical on the road and different auditions, she returned to California and realized that touring all the time had been difficult for her, and she had done her fair share of auditioning. Instead, she decided to turn her focus to cantorial school.

“The decision to become a cantor was inevitable for me, with my passion for singing,” she said.

Her style is unique to cantors, as her background in performance has influenced her singing.

“I would say that 40 years ago, a lot of the contemporary cantors would take from the opera sound,” Weiss said.  “I’m pulling from the contemporary Broadway sound — with soul.”

Weiss was recommended by the school to audition for B’nai Tzedek.  At first she was unfamiliar with that community, but then she found out she had a familial connection to it.

When she called her uncle, Rabbi Kenny Weiss of El Paso, Texas, she found out that Rabbi Stephen Einstein and he go back a long way, and were actually very good friends.  It turned out her uncle’s wife was one of Rabbi Einstein’s wife’s Hebrew school teachers.

When it comes to her faith, Weiss finds that what she loves the most is that a community builds around the religion, and the traditions hold true.

“My family was not strictly religious, but we always had the traditions to bring us together,” she said.  “I love how it builds a community around us.”

Weiss feels that it’s important to get the community involved in the music that is being performed.  “There are times where it’s time to sing out of a person’s range,” she said, “but I like singing where everyone can sing with me.”

Although Weiss is pursuing her cantorial school, she also serves as a teacher. She teaches vocal coaching for kids, singing, acting and does web design. She is also helping in developing different musicals, including a workshop for a musical called For Honor at San Diego Rep at Horton Plaza.  The musical, about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, is currently looking for backers and producers, but with its strong subject matter, may grow into something bigger.

However, Weiss is focused on her goal. “My ultimate goal is to be a cantor,” she said.

At B’nai Tzedek this year, she will be singing at the majority of Friday night services during the month, as well as for festivals and High Holy Days.  She will also be working with B’nai Mitzvah students throughout the course of the year.

Weiss said that the community at the synagogue has been amazing.  At her first Shabbat service at B’nai Tzedek, she was slightly overwhelmed but amazed by the activity level of the community.

“Everyone has been wonderful,” she said. “I’m excited to be in Orange County, and only have heard wonderful things about B’nai Tzedek.”

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