January 2024 Message from the Cantor Herself

Dear JCV Congregants,

I thought it would be helpful to share what I’ve been experiencing during the first four months of study as I work toward ordination through the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute (JSLI). As their website states, it is a “robust community” that has ordained over 200 rabbis and cantors.

The curriculum is comprehensive. There is the required weekly preparation of a D’var Torah (Torah commentary). It is a traditional form of study in which the class critiques presentations with constructive suggestions. We are also provided additional source materials and numerous online resources. We examine the weekly Torah portion, as well as Prophets, Ethics of our Fathers, and Rabbinics, which include the Laws of Kashrut, Brit Milah, conversion, and the different movements within Judaism.

I have benefited from the online format for the course as it focuses on areas of Jewish Law while allowing me to enhance my knowledge and emphasize an approach to continual learning that I will use to continue to grow in the years to come.

As rabbinical trainees, we have bonded as a group, and we contact each other outside of class. Ordination was bittersweet for eight of my senior classmates (Cohort#25) who graduated in December. We admired them for their participation and confidence. Now, WE are the senior members (Cohort #26) and will be welcoming the new incoming students.

Teamwork in our training presents itself primarily in the last hour of each class when we split into two groups and deliver our sermons. Rabbi Blane, the JSLI Dean, always has another rabbi in the class who takes half the group. The idea is to share constructive suggestions about the D’var Torah (sermon). Over time, we have become more comfortable offering useful ideas to help us learn and grow. There has
been considerable improvement in constructing and delivering our commentaries as we progress each week.

The class participants are a varied but experienced group of mature adults. Of the five rabbinical students in my class, two have been cantors for over 20 years, two are education directors at their synagogue, and one is an attorney. In January, we will merge with a new incoming rabbinical class of students (Cohort #27) who will add new faces and experiences to our group.

My favorite areas of focus during college were literature-based courses. I especially enjoyed examining literature through writing about the intended meaning versus the implied versus the literal meaning of phrases or chapters. This serves me well as I realized those are exactly the skill sets needed when writing weekly sermons that illuminate Torah. My goal is to make each Parsha Shavua feel alive, relevant, and
connected to our daily lives. My objective is to attempt to interpret the underlying meaning of why the scribes of the Torah chose the stories and words they recorded.

One of the highlights of the class has been the introduction to so many resources and tools. The required reading is manageable, and we are often given many other texts for reference. I understand now why a rabbi’s office is like a library!

Lately, many people have asked when I will finish the program. I will be ordained on June 22, 2024. The JCV will install me as their rabbi the weekend of November 8-9. We will have a beautiful program, special service, and cantors’ concert. More details to come!

Keep reading the Cantor Chronicles for updates.

Cantor Marci Vitkus

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