‘Azamra — I Will Sing!’

‘Azamra — I Will Sing!’

Chazzan Joanna Dulkin brings her spirituality and joy to Summit

Chazzan Joanna Dulkin
Chazzan Joanna Dulkin

Chazzan Joanna Dulkin will be the artist in residence at Congregation Ohr Shalom-The Summit Jewish Community Center on the weekend of February 23-25.

Cantor Janet Roth, Ohr Shalom’s cantor since 1991, says that she’s excited to bring Chazzan Dulkin’s innovative approach to music and prayer to the community. The weekend has been titled “Azamra — I Will Sing!”. Azamra is also the name of an original composition written by Chazzan Dulkin, inspired by Psalm 146.

“The weekend has been structured to have Joanna touch every demographic of the synagogue during her visit, from the young children in our Hebrew school, to their parents, on up to the seniors,” Cantor Roth said.

The program begins on Friday night with Chazzan Dulkin and the choir leading the services. Saturday morning worship is focused on how each person in the community can find his or her own voice in prayer. Saturday evening Havdala services will lead into an informal concert by Chazzan Dulkin, and Sunday morning’s theme is Jewish summer camp in February.

Cantor Roth already has introduced some of the new music to the choir and the Hebrew school, raising the anticipation level. “It’s a treat for me as well since I get to learn new music along with the congregation,” she said.

Chazzan Dulkin, who now is at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Minnetonka, Minnesota, grew up in Palo Alto, California, and spent her summers at Camp Ramah. She is an honors graduate of Stanford University, where she studied English, performed in theater, and sang in an a capella group that focused on African and African American music.

“I started working in the Jewish community right out of college as a Hillel program director,” she said. “I was sort of using that as a test balloon to see if I wanted to work in the Jewish community. Or did I want to go in another direction in my career? But after a year, I knew I wanted stay in the Jewish community, but I really needed more music. It’s really the center of my day and my week.”

After leaving Hillel, she worked for four years as an independent Jewish music educator at a number of different institutions on both coasts, including an Orthodox preschool; Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist congregations; a JCC; a day camp; an overnight camp, and a women’s retreat.

Chazzan Dulkin found those years very fulfilling. “I was involving myself in making these holy events and bringing people together with Jewish content and music.”

Cantor Janet Roth

Although she grew up in the Reform world, Chazzan Dulkin describes herself as an “immigrant to the Conservative movement.” With a growing interest in Jewish observance and the Hebrew language, she began taking classes at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan. “I found myself becoming part of the JTS community and really found it very nourishing and wonderful,” she said. “I ended up applying to the JTS cantorial school because the cantorate was a place I could combine my love of music with Jewish culture, history, tradition, and liturgy.” She graduated from that program in 2004.

In addition to serving her own congregation in Minnesota since 2017, Chazzan Dulkin is also the president of the Conservative movement’s Cantor’s Assembly. She also is on the editorial committee of Siddur Lev Shalem for Weekdays and is working on a new clergy manual, in cooperation with the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, addressing conversations around prayer. She’s very interested in how the individual and community approach prayer.

Chazzan Dulkin also does a few artist-in-residence Shabbatot every year, and she’s happy about the way her time at Ohr Shalom has been structured. “While it’s very exciting to fly in for the weekend and sing, I love that the program has been designed to have a larger impact,” she said. “Cantor Roth really comes at the experience more educationally, which I think is really great.”

While they have known each other for years through the Cantor’s Assembly, Cantor Roth really got to know Chazzan Dulkin at Songleader Boot Camp, an annual intermovement Jewish musical summer camp-like experience started by Rick Recht, an influential Jewish musician, for musically minded Jewish professionals, such as singers, songwriters, cantors, rabbis, and educators. Chazzan Dulkin is a longtime camp faculty member, and Cantor Roth has been attending since 2015.

“The whole experience brings out Recht’s wildly creative and innovative side of my colleagues,” Cantor Roth said. Describing the first time she heard Chazzan Dulkin’s musical interpretation of the morning blessings, she found herself laughing with joy. “She transformed these very traditional morning blessings into something so out of the box and innovative,” Cantor Roth said. That piece is called “Praise for Every Body,” and Cantor Roth is eager to for her congregation to experience it.

“Joanna really gets into the kishkes of the prayer,” Cantor Roth said. “She really brings out this spark. It’s not just a modern interpretation, it’s like she gets into the electrical current of the prayers. I really want my congregation to experience that electricity.

“What is extra cool about Joanna is that she is a cantor in the Conservative movement, firmly implanted within tradition. But at the same time, she is looking out into the world and adding something new to the traditional.”

Congregation Ohr Shalom, as a Conservative synagogue, engages with both tradition and change. Cantor Roth says the expression of every generation can be incorporated into spiritual practice. “Sometimes it’s just about embracing the new and finding a way to make it work in a more traditional setting,” she said.

After the weekend, Cantor Roth hopes the congregation will come away with a feeling of connection to the greater Jewish community. “Sometimes here we are in our own little corner of New Jersey, and it seems like this is the only Jewish world there is, you know?” she said. “But there’s a great musical Jewish community out there. There’s greater learning than just what we experience.”

Cantor Roth likes to say that “Shabbat is a gracious hostess,” and she sees the program as part of the spiritual generosity.

“We bring in our guest artists on Shabbat,” she said. “They bring their spirituality and their music, and it energizes us. It enlivens us. It expands our horizons and makes us curious.”

There’s a lasting effect as well. Cantor Roth always inserts a small piece of the guest artists’ work into the service long after the weekend is over. It may be a song, a melody, or a teaching. “Every generation has something to contribute to Judaism, whether it’s culturally, spiritually, textually, or through a teaching,” she said. “It can’t sit and be stagnant. It just can’t. There’s always room for creativity.

“And in my synagogue, we are open to that creativity while still being firmly footed in our tradition. It’s a nice balance.”

Cantor Roth describes Chazzan Dulkin as a unique and creative thinker. “Everybody has this musical voice inside them, this sing-out-to-God voice. Joanna just has this way of bringing it out in everybody.”

Shabbat services are open to the community. To attend the Saturday night concert, RSVP to the synagogue at or call (908) 273-8130 for more information.summitjcc.org/events/upcoming-events

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