When Michelle Teplitz took the job as cantor at Marlboro Jewish Center, it seemed almost bashert.
After all, her father-in-law, Daniel Teplitz, served as the first rabbi — from 1976-82 — of the Conservative congregation. She was also a regular guest at High Holy Day services when she was dating Rabbi Teplitz’s son, Ari, now her husband.
In the six months since taking over the full-time cantorial position of the 600-family congregation, she said she has come to “love the sense of
“Everyone is just so supportive of everyone else,” she said. “There are a lot of young families, which is nice for us. It’s just such a friendly synagogue, so welcoming and accepting of different kinds of families no matter their sexual orientation or if they’re interfaith.”
Teplitz, the synagogue’s second female cantor, will be installed Jan. 13. She replaces Wayne Krieger, who held the full-time position for 11 years, but resigned because of illness. Prior to Krieger’s tenure, Avima Rudavsky Darnov held the position for several years.
Teplitz’s entry to the Jewish Center’s professional staff began in 2016. She was out for dinner with Rabbi Teplitz and met synagogue member and former president Rhonda Eiger, who told them Krieger was sick and in need of a kidney transplant.
“My father-in-law said, ‘My daughter-in-law is a cantor and she’s not working right now,’” recalled Teplitz, who at the time was home with her 4-month-old son.
That 2016 encounter resulted in a substitute cantorial stint from June 2016 until January 2017, when Krieger was able to return. Teplitz stayed on as a Hebrew school teacher and b’nai mitzvah tutor, but when Krieger took sick again, a search process to find a permanent replacement began, and Teplitz applied and got the job.
Jeffrey Katz, chair of the cantor search committee, called the decision to hire Teplitz “an easy” one.
“She was clearly the best candidate and the right choice for the Marlboro Jewish Center,” he told NJJN. “Cantor Teplitz has a beautiful voice and had already made meaningful connections with the b’nai mitzvah students [whom] she had tutored. We heard nothing but high praise for Cantor Teplitz from the parents.”
For Teplitz, her decision “just kind of felt right” from the moment she started at Marlboro Jewish Center.
“I fit right in,” she said, and developed an “immediate” connection with the congregation. “I felt like I belonged and was home and it just felt right. I think they felt it too.”
One of her priorities is engaging young families. “I feel like I’m bringing a lot of ruach [spirit] to the services and doing a lot of programming they never had before,” said Teplitz. “Synagogues don’t always focus on programs for younger families, but because I am [part of] a younger family, that is one of my focuses.” Her son, Elijah, is now 3, and the couple also has a daughter, Amalya, 6.
In addition to working with the 150 Hebrew school children, she and current rabbi Michael Pont visit the pre-school every Friday to lead Shabbat singing.
“I also still teach music in the Hebrew school because I told them how important it was to me when I started the job because I had created a bond with these kids as a music teacher,” said Teplitz, who likes to teach contemporary Israeli music. “Little kids learn a lot of Hebrew through music instead of sitting in a classroom and writing things down.”
Teplitz directs the adult choir, and she started a children’s one. This month, she kicked off a Kabbalat Shabbat Unplugged program that is held the first Friday of each month, which integrates acoustic guitar into Shabbat evening services.
Teplitz has a degree in elementary music education from the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford, and she taught elementary school for several years in Manchester, Conn., where she met Ari Teplitz when he was in graduate school at Yale University. While at the University of Hartford, she was a founding member of L’Shir, a Jewish a cappella group.
She graduated from the final cantorial class at Gratz College in Philadelphia in 2010, after which the school dropped its cantorial program. Prior to moving to New Jersey in 2014, Teplitz was a part-time cantor at several synagogues and taught Hebrew school for many years.
If you go
What: Installation of Cantor Michelle Teplitz
Where: Marlboro Jewish Center
When: Jan. 13, 4 p.m.
Information: 732-536-2300 or visit mjcnj.com