3 Ways Cantorial School Taught Me to be a Better Chaplain

by Mitzi Schwarz

Mitzi Schwarz, ChaplainI grew up enveloped in music, singing and playing instruments from a very young age. This, along with my love for Judaism, eventually led me to pursue a career as a Cantor and to enter cantorial school at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California. From my wonderful teachers, I learned about Jewish liturgy and service. I learned the history of the music of our people, and developed a new respect and love for Jewish music that I never dreamed was possible. Every day in class, as we sang together and analyzed Jewish music and trends, I felt part of a people and tradition stretching back thousands of years.

And yet, although I’d learned so much, I realized that for me, something was missing.

What I love most about music is the power it has to heal and to help us become more deeply aware of ourselves. For example, I love the rock group “Heart” and in times of loneliness, I find myself singing “Nada One.”  At one point in life, I was experiencing the breakup of a significant relationship, and I noticed that I was singing “My Heart Belongs To Me.” If I’m blessed with having a breakthrough moment regarding a problem that has plagued me for some time, “This Is The Moment,” or “Piece Of Sky” may pop into my mind. These songs often reflect what I’m experiencing at that moment; the songs reflect my unconscious.

I realized that what I really wanted was to accompany others as they explored their own sense of self, as they were striving to make meaning of their own life circumstances. Luckily for me, the Academy for Jewish Religion also offers a one-of-a-kind Chaplaincy program! When I transferred from the Cantorial school and enrolled in the Chaplaincy program, I recognized it was the final step in a journey that started years ago.

So, how exactly does music help in a chaplain’s service to others?  Here are a few ways:

 More intimate listening skills

I often draw upon my musical training when listening to people as they share their stories. I listen for the cadence in a care-seeker’s voice, the rhythm of a person’s speech. Is the person with whom I’m sitting speaking easily or haltingly? Do their words flow? Is there a comfort in the rhythm of their words? Do I hear sadness or fear in one’s voice? Where does a person pitch their voice? Does a person’s voice sound strained? These questions come from my training and experience in listening to the voice, and they may lead me into a place of deep conversation with a person.

A powerful tool for relating to feelings.

I sometimes ask people what music and songs move them, and their answers may give me a window into their experience that words alone cannot convey. Just as I’ve used songs as a window to explore my feelings, I try to use this same technique to assist care-seekers in exploring their feelings.

Communicating with those that have no voice.

Humming or singing with a person who does not have a voice, literally or symbolically, can be a very powerful way to establish a connection with them. I remember serving a person who was in the end stages of her life, and speech was impossible for her. Knowing a little about her religious affiliation, I was able to sing a song that brought a tear to her eye.

Music teaches me to listen to another’s heart, and to the emotions behind the words people say. I am grateful to have teachers at AJRCA in both the Cantorial and Chaplaincy programs who encourage me to follow my own path and find meaning in the things that are important to me.

Our teachers and mentors here take seriously the verse from Deuteronomy 30:11-14: “It is not too hard, nor is it far from you – not in heaven… or beyond the sea. It is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it.” To me, this means God’s wisdom is never far away; the wisdom of God, is our inner heart’s wisdom, to be found precisely within our deepest intuition – and in the mouth, in the song.

Through music, I talk to myself; through song, my soul talks to me. I sing an original song that a dear friend composed called “Remember Who You Are.” I’ve adopted it as my own spiritual anthem. Some of the lyrics of this song go like this:

You are the light, you are the love of God, you’re a child of divinity/

You are the wisdom of the ages, the heart of eternity/

You have the courage and compassion to fulfill your destiny/

You are the master, you’re the keeper of a Holy legacy.

These are healing words. A balm for a troubled heart.

Mitzi3Mitzi Schwarz is a professional musician and student in AJRCA’s Chaplaincy Program.  AJRCA is the only Jewish seminary in the U.S. with a designated Chaplaincy School that offers a Masters Degree in Jewish Studies with a Certificate in Jewish Chaplaincy. Mitzi will be graduating in 2017. Read more about her and listen to some of her music.

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