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Love of Jewish Music by Ruthie Seidner

Jewish music. It pulled me in, heart first, and it’s been part of the blood that flows through my body ever since I was a child. Although I am a trained classical singer, my interests were always in folk music. It appealed to my love of history, and folk minstrels always were the commentators in every age for the common folk. There was a truth in every song. My first guitar was given to me by my dad in 1967, and I was hooked. I harmonized with every song on the radio and learned to adapt the songs to the guitar using my own style.

Jewish music. My ears picked up the breauty of major chords turning to minor chords and back again, in the same piece of music. It spoke to me at Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston, where I was raised. I learned from the best there and they took notice of my ability to engage others. I mean, how do you harmonize alone?! I started a junior choir there, taught music, and sang at services. This was the beginning of a whole new musical training.

I’ve found a home at Emanuel Congregation since 1989 when Jeff Kondritzer hired me to be the music teacher. Much like I still do today! I’ve been the music director ever since. Besides teaching music on Sunday, I’ve had a children’s choir, an adult choir, I’m a substitute cantor whenever I can help Cantor Friedman, and I’ve helped tutor students for Bar and Bat Mitzvot. My daughter, Sophie, became a Bat Mitzvah here and this wonderful community has sustained us always. It is a very give-and-take relationship with this congregation; I bring music and singing to feed the soul, to heighten the prayer experience, and the congregation responds to that and a bond is formed.

I was fortunate to be part of the Emanuel Women’s Retreats from the very beginning. A former congregant named Mareon Arnold had the vision and pitched it to the sisterhood in 1990 (or thereabout). For the first years at OSRUI, we hired a facilitator. The topics were, as they are now, for Jewish women, juggling busy lives but wanting to be spiritually connected to Judaism. On a day-to-day level, that felt impossible for so many of us to sustain, but exploring growth in our sessions, we found ways to acknowledge Shabbat or Havdalah or teachings of the Torah in ways that were obtainable for each of us uniquely. We continued to plan services and events together at Emanuel to keep the momentum going throughout the year. So many things grew from those retreats that have impacted Emanuel, even now. And we’re still going strong! Now, we are lay-led. Women have stepped up to lead sessions or chant Torah, and we’ve realized just how much we have to offer!

Register now! There is an opportunity to do so in the Emanuel bulletin that comes out every Monday. The dates this year (Covid allowing) are February 25 to 27.

Come experience the sound of women’s voices in song. Come relax on the beautiful grounds, eat good food, laugh and maybe cry, pray, learn and enjoy wonderful women in your own community.


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