But he does not consider himself a cantorial soloist.
“It’s not about having someone be the star voice,” said Henry, 60. “The people who come here like to enjoy themselves and get involved in temple life. We do everything more as a community than as an individual.”
That includes singing all the prayers together as a choir, rather than Henry singing solo as it is more traditionally seen in synagogues.
Henry, of Kendall, went from being a congregant at Temple Beth Or to serving as a volunteer-prayer-songs leader in part thanks to his musical background – he studied at the University of Miami Frost School of Music and played in jazz bands.
“Music is such an important thing to this temple. It just seemed like the right thing to do and take over where the last person left off,” he said.
While he stopped his musical career in the 1970s to open a floor-covering business, he continues to compose melodies for the congregation often taking the words of a traditional prayer and writing a new melody.
“I open up the prayer book and there’s like a rhythm to the words and sometimes it just turns into a song. And sometimes I’ll be driving down the road and music will start popping into my head,” said Henry, who plays an electric guitar when he leads the prayer sings and is often accompanied by a djembe player.
At a recent rehearsal with the choir at the Kendall temple, he led them into singing B’Rosh Hashanah. While it is traditionally sung to a “somber” tune, Henry re-wrote it to a livelier melody.
“It’s fun learning new arrangements,” said choir-member Phyllis Winnick, 71. “The way he works with the choir is very effective.”
Added Henry: “Without getting too crazy, we try to interject some things that are a little bit more refreshing and uplifting.”
Not a job, but a life
Like many other cantors and cantorial soloists, Beth David Congregation Cantor Julie Jacobs serves as a counselor to the congregants.
At a recent hospital visit, a congregation member asked Jacobs to sing for her.
“Mostly people ask me to sing. Sometimes it is hard to understand how much it means to them,” said Jacobs, 38. “It’s humbling to help them with their spirits or to give hem someone to talk to.”
Sometimes entire days go by with her counseling people.
“Children come to me. Parents come to me. The staff here, too,” said Jacobs, of Coral Gables.
She chose to become a cantor as a way to keep connected with her Jewish roots and raise her family in the Jewish culture.
“I love the history, I love the ethics of the Jewish way,” she said. “I’ve really also invested my family into the synagogue life.”
Indeed, Jacobs has Mondays off and often ends up spending the day at the temple. Her 12-year-old son is part of the temple’s children’s choir she directs. And as a cantor at Beth David Congregation she has worked to “liven up” the service music. Recently she introduced a Latin-music-inspired band, Shabbat Passion, to play monthly at Friday night services.
“That was very shocking for the congregation at first,” she said. “It’s everybody’s favorite service now.”
Hannah Mayer is an 11-year-old congregant who takes weekly one-on-one bat mitzvah lessons with Jacobs.
“She is very fun. But she is also sometimes strict, which is good, too,” said Mayer, of Miami Beach.
Added Jacobs: “I think my job isn’t a job. It’s a life.”