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Ridgefield Cantor Imparts Words Of Wisdom, In Song, For Merged Congregation

Cantor Debbie Katchko-Gray of Congregation Shir Shalom of Westchester and Fairfield Counties.
Cantor Debbie Katchko-Gray of Congregation Shir Shalom of Westchester and Fairfield Counties. Photo Credit: Submitted

RIDGEFIELD, Conn. --  While Jewish families across the area are busy planning their menus for Rosh Hashanah, Jewish leaders are busy planning what they'll say -- or sing -- in temple and how to get across words of wisdom for the High Holy  Days, which begin at sundown Sunday, Oct. 1 and last through Wednesday, Oct. 12.

We went to Deborah Katchko-Gra y, Cantor at Congregation Shir Shalom of Westchester and Fairfield Counties in Ridgefield, for the inside scoop on the process.

Thanks so much!!!!

Daily Voice: So, how busy are you?

Cantor: I start preparing in the spring for the High Holy Days, lining up my musicians and setting choir rehearsal dates. I start meeting with my accompanist in the summer, usually end of August. If there is new music to be included in the choir binders, I start that process in the spring and finish in the summer. Even though I am technically “off” for the summer, it needs to be done!

This summer I worked on a recording of new Jewish music for the synagogue. There is a new High Holy Day piece in it as well as a piece I co-wrote -- my first composition called, ”Shir Shalom” in honor of the newly merged congregation (Half of the congregation lives in South Salem, Katonah, Pound Ridge, Bedford, and Lewisboro, N.Y.)

The song contains a lesson from my dear cousin, Cantor Leopold Szneer who passed away recently.  If you want to be a light, a ner, you need a neshamah --  a good soul and ruach --  spirit. If  you have both you can be a light to others.

Daily Voice: Tell us more about the music.

Cantor: I start immersing myself in the music of the Holy Days during the summer. I listen to recordings of my father who was a wonderful cantor and my teacher. I have many recordings of him singing the magnificent High Holy Day music his father composed, also a cantor, a well-known composer and teacher of cantors.

My fondest memories of cantorial singing began as a child. I would sit on my parent’s steps in the living room and listen to my mother play the piano for my father, a cantor -- they would play this beloved music year after year, always the same, mostly composed by my grandfather or Lewandowski, Sulzer, choral composers whose music is classic.

The comfort and strength I get from those memories helps me prepare for the music I will share during the Holy Days. I love being part of a four generational cantorial tradition and try to honor it as much as I can.

Daily Voice: What about your cooking? I see you post recipes on your Facebook page .

Cantor: I start cooking and baking weeks before, filling my freezer with most of the meals I will be serving. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah I sing two large services then walk into the house with a lunch for 25 people. Everything must be timed in the oven, set out the night before, table set, etc..

It’s a huge effort but one I love to do. I love having family and friends over for the Holy Days -- the smells can transport you to another world!

Brisket, turkey meatballs, roast chicken, apple noodle kugels, kasha varnishkes with mushroom sauce, chicken soup and matza balls, butternut squash soup for vegans, apple honey cake, plum torte, round apple pumpkin raisin challahs -- I just add a salad and hope people take food home when it’s done!

For more information, go to www.cantordebbie.com/ .

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