This was supposed to be Hazzan Elisheva Dienstfrey’s year. To celebrate her 20 years at Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, the synagogue had planned a series of musical programs leading up to a gala and concert in May. Everything was going without a hitch. But then came March, and with it, the pandemic. Months of delays for the gala ensued.
“I was disappointed, but what could I do?” Dienstfrey said last week. “This was really something that was out of my control.”
The Conservative congregation has decided to go ahead with the event online on Oct. 25. The celebration will start at 4:30 p.m. with a concert featuring guest performers including Cantor Azi Schwartz, of New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue. The performance will honor former Agudas Achim president David Sattler, who died in 2017 at the age of 58.
Event Chair Ann Bennett described Sattler as a “mensch” and “a role model for the Jewish community, for our family and for our synagogue.”
Each spring, Agudas Achim hosts a concert as a fundraiser. Beginning this year, the concert will be named in Sattler’s memory.
“He had a huge love of music. But more importantly, had a real vision of community,” Dienstfrey said. “So we wanted to honor someone who really had that vision and a love of music.”
A community dinner will follow the concert. Participants can pick up kosher meals at the synagogue to take home. Dienstfrey and her family will be served a celebratory meal at the synagogue.
“She’s a pillar of our congregation,” Bennett said of Dienstfrey. “We’ve been really blessed to have her for 20 years as part of our community. And I think it’s definitely worth a celebration.”
At 7 p.m., there will be a tribute presentation in Dienstfrey’s honor. Proceeds from the events will support the congregation.
Dienstfrey grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., and graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary’s H. L. Miller Cantorial School in 2000. Agudas Achim has been the only congregation she’s served.
Since March, she and Rabbi Steven I. Rein have live-streamed services from the sanctuary. She described the experience of singing to an empty sanctuary during the High Holidays as “a bizarre experience.”
“None of us can control what’s going to happen with the virus. But [the congregation] knows that I am part of Agudas Achim. I have been for the past 20 years. And I’m a constant,” she said.
“When I first came to Agudas Achim, one of the first words I heard from [then rabbi] Jack Moline was, ‘welcome home.’ And it has really felt like home ever since then,” Dienstfrey continued. “And it’s a real honor to be able to be in one place for so long and to love every minute of it.”
For information about the celebration, visit agudasachim-va.org/blessings2020.