Cantor Jan Morrison is “everything that you would want in a clergy member,” said Robin Rosenfeld, administrator at Columbia Jewish Congregation, which will say farewell to Cantor Morrison on Friday.
Although she will still be volunteering in the community and involved with its programs and choir, she is retiring from the congregation to spend more time with her husband, children and grandchildren.
Morrison has been involved with Columbia Jewish Congregation for four decades. Her family joined in the 1970s and she raised her children there. She came into her leadership role in 1994 and has been its cantor ever since, outlasting rabbis and leading the congregation through its transition from unaffiliated to a Reconstructionist synagogue.
“Believe me when I say there is no program, no matter how well thought out — no speech, no matter how cleverly crafted — to contain all that Cantor Morrison has done for our community, or for me,” said Rabbi Sonya Starr. “It is impossible to describe her impact on the community. She has been an integral part of CJC since long before she became our cantor.”
A large part of Morrison’s impact has been musical. Through her involvement with the Women Cantor’s Network, she brought new music and new prayers to the congregation. She is particularly proud of the changes she has rendered to the congregation’s chorus. When she first became cantor, the choir was simply backup for the cantor. Since her appointment, it has taken on more challenging music and provides opportunities for members to create music as well.
“The lusty singing is joyous and I think it is really a hallmark that the congregation loves to sing and participate,” Morrison said. “I am a firm believer that singing is praying twice. That’s not original — Saint Augustine said that — but it’s true.”
Jon Blankman, a member for nearly 20 years and a singer in the choir, described Morrison as having a tremendous influence on her.
“She has taught me how to chant from Torah, how to lead a service and how to be a better member of the choir. She has always had a positive influence and attitude on me and my family and we have enjoyed our affiliation with CJC largely because of Jan.”
Morrison also provided pastoral counseling, working with families for funerals and in hospice.
“If I look back, I am most proud of the fact that it has not been just music for me,” she said. “The real blessing for me is being able to watch and participate in people’s lives. I’ve named some of these children, b’nai mitzvahed all of them and now I am marrying them and naming their babies.”
Although she is retiring from congregational life, Morrison will still be present in the community and intends to continue helping with life cycle events.
“There is a real element of sadness [to leaving],” she said. “I really love these people, they are just so much a part of my heart and my soul and for the last 25 years, it has consumed [my time]. I have had other job offers and I have not been interested in pursuing them because I have really loved what I have done here.”
Daniel Nozick is a staff reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times.