When Cantor Hinda Tzivia Eisen Labovitz sings from the bima, “I feel like the congregation is the rest of the choir.” As long as she is singing, and especially if it’s Jewish music, Eisen believes she will never have to “work” a day in her life.
The 30-year-old New Jersey native became the cantor and educator at Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase in June. It’s been a busy summer for her. Two months after starting at Ohr Kodesh, she walked down the aisle as a newlywed.
Labovitz’s love of singing started early. She joyfully recalls singing in her first choir when she was only a second-grader. Singing in a choir always makes her happy, but “it took me to midway through cantorial school to realize I was a soloist,” she says.
When deciding upon a career, Labovitz knew she wanted to be involved with at least two of “the three pillars of my life, Judaism, education and music.” As Ohr Kodesh’s cantor and ritual director, Labovitz now holds a job that involves all three of her passions “on a daily basis.” To her, this is not work at all.
Her goal is to spread her love of music to the congregation and part of that plan includes changing things up a bit. “I don’t use the same music every week,” she says.
Labovitz knows she is connecting with “her choir.” It all clicks, when someone walks up to her after services and talks to her about something in a piece she sang, something they had never noticed before even though they had sung that prayer or tune many times before.
Labovitz considered becoming a rabbi, but realized, “I didn’t want to be preaching for the movement” and getting involved in what she labeled “rabbinical politics.”
She plays guitar and a little bit on the piano, but “my primary instrument is my voice.” Labovitz also claims to be a “virtuoso kazooist.” She also enjoys painting Jewish-related works using acrylics. Her love of art peppered much of her Aug. 31 wedding. “I designed our invitations,” she says.
She currently is finishing up a 100-page book that incorporates various sheet music with Jewish text that she believes will be a great addition to any Shabbat table. For many prayers, she includes three or four melodies, “some common, some not so.”
While this is her first full-time cantorial position, Labovitz comes to Ohr Kodesh with plenty of experience. She served as part-time prayer leader and tutor at a synagogue in Massachusetts and assistant to the conductor for the Zamir Chorale of Boston. She also was vocal coach for an eighth-grade play at Solomon Schechter in Boston.
Labovitz graduated in 2009 from Boston University, majoring in religion with a concentration in special education and received her ordination and a master’s degree in Judaic studies at Hebrew College in Massachusetts. She both attended and worked at Ramah camps in the Berkshires, Wisconsin and New England.
Labovitz is settling into her home in Silver Spring, which she is quick to explain is “only eight-tenths of a mile from the synagogue.”