On Friday, June 5, Temple B’nai Chaim (TBC) in Georgetown will celebrate Cantor Jon Sobel’s 25 years of service to the congregation and community. TBC will host a special musical service called “House of Song” (in Hebrew, “Beit Shirah”), at 7 p.m. on that day, to honor Sobel’s outstanding contributions to the religious and musical life of the Temple.
Originally from Cedar Grove, N.J., Sobel began leading music for Jewish worship services while an undergraduate at Yale University. He was also a member of the Yale Whiffenpoofs and a soloist with the Yale Glee Club. He earned his bachelor of science degree in computer science in 1986, and became Temple B’nai Chaim’s cantor in 1989. Sobel and his family have lived in Redding since 1998.
Unlike the role of the rabbi, a Jewish scholar who is appointed as the community’s religious leader, the primary responsibility of a cantor (in Hebrew, “hazzan”), is to lead the congregation in chanted and sung prayer and to inspire and guide the congregation’s religious experience through music. In addition to his role in leading weekly worship and holiday services, and in officiating at life-cycle events (such as baby namings, weddings and funerals), Sobel also runs the music program at the Temple’s thriving religious school. He is an enthusiastic teacher of traditional liturgy and a wide range of contemporary Jewish music.
Over the years, Sobel has worked with five of the six rabbis who have served TBC since its founding in 1976. He has officiated at approximately 580 child and adult bar and bat mitzvahs, and has formed and led multi-generational bands, classical chamber groups, folk groups, and choirs. He is a mainstay of various local interfaith services hosted over many years in Fairfield County.
Sobel knew early on that he wanted to be a Cantor. “I have always connected spiritually to God via music,” he says. He frequently sang in the synagogue where he grew up, and for a number of years served as a soloist in various synagogues in the New York area. After many years of expanding his expertise in Jewish music and Torah trope (the interpretation of ancient markings to chant the verses of the Five Books of Moses), in 2005 he was accepted into the cantorial program at Hebrew Union College in New York and earned cantorial certification by the College and the American Conference of Cantors in 2009.
A man of many talents, he currently also serves full-time as the director of systems and data integration at Yale, and he has continued his association with vocal music there by working periodically with Magevet, the Yale Jewish student a cappella group.
As described by one congregant, “When Cantor Sobel expresses his prayers through singing, he reaches moments of transcendence that are palpable. Temple B’nai Chaim has been blessed with an extraordinary cantor.”