Rabbi Aviva Bass
Title: Cantorial soloist at Temple Beth Orr, Coral Springs.
Other job experience: Served synagogues in Australia, New Zealand, Marietta, Ga., Vancouver, Wash.
Education: Bachelor's degree in music, and bachelor's degree in Judaic studies, University of Miami; master of arts in Jewish education, Gratz College, Elkins Park, Pa.; master of arts in Hebrew letters, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Wyncote, Pa.
Personal: Age 40. Born in New York, raised in Coral Springs.
Family: Divorced. Twin sons.
Q: You've been several places around the U.S., even Australia and New Zealand. Why did you come back to Temple Beth Orr?
A: There were several concerns. I felt it was time to come home. I'm a divorced mom of twin boys. It was important to have family support and be close to their grandparents. Also, Beth Orr was where I grew up. When I saw the posting for the position, it fit.
Q: Why did you come to a Reform temple after being ordained as a Reconstructionist?
A: I view myself as trans-denominational, especially after my experiences overseas. At one time, they were descriptive of types of observances. But nowadays, non-Orthodox movements are very close. I've also been involved in Jewish Renewal, which sees itslef as a grassroots movement. I take for my tool kit pieces of liturgical styles from any number of sources.
Q: How did you get into your vocation?
A: Mine was more of a calling, which is very unusual for rabbis to say. I was studying voice at the University of Miami, and I felt drawn to Judaism. I didn't know very much about my Judaism before college, but I started learning about it. Then I had a couple of pivotal "Aha" moments. I really felt it was what I needed to be doing.
Q: Why do you prefer serving as a cantor, although you're an ordained rabbi?
It's not necessarily a preference, but I like concentrating on the music. I think most people are touched spiritually by creative pursuits.
There are two types of creation in Hebrew. "Briyah" is the type of creation only God can do, ex nihilo. Another form, "Yetzirah," is both reproductive and artistic: music, carpentry, dance.
Q: So your concept is both experiential and theoretical?
A: What I try to do is to empower people to engage in the text by embodying it in their own creative process.
Q: Like how?
A: I've taught spiritual autobiographical writing -- using a text to find their own stories within the greater story of the Jewish people. Or I have them create a bibliodrama. I take a text and say, "Do I have a Moses in the room? So why did you break the tablets?"
Q: How do you like to relax?
A: (laughs) As a single mom of twins doing rabbinical and cantorial work, it's hard to relax. I have to find meditative moments, where I can be at peace and commune with God.
Q: Favorite pastime?
A: Some of my most wonderful moments have been with my kids. I can turn off the world, turn off the internal chatter, and be with them. They're four and a half and so bright. They're asking about God and theology.
Q: What book have you been recommending lately?
A: I love sci-fi fantasy. I love Charlaine Harris and her Sookie Stackhouse books. They're the basis for "True Blood" (a TV series). I like Anne McCaffrey for her Dragonrider books. And Marian Zimmer Bradley for "The Mists of Avalon."
One of my all-time favorites is "The Help." It's a classic book and window into the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. I thought, no way would the film do it justice, but it did. I think it will be required reading in a generation or two.
Q: What's your favorite vacation spot?
A: I loved Bali when I was there. It's very into appeasing the gods. It also has family compounds, with multiple generations living together and pitching in. And when they have a wedding, they invite everyone into the family compound.
Q: Favorite music? Favorite performer(s)?
A: I like classical and operatic music, and Broadway shows. Part of me says that some day, I'll be Maria in "West Side Story."
Q: Do you have a hero?
A: My father is one of the menschlich (most thoughtful) people I've ever known. He treats people with kindness and compassion. And my mother always quotes Shakespeare, "To thine own self be true." And she taught me to make relationships primary. Everything else is secondary.
Q: What person in history would you like most to meet?
A: Abraham Joshua Heschel. "The Sabbath" is one of the first books I read on my spiritual journey. He was such a poetic writer, with a wonderful use of metaphor.
Q: Do you have a treasured possession?
A: Two paintings of me by my grandmother when I was 2, of what I might be like at 5 or 6. I cherish them now that she's gone.
Q: Your worst moment in the pulpit?
A: Once I accidentally named someone as a yahrzeit (memorial prayer) for someone who was very much alive. The congregation gasped.
Q: What one thing would you change about yourself?
A: If I could be as sensitive to other people without being as sensitive about myself, that would be good.
Q: What do you wish people understood about you?
A: In the clergy, people make assumptions or judge people on what they've done, and they don't ask their motivation. I wish people would ask me what I meant.
Q: What's the most important thing you've ever learned?
A: There are priorities in life. my kids have to be number one. I knew that intellectually,but until I was in struggle of being a fulltime rabbi and a fulltime mom, I didn't understand. Now I'm working parttime.
James D. DavisCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun