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Cantor Zöe Jacobs to lead clergy team at Finchley Reform Synagogue

Cantor Zoe JacobsFinchley Reform Synagogue (FRS) has appointed Cantor Zöe Jacobs as its new Senior Clergy, replacing outgoing Senior Rabbi, Miriam Berger.

The appointment marks a ground-breaking new model of congregational leadership and the next stage of a personal journey for Cantor Zöe.

Cantor Zöe grew up in the FRS community – leading youth choirs, teaching hundreds of B’nei Mitzvah students and running international programmes in her youth – then returned to serve as its full-time Cantor for the last 15 years.

Welcoming this historic moment, FRS Chair Jenny Nuni said: “FRS has a legacy of bold and innovative choices. Appointing Zöe to lead our clergy team positions both FRS as a community and Progressive Judaism as a whole in the vanguard of change, showcasing a commitment to spirituality, creativity and new ways of thinking.”

Cantor Zöe was appointed after an extensive recruitment process and will take up her new role in July. She will lead a dynamic and diverse team including Rabbi Deborah Blausten and Rabbi Howard Cooper.

Current clergy team leader, Rabbi Miriam Berger – who is leaving to launch the Wellspring project – will join Rabbi Jeffrey Newman as Rabbi Emerita to FRS, after 18 years in post.

Cantor Zöe Jacobs with the FRS Friday night musicians
Cantor Zöe Jacobs with the FRS Friday night musicians

Cantor Zöe said: “FRS has always been my spiritual home. For the last 15 years, I have worked alongside an inspirational friend and colleague in Miriam to build a new model of collaborative spiritual leadership.

“I am so honoured and motivated to now follow in the footsteps of my extraordinary predecessors to continue our rich tradition of social action, deep relationships and musical engagement.”

Nowhere else in the world has a Cantor – who hasn’t also been ordained as a Rabbi – been the sole leader of a larger team of clergy that includes both Cantors and Rabbis.

Cantor Zöe received smicha (ordination) in May 2009 from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. Her ordination marked the first time a woman was ordained as Cantor to serve Britain’s Progressive Jewish movements.

The process for becoming a Cantor is the same as that for a Rabbi, taking five years and including a Master’s Degree. The programmes are similar, but the key difference lies in the time cantorial students study liturgy and music instead of rabbinic literature.

The roles of both Cantor and Rabbi are full-time in the clergy team.

Before joining FRS, Cantor Zöe served Central Synagogue in Manhattan and Or Chadash in New Jersey.

Members of FRS have praised Cantor Zöe for her unique skills in service and musical leadership and profoundly personal way of officiating at all lifecycle rituals, as well as how she has supported families and individuals during difficult times.

In the last two decades, FRS has doubled in membership and built a new, environmentally-sustainable building.

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