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Past Hazzan Diane Nathanson with incoming Hazzan Jeffrey Weber. Courtesy photo.
Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011 6 years ago

Nathanson honored as first female member of clergy

by: Loren Mayo Black Tie Editor

Each member of Diane Nathanson’s family embraces his or her own art form: she sings; her daughter, Desiree, dances; and her husband, Ben, draws.

Because of her artistic nature, Nathanson says she has the tendency to procrastinate. Such was the case when it came to preparing a speech for the tribute dinner Temple Beth Sholom held last weekend in her honor. With three hours left until go-time, Nathanson was still scribbling down notes.

Nathanson moved in 1983 from Connecticut to Sarasota, where she joined the Temple Beth Sholom choir as a cantorial soloist under the tutelage of Cantor Victor Jacoby. She gradually assumed the roles of musical director, teacher and mentor to adults and children, helping prepare nearly 600 boys and girls for their bar and bat mitzvahs by teaching them the trope, proper chanting and how to read the Torah from the pulpit for their 13th birthdays.

A mezzo-soprano, Nathanson has been the only cantor to occupy the pulpit in the past 29 years at the temple. She is also the first female cantor to serve on Florida’s west coast and the first woman in the temple’s 80-year history to be a professional member of the clergy.

In 1992, she received membership into the clergy, which required rigorous testing — an oral chanting quiz before six cantors.

“It was a thrill when I got accepted into the cantors’ assembly,” Nathanson said. “It was during one of our yearly conventions in Israel. We were at the hotel, and they just announced three to four people who received membership. They actually sent out an, ‘Is there any reason this person should not be accepted?’ letter, similar to what happens at weddings when the guests are asked if they object.”

Three years later, she became a Hazzan minister within the Jewish faith. She received her diploma at the World Trade Center in New York.

“These were significant moments for me, but I didn’t realize the enormity of it, because I was new to how synagogue life functioned and those roles, and how it was really a first for women to be accepted,” Nathanson said.

Her biggest joy in her involvement at the temple is working with the children and making pastoral visits to hospitals, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

At one point in High Holiday services, temple members were chanting a prayer, which, at the end, requires everyone’s participation. There were 1,200 people present that day, and Nathanson was able to present the last of the prayer in a way that elicited a sizable response.

“To have that many voices come back at me was mind-blowing,” Nathanson said. “I revel in the moments when a student gets up and completes the bar or bat mitzvah or knowing I’ve brought joy to someone’s life when I’ve gone into the hospital to sing to them. Life is a series of little moments far more huge than confetti moments.”

Temple members and guests attended a tribute dinner in Nathanson’s honor Sunday, Dec. 4, at the temple, which recently welcomed incoming Hazzan Jeff Weber.

“To have 330 people there Sunday in a little room receiving the outpouring of love coming from them — those are the moments that stop you,” Nathanson said.

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