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Temple Sinai honors Chazzan Cliff Abramson

Over the past 18 years, Abramson has taught, conducted services and led life cycle events at Temple Sinai.

Chazzan Cliff Abramson
Chazzan Cliff Abramson
Photo by Ian Swaby
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When Chazzan Cliff Abramson saw the Hebrew words "shema koleinu," meaning “hear our voices,” featured on the website of Temple Sinai, he wondered at first what it truly meant. 

Later, when Abramson met Rabbi Geoffrey Huntting, he asked, “Do you mean that? Or was it just something nice?”

He recalls that the rabbi laughed and said, “We're going to be good friends.”

Over the 18 years Abramson has served as chazzan, or leader of songful prayer, at the synagogue, the two became good friends, as did Abramson and other congregants. 

Elana Margolis, who co-chaired a tribute weekend to Abramson alongside Barbara Sander and Emily Levin, said his work has gone beyond the call of duty.

Abramson said he has found the words on the website to be true.

“It's so you can come from a place where you're feeling this way, wherever you come from, whatever you do, to a place where you can feel this way, but we love and respect who you are, what you are, no judgment of any kind — just unite, just be of solidarity together, and especially now, that is extremely important to me," he said. 

A place to call home

Abramson has taught, conducted services and led life cycle events at the temple since leaving Central Park in New York for Siesta Key Beach shortly after his ordination by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion School of Sacred Music.

“It's an unusual experience for me to be honored for something that I love to do to begin with,” he said.

The weekend began April 12 with a welcome reception and a musical Erev Shabbat service, both free to the community, as well as a reception thanking gala sponsors. 

It continued with the gala at The Ora, the event venue of the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, on April 13, featuring music by The Fletcher Jazz Quartet and The Hot Club SRQ, and concluded with a concert on April 14 by Genevieve Beauchamp, Marcus Ratzenboeck and Michael Gordon.

Abramson has sung on stage, in cantorial concerts and in recitals nationwide in addition to working as a professional actor in theater, film, and television. 

After taking up his role at Temple Sinai, he began writing music for the synagogue. 

Temple Sinai President Sherry Thomas and Chazzan Cliff Abramson
Photo by Ian Swaby

It began at the suggestion of Rabbi Huntting, when he wrote a duet to an inscription at the synagogue that read, “Sing a new song to God, sing a new song to the earth.”

“I’ve written a lot of music for the synagogue, and to hear it sung back — there’s nothing like it. There’s nothing like it,” he said. 

He has had the chance to work with members of the congregation, including students preparing for bar and bat mitzvah, serving in pastoral care, and singing to small children in nursery school. The synagogue is where he also met his wife Jamie Abramson.

Two children from the nursery school later approached him as adults, asking him to sing at their weddings. 

“We’re close,” he said of himself and the congregants. “They come, we share, we fix if we can, we cry together, we laugh together, and we go through the whole life cycle together, and I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.”

Temple Sinai also owes a tradition to Abramson, of ending services with members joining together, arms across each other’s shoulders.

“There are certain people who come here to be intellectually stimulated. And there are certain people who come here for a visceral response to music, and my job is to have everything come to here, to this place, to the heart,” he said, gesturing towards himself. “And when it does, magical things start to happen that I can't explain. I don't understand it. But I'm grateful that it does.”



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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