Malachi Kanfer, 32, Strengthening Community through Song

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The Jewish Week’s annual 36 Under 36 honors young leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers who are making a difference in the life of Jewish New York. For the full list of this year’s “36ers,” click here.

What do you do?

I’m the cantor at Sutton Place Synagogue. I started last July, after spending the previous seven years at a synagogue in New Haven, Connecticut. I think my biggest accomplishment has been providing a smooth transition and musical continuity for the congregation during a really challenging time. I learned all the High Holidays music of our amazing cantor emeritus, Dov Keren, who had been the cantor for 36 years. Though the High Holidays were completely virtual, and there was a new cantor, the music was familiar, comforting, spiritual and joyful.

How did the pandemic affect your work?

I was hired at the very onset of the pandemic and for the first year of my job led services and interacted with congregants almost entirely virtually. Despite that challenge, Rabbi Rachel Ain and I were able to continue the deeply meaningful and spiritual work of Sutton Place Synagogue. I produced numerous virtual concerts with wonderful New York cantor colleagues, and even produced and edited our annual gala for the synagogue in May, in which 40 congregants and 20 Hebrew school students sang in powerful virtual choirs. We led joyous, interactive virtual services all year on Zoom, where congregants truly felt seen and heard, fully engaged in the spiritual work of prayer. I created unique musical experiences with virtual choirs for the High Holidays, Kristallnacht, Hanukkah, Shabbat Shirah, MLK Shabbat, and many more special services. Attendance at our virtual services skyrocketed throughout the year.

I also led many adult education experiences, including classes on mindfulness, liturgy, and the involvement of Jewish composers in racial justice work. I even taught a very personal class about stuttering and Jewish leadership, where I discussed Moses and his stutter, my stutter, and the ways that it deeply influenced our leadership. I tutored and celebrated with 11 young b’nei mitzvah students, and taught prayer and chanting skills to ten amazing adult b’nei mitzvah students.

What’s a fun fact about you?

I have the two best dogs in the world. Unfortunately, my dog James likes to howl when I sing, which has led to some funny moments during services from home this year.

What’s your favorite place to eat Jewish food in the city?


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