Cantor Jan Morrison is “everything that you would want in a clergy member,” said Robin Rosenfeld, administrator at Columbia Jewish Congregation, which will say farewell to Cantor Morrison on June 30. Although she will still be volunteering in the community and involved with its programs and choir, she is retiring from the congregation to spend more time with her children and grandchildren and perhaps adventure with her husband.
Morrison has been involved with Columbia Jewish Congregation for longer than most. Her family joined the congregation around 1976 and she raised her children in it. She came into her leadership role in 1994 and has been its cantor ever since, outlasting at least five rabbis and leading the congregation through the transition from being unaffiliated into becoming a Reconstructionist congregation.
“Believe me when I say there is no program, no matter how well thought out — no speech, no matter how cleverly crafted — to contain all that Cantor Morrison has done for our community, or for me,” said Rabbi Sonya Starr. “It is impossible to describe her impact on the community. She has been an integral part of CJC since long before she became our cantor. Her enthusiasm, music and desire to make everyone feel special will be missed.”
As a cantor, a large part of Morrison’s impact has been musical. Through her involvement with the Women Cantors’ Network, she brought new music and new prayers to the congregation. She is particularly proud of the changes she has rendered to the congregation’s chorus. When she first became cantor, the choir was simply backup for the cantor. Since her appointment, however, it has evolved to take on more challenging music and provides opportunities for members to create music as well — one choir member wrote a few pieces of music which have been performs.
“This is very much a singing congregation and their singing is welcomed,” said Morrison. “The lusty singing is joyous and I think it is really a hallmark that the congregation loves to sing and participate. I am a firm believer that singing is praying twice. That’s not original, St. Augustine said that, but it’s true. Music is the piece that carries it for people when the words don’t mesh with what they are thinking.”
She believes that some traditions which she started will be continued as well. For example, music Shabbats singling out a composer and different pieces of the musician which are performed, providing congregants with some music education. She has also done a lot of work with meditation and chant.
Jon Blankman, a member of CJC for nearly 20 years and a singer in the choir, described Morrison as having a tremendous influence, personally, religiously and professionally.
“She has taught me how to chant from Torah, how to lead a service and how to be a better member of the choir. She has always had a positive influence and attitude on me and my family and we have enjoyed our affiliation with CJC largely because of Jan.”
However, Morrison did far more from the congregation than lead it in song. She was invested in the families and individuals that were members of the community and did a lot of work with pastoral counseling, working with families for funerals and hospice work.
“I have been pretty integral to all parts of the congregation,” she said. “If I look back, I am most proud of the fact that it has not been just music for me, I have been a part of people’s lives and that, I believe, is how it should be. The real blessing for me is being able to watch and participate in people’s lives. I’ve named some of these children, b’nai mitzvahed all of them and now I am marrying them and naming their babies. It’s the l’dor v’dor piece that makes it for me, being so connected all the way through.”
Although she is retiring from congregational life, Morrison will still be present in the community and intends to continue helping with life cycle events such as births, weddings and hospice care.
“There is a real element of sadness [to leaving],” said Morrison. “I really love these people, they are just so much a part of my heart and my soul and for the last 25 years, it has consumed [my time]. I have had other job offers and I have not been interested in pursuing them because I have really loved what I have done here. I have gotten to try everything that I wanted to. I am blessed to be surrounded by people who are so encouraging. I hope everybody has a job where they feel as appreciated and respected as I do here at CJC.”