Cantor Randy Herman connects with the almighty

Cantor Randy Herman
Cantor Randy Herman (Jesse Rinka Photography)

While some might expect a seasoned, experienced member of the clergy to eventually stop viewing their position with the same luster and energy they had on their first day on the job, that isn’t the case with Cantor Randy Herman.

“Every time I get up in front of a congregation to lead that congregation in connecting with the almighty, every single time it feels fresh, it feels profound, it feels deep and spiritual and joyous,” Herman said. “Every single time it’s as if it’s happening anew.”

Herman is the cantor at Chizuk Amuno Congregation and a resident of Pikesville. He is married to his wife Nicole and has two children, his daughter Kaya, 4, and son Donovan, 1, who was named after Herman’s late father, Donald.

Herman grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., as part of the Reform movement, he said, which helped give him a strong Jewish identity and background. He went to Hebrew school, had a bar mitzvah and was confirmed at 16.

Herman’s father was a professor of political science, while his mother, an Ashkenazi Jew born and raised in Mexico City, was highly active in the local temple. He recalled how, in eighth grade, his father took a sabbatical, and the family spent the year in Israel.

Herman began playing the piano by ear as a toddler, he said, and he started taking formal piano lessons at 5. By elementary school, he began writing and performing original songs alongside a band.

“Music was almost like breathing to me, from my earliest memories,” Herman said. “I think there was always a sense that music connected me to something larger. It was some way in which I tapped into an energy in the universe that was beyond me.”

Herman double majored in psychology and theater at the University of Michigan. During college, he became what he termed “a serious spiritual seeker.”

“I was chanting in ashrams. I was in Native American sweat lodges. I was going to silent Buddhist meditation retreats,” he said.

In short, Herman was searching for spirituality “everywhere except Judaism,” he said.

Herman was around 30 when he started turning his attention toward Judaism, while working as an actor and musician in Chicago, he said. He began attending classes and hanging around with Chasidim, leading to a “reawakening into Judaism, and really had an enormous Jewish journey that I was going through,” he said.

This eventually led to Herman enrolling at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was ordained as a hazzan with a master’s in sacred music.

Herman found work as a cantor at Bet Torah in Mount Kisco, N.Y., he said. He has also been a guest cantor at congregations around the world, leading services at The Great Synagogue of Stockholm and at another shul in Vilnius, Lithuania. Herman has also performed concerts around the world, including in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, he added, and has released a CD, called “Moving Through Time,” made up primarily of Jewish music.

While Herman recalled being happy at his previous synagogue, after getting married and becoming a father he decided it was time to start fresh in a new community and “expand professionally.” Upon hearing about the opening at Chizuk Amuno, he saw it as an opportunity for some significant professional growth.

Much of Herman’s work today is focused on overseeing the shul’s b’nai mitzvah program, along with its teen tutors, he said. His other responsibilities include leading davening and services, creating musical programs and teaching in the adult education program.

On what he most enjoys about being a cantor, Herman noted how it provides him an opportunity to speak with something greater, and to share that experience with his shul.

“Having a musical conversation with the eternal, and bringing a whole community into that conversation with me, is the most incredible experience one can imagine,” Herman said.

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