From a young age, David Fair loved to sing.
And now, Fair, 34, is singing a lot as a second-year cantorial student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. As part of the program, he’s a cantorial intern at Temple Beth Israel in York, Pa.
A Woodlawn native, Fair is a devoted vegan (and has been for nine years) and is passionate about compassion toward animals.
“I feel veganism is the kashrut of 2018,” Fair says of his diet, which he also notes informs his Jewish beliefs. “I have tons of energy and feel amazing.”
On March 24, Temple Beth Israel is hosting a fundraising concert to support the cantorial internship program of which Fair is a part. Since arriving in York, Fair has been an integral part of that synagogue’s community.
What led you to the cantorial field?
I had a fabulous experience as a child at Beth Israel. We had a group music program, and there was music every single class. I was part of the children’s choir, and we toured all over Baltimore. I just took to it. My family took to it too, and it became an enormous part of our lives. Throughout middle school and high school, I was always involved with theater and music. I got a job singing in the professional quartet at Har Sinai in Owings Mills. I found myself fading away from Judaism as a teenager — just in the way that a lot of kids do when they’re in high school. Singing at Har Sinai Congregation as a music major, I found myself completely entranced with the organ, piano, and guitar during services and the incredibly sophisticated music that went along with that. I also felt welcomed in Reform Judaism as a gay man. Conservative Judaism in the 1990’s just wasn’t embracing that.” But truthfully, I really do have a special place in my heart for Conservative Judaism and I always will.
When I was in college, I found a job singing in a Reform synagogue, singing with a quartet, an organ, guitar and piano; it really spoke to me. I got a job right after college in Pittsburgh teaching Hebrew, and while I was doing that, I became a member of Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh, and they were looking for a cantorial soloist. That job changed my life. I stayed in Pittsburgh for three years and then went to the Cleveland Institute of Music. I had moved to Chicago to pursue opera, which was going fine but not spectacularly. I realized I was having enormous success in Jewish spaces. I was becoming a spiritual leader, and singing opera wasn’t fulfilling me in that way. I applied to Hebrew Union College, and the rest is history.
What is your favorite part of being a cantor?
It’s about what happens off the bimah. Of course, on the bimah I have incredible moments, and that’s what I’m there to do. But the most meaningful stuff I do is before the service begins: I’m running to my office trying to get everything together, and a congregant walks by and I say, “How are you?” And they say, “I’m having a rough time.” That’s when the real cantor comes out. I’ll ask them to “tell me more.” Then we’re having a very significant Jewish moment. I think that’s really the point of clergy. We live for people walking into our office and wanting to have a conversation.
Will you return to Baltimore after school?
I love Baltimore. I rave about Baltimore often and I miss living there. However, being a cantor offers me the unique opportunity to become familiar with Jewish communities that I might not have otherwise seen. I’m very interested in getting to know communities in the Deep South and areas in the middle of our country that have smaller Jewish communities than Baltimore that may have a true need for Jewish representation. I would be overjoyed to sing and participate in Baltimore events, and I visit my family in Baltimore often. That being said, I’m excited to explore and support communities outside of the larger Northeastern and California Jewish areas — but always mentioning where my true roots are.