By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Northborough resident Wendy Siegel has a passion for making connections with people. In addition, she has been blessed with the gift of a beautiful voice and is excited to begin her part-time position at Temple Emanuel in Marlborough as their new cantor and spiritual leader.
Siegel was previously the cantor at Temple Sinai in Cranston, R.I., for two years before deciding to make a move. Even though she only started this new position July 1, Wendy has already reached out to several congregants going through challenging times.
The congregation is small but Siegel is optimistic that she will witness it grow and is eager to be a part of that. Everyone at Temple Emanuel has been so warm and welcoming to her so she already feels very much at home. She also hopes to be part of the interfaith organization through the city of Marlborough.
She was a professional secretary and raised her son. When he went off to college, she went to Cantorial school. She began her Master of Jewish Studies from Hebrew College and received the Israel Pollack Memorial Prize for Excellence in Judaic Studies.
“When my son was a junior, I did a year abroad studying at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem from August 2008 through June 2009,” Siegel said. “This is a modern, orthodox yeshiva and was quite an adjustment for me as I identify as a reform Jew. Men and women were in separate areas for prayer and services. I celebrated my 50th birthday in Israel and when I sent out the invitations, I had to specify that there will be mixed dancing. One of my rabbi teachers came to the party and danced to ‘YMCA,’ as there was no contact with any other person. It was a lot of fun.”
Her take-away from that whole experience was that there’s always more to learn. In addition, being an adult learner is also hard but she realized that this was something that she truly wanted and she has been quite successful.
“One of the things I like most about being a cantor is making connections with people and I don’t just mean, ‘Hi, how are you.’ I mean really hearing their stories. I want people to know that I am here and I’d like to help in any way that I can and I genuinely care. I am also a great listener,” said Siegel.
A friend and colleague, Michael Rothbaum, the newly appointed rabbi in Acton, encouraged Siegel to pursue becoming a cantor when she volunteered to sing at a small synagogue in Winsted, Conn., where he was the student rabbi. That’s where her journey began in 2001 and she has never looked back.
“I remembered that 9/11 happened and I had to prepare to sing for High Holiday services and I was feeling guilty,” she said. “The service ended up being quite healing for the congregants. I stood on the bema in Winsted and I thought to myself, ‘how proud my grandmothers would be of me as they were both forward-thinking professionals.”
Siegel is already working on the Torah reading preparation for the fall holidays and is going over melodies and outlines from the previous cantor’s notes.
“I love that Judaism is an ever-changing and ever-growing religion. It is constantly being re-interpreted,” she said. “We go through the same five books of Torah each year and in the same Torah portion we can change our views as the world and the society changes. We give meaning to make them relevant.”