[by Phyllis Shaikun]
On Sunday, November 20, Congregation Adath Jeshurun will hold a tribute dinner in honor of Rabbi Robert Slosberg, who has been the congregation’s spiritual leader for 30 years, and Cantor David Lipp, who has served as cantor for 18 years. They are being recognized for their many contributions to the synagogue and to the community.
Rabbi Robert Slosberg
Rabbi Robert Slosberg grew up in Cleveland and decided to become a rabbi when he was in the fifth grade. He had been ill at camp that summer and remembers telling God that if he were healed, he would devote his life to serving the Jewish people. His life’s path since then has been an extension of that commitment.
He earned a double degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in Talmud and Rabbinic Study and earned a degree in history, cum laude, from Columbia University. A few years ago, he also received an honorary Ph.D. from the seminary. Over the years, he has become a driving force in the Conservative Movement’s outreach to interfaith couples and served as the national co-chairman of Conservative Judaism’s Outreach Commission, which produced a webinar and a documentary on best practices for synagogues. The rabbi feels it has been rewarding to help change the way many people view intermarriage.
A member of the Leadership Cabinet of Conservative Judaism’s sub-committee on Outreach to Interfaith couples, he also is a board member of the National Council of Synagogues, served on the AIPAC National Executive Committee and helped found the local chapter, chaired the Board of Overseers of the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies and was one of 30 rabbis to serve on the JTS’ Rabbinic Cabinet.
He has been accorded many honors, including being selected as the first recipient of the JTS’ Rabbi Simon Greenberg Rabbinic Achievement Award. He has been invited to the White House breakfast for religious leaders and was asked to offer an invocation to members of the U.S. Senate. He also was awarded a life contract by Adath Jehsurun in 2005.
During his tenure at the congregation, he has taken more than 500 people on tours of Israel, instituted Young Leadership and Lunch and Learn educational sessions, expanded the congregation’s adult education programs, created Tot Shabbat services and involved the congregation in various social action and New American programs.
The rabbi met his wife, Deborah, when they were in undergraduate school and she was a transfer student. A professor asked him to help make her comfortable, and he jokes that she prepared a cup of coffee for him when they first met. He promptly spilled it on the paper she had just written. “It was,” he recalls, “not an auspicious beginning.” They were married while he was attending rabbinical school.
In 1981, when Steve Evans was president of Adath Jeshurun, he was charged with finding an assistant rabbi for the congregation. When he called the JTS, he was told only one student could fill the bill.
Slosberg was invited to Louisville to meet the head rabbi at the time, Simcha Kling, z”l, to see the community and meet the congregation. It turned out to be the only job interview he would ever have. Except for the fact that Louisville lacked any pro sports teams, Slosberg says it had everything else going for it – a great senior rabbi who loved the arts as much as he does, a lovely community, great people and a convenient location near Cleveland and New York City.
So began a mutual admiration society between the two rabbis that lasted until Kling’s death. Rabbi Slosberg says, “Simcha’s warmth was infectious; he was a world-class teacher and mensch. Our skill sets were different and complemented one another. I was treated as a partner from Day One.”
Now, all these years later, Rabbi Slosberg is humbled by the thought of the tribute dinner being held in his and the cantor’s honor and is gratified to see the close bonds that have been developed between members of the congregation during the planning process. While he is most comfortable behind the scenes, he agreed to the dinner because of its potential to generate much needed funding for the synagogue.
“I feel like a pretty blessed guy,” he says. “Since 1918, Adath Jeshururn has had only three senior rabbis and I am the fourth. Our children, Aliza, Jacob and Jeremy, grew up here and they love Louisville as much as Deborah and I do. It is a great community that has the sophistication of the midwest and the charm of the south – a perfect place I have never thought to leave.”
Cantor David Lipp
Cantor David Lipp was born in Madison, WI, and moved to Jerusalem with his family for one year when he was seven. They returned to Israel when he was 10 and his step-father had been appointed to head the biology department at the University of Haifa. “I attended three high schools,” he says, “in Jerusalem, Madison and then in Minneapolis, where I lived with my biological father and pursued a degree in music,” which he received from the University of Minnesota in vocal performance, summa cum laude.
Always interested in performing, he had taken theater and acting classes in high school and performed with an improv group that put together a show about teenage pregnancy. He spent five years after college doing improv and working 20 hours a week at a station for the blind. “I was a broadcaster,” he says, “and tried to be an actor. I finally got a role in Biloxi Blues that forced me to be an equity actor and move to Chicago. However, I began to realize it was just not what I wanted to do.”
Although his family was always proudly Jewish, he decided at that time he wanted to become more observant. Several people suggested he might want to consider becoming a cantor. Still not terribly sure that was to be his chosen path, he went to New York and interviewed at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). It was then he realized that becoming a cantor would be more of what he is. He was ordained by the JTS in 1994 and has been the cantor at Adath Jeshurun ever since.
He reflects that being a cantor has allowed him to be an impresario and to connect with people using a more eclectic musical vision that keeps them interested and involved. “I can go from traditional cantorial music to other types of Jewish music and reach people where they are.”
He explains that in the golden age of cantorial music, the cantor was entertainment for the congregation – as they didn’t have the money or social cache to hear artistic music elsewhere; it is a style that has limited application in our day.
“The music that seems to connect with people now,” he says, “is eclectic: country, rock and even Ugandan expression. Jewish music must react with its surroundings and provide more ways for people to find Jewish values and aesthetics.” The cantor has established a reputation as an inspiring leader of worship and a transmitter of the Jewish musical tradition – from ancient to contemporary.
He is a very busy man who leads worship services, prepares young people for their bar and bat mitzvahs and teaches synagogue skills to both children and adults. He officiates at all life-cycle events and directs the synagogue’s youth and adult choirs.
He also teaches at the Melton Adult Mini-school and in other adult education settings. For the past 18 years, he has directed, produced and taken a starring role in Adath Jeshurun’s Annual Music Festival, and also was the featured soloist for one of Louisville’s finest volunteer choruses, Voces Novae, on their first CD, Soul of the Synagogue. He currently serves on the Executive Council of the National Cantors Assembly.
A few weeks ago, Cantor Lipp had the chance to sing country music during a benefit program for Meaghan’s Mountain that preceded the Selichot service. He is pleased that being a cantor allows him to sing a range of musical styles. He also is grateful to have met his wife, Rabbi Laura Metzger, during his first year in cantorial school and her first year at Hebrew Union College.
While they were in Israel, her fellow seminarians invited him to a Thanksgiving party, which was followed by a movie shown in the preschool. “We sat on very little chairs,” he says, “and were perhaps the only ones who were not uncomfortable!” They didn’t date for several years after, but met again at the JTS library in New York City. He was sure she was “the one,” but she did not agree immediately. She got him involved in a bible class, and he asked her out.
“We are a good fit,” he proclaims. They speak proudly of their teenage daughter, Natania, who is involved in BBYO, loves her friends and attends Camp Ramah each year. “She really is her own person,” he says.
The Tribute Dinner for Rabbi Robert Slosberg and Cantor David Lipp has been moved from Adath Jeshurun to the Marriott Hotel in order to accommodate the number of people who would like to attend. The dinner will begin at 6:15 p.m. Cost is $120 per person and the reservation deadline is Tuesday, November 1. Call 458-5359 for further information.