Cantor Baruch Blum decided it was time to retire after more than 41 years at Temple Beth Israel. At 80 years old, Blum watched many Port Washington residents grow up over the years, having performed baby naming ceremonies and bar and bat mitzvahs for generations of families in the community.
“It’s hard to put into words what Cantor Blum’s presence here has meant,” said Rabbi Michael Mishkin. “He is so humble and kind, just really cares deeply about people and he’s been here for so long. He’s made a large impact on the Temple Beth Israel community and the larger Port Washington community.”
Blum, who was born in Israel, developed his love of music at a young age after studying under Israel’s renowned music teacher Daniel Samboursky. After serving in the Israeli Army, Navy and Merchant Marines, his family emigrated to Vancouver, Canada.
“I used to go to the opera with my mom and I saw the dancing in the background and I liked it, so I started taking ballet classes,” Blum said. “Then I started to take tap, acrobatics and gymnastics and then I got a scholarship to the National Academy of Ballet in New York.”
Blum performed both on and off Broadway in plays and musicals from Hello, Dolly! to Fiddler On The Roof. It wasn’t until choir director Oscar Julius introduced Blum to Hazzanut, the leading Jewish service that uses and improvises traditional melody patterns, that Blum decided to become a cantor, later studying at the Manhattan School for Cantors. Blum arrived at Temple Beth Israel in Port Washington in 1977 and has led the community in prayer services and song ever since.
“I enjoy working with the kids,” said Blum. “I do the music for the nursery schools, I do the assemblies. Whatever they needed in music, I was there, helping with the mitzvah, teaching how to chant the Torah.”
“He teaches Jewish music like how to chant from the Torah scroll which is a challenging thing to do,” added Mishkin. “He also teaches the kids the prophetic portion, the haftarah. Although they have gained some of those skills in the religious school, Cantor Blum works with them intensively to get them to be prepared to do that. It’s a major milestone for them and their families and under Cantor Blum’s tutorage they have always shined beautifully.”
Over the years, Blum has prepared more than 600 students for their bat and bar mitzvahs, led High Holiday Services and provided the music for Temple Beth Israel’s religious and nursery schools. He has even performed the baby naming life cycle event for community members and later has performed their child’s bar or bat mitzvah.
“There are members who grew up in Temple Beth Israel and he did their baby naming and then he did their bar mitzvah and then he officiated at their wedding and now they have children and they’re members of the congregation and he’s done their kids’ baby naming and bar and bat mitzvahs,” explained Mishkin. “It’s a special thing to have that longevity and that kind of connection.”
“Usually a clergy cantor only spends a few years in a place and they think the grass is greener elsewhere,” said Blum. “I knew I had a good place with nice people. Wonderful people come and go. They welcomed me and helped me a lot through the years and you get to love them.”
Blum will become Cantor Emeritus on July 1. He will also be honored along with his wife Gerri on June 3 at the temple’s spring gala and at the June 29 and 30 services. The temple has worked over the course of a few months to identify and hire a new cantor, Sharon Grainer, to fill his place.
“There will be a big hole in terms of missing his presence,” said Mishkin. “[Grainer] seems like she will follow very nicely in Cantor Blum’s footsteps. She’s very kind, really connected with members in a caring way and has a wonderful voice, so we’re looking forward to her.”
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