It’s been a couple of weeks, but Beth El Congregation’s Cantor Thom King is still walking on air from the experience.
A Pikesville resident, Cantor King was part of an effort to help create a memorable Selichot program for a nationwide audience through an original and thought-provoking service. (Selichot is observed on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah in preparation for the High Holiday season.)
On Sept. 12, Cantor King, the Beth El Virtual Men’s Choir and cellist Evan Drachman performed on “Selichot Night Live,” an online national Selichot service featuring more than 60 rabbis and cantors from around the country.
Going into the High Holiday season this year and hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines, rabbis and cantors — under the guidance of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism — put together a virtual iteration of the standard Selichot service. Cantor King was among the participating chazzanim, bringing his original Selichot service to an international audience.
Cantor King, 64, says when he first came to Pikesville’s Beth El in 1998, he took a “service that, in my mind, [was] a little slow and draggy and … composed a whole Selichot service and put together a whole bunch of texts — some [are] from the Selichot service, some are English meditational readings, some are inspirational readings — and set them all to music.”
With a men’s choir to sing the arrangement and a cellist to back it up, Cantor King says he had developed a whole new service.
The Sept. 12 event was successful by all accounts, hosting more than 6,000 “attendees” from coast to coast. Cantor King says he could not have been more proud of his choir for their hard work, of the technology that allowed the event to take place, and of his service that reached thousands of people across the nation during a challenging time.
The Selichot program was sponsored by the Conservative Movement High Holiday Task Force, a partnership between the Cantors Assembly, Jewish Educators Assembly, North American Association of Synagogue Executives, Rabbinical Assembly, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Gillian Blum is the Jmore editorial staff intern.