Meet another member of South Florida's many-sided faith community. This week we're talking with Jerry Berkowitz, cantor at Congregation Etz Chaim in
Q: How do you work out your official positions at one synagogue while serving as cantor at another?
A: Fortunately, I can do my duties at Etz Chaim without interfering with those at Temple Beth Torah. It's mainly Friday night services and the
Q: As a straight man, why did you want to be a cantor at a synagogue that ministers mainly to gays and lesbians?
A: Number one, I believe in the power of music to bring communities together. It's an opportunity to be more inclusive. And my background is more diverse. I grew up in a "conservadox" household. And I can bring that to the gay Jewish community. They're Jewish, like anyone else.
Q: Must be taxing on your time, though.
A: It was in the first few months. Now it's down to a few changes on a weekly basis. I actually wrote one of the songs for the Friday service. It was so successful, I want to bring it to Beth Torah.
Q: Have you had any training for being cantor?
A: I learned a lot from Cantor Avram Davis of New York, who died recently. In high school, I learned all seven major strains of cantillation, the notes attached to the individual words of the Torah.
Q: Do you have an overall philosophy of ministry?
A: Listening very carefully and hearing what the person is saying, versus what they're telling me they're doing. Usually, body language gives as much a message as what they're saying. It has a subtext that is obvious to anyone who pays attention.
Q: What's the favorite part of your work?
A: Actually singing with the congregation, and getting them to sing along. I had my first High Holy Days as a paid cantor this past year. I'd never experienced the kind of focus I had when I saw people moved by what I did.
Q: What's the hardest part?
A: Trying to keep up with the new songs. Everyone writes their own stuff. That's the fun about our community. It's a confluence of Jews from various backgrounds coming together.
Q: How do you like to relax?
A: Hanging out with friends and playing guitar. I'm also a good writer and artist. I do sketch work. and I'm writing a book.
Q: What's the book about?
A: Re-establishing your relationship with food. I recently lost about 77 pounds in 5 and half months. It was so easy, I said I got to let other people know how.
Q: Favorite pastime?
A: Boating. My brother and friends have boats. We all go out on weekends.
Q: What's your favorite vacation spot?
A: My house in Connecticut. It's 150 feet from
Q: Do you have any favorite TV shows?
A: I'm an "NCIS" fan, for the assembly of characters and the community they have. I also like
Q: How about favorite film(s)?
Q: Favorite music? Favorite performer(s)?
Q: Do you have a treasured possession?
A: My guitars. I have five. I've had some of them 30 years. They're therapeutic and entertaining, and they have their own unique tone and voice.
Q: If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
A: Probably why my dad had to die so early [at 51]. But also, why six million people had to die in the camps in
Q: Something most people don't know about you?
A: When I was in college, I was in 25 shows. I did as much on stage as in classroom, much to my parents' chagrin.
Q: When you feel down, how do you revive spiritually?
A: Real simple: I pick up a guitar. If I've had a bad day or a great day, and I need to refocus from something that's caused a lot of stress, I'll go there. it usually doesn't take more than 30 seconds. But then I'll often stay two or three hours.
Q: Have you ever doubted your faith?
A: Yeah, when my father died. There was a lot of anger and upset that he was dead at 51.
Q: How was that doubt resolved?
A: The whole seven-day structure of Shiva [initial grieving period] was comforting. It gave me reassurance that things would continue.
Q: Motto, or favorite scripture verse?
A: From Hillel: "If I am not for me, then who will be? If I am not for myself, then what am I?"
Title: Cantor at Congregation Etz Chaim, Wilton Manors.
Other job experience: Branding and marketing executive.
Other community posts: Board member, Temple Beth Torah,
Education: Degree in sociology with a minor in advertising, University of Pennsylvania.
Personal: 55. Born in