By Elana Congress ’12
The Whitman Pioneer
Story originally published in The Pioneer

Junior Jacqueline Kamm and sophomore Davey Friedman led the Rosh Hashanah services at Congregation Beth Israel in Walla Walla on Monday, Sep. 29 and Tuesday, Sep. 30. German Professor Amy Blau also contributed.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is one of the most sacred holidays in Jewish tradition. It allows the Jewish people an opportunity to start anew by repenting for sins of the previous year. It was an honor for Kamm and Friedman to lead the congregation into the Jewish year 5769, and it was a treat for congregation members to have such talented leaders.

Congregation Beth Israel is a small Jewish synagogue in Walla Walla. Although it’s officially considered a Reform synagogue, its congregation members run the gamut from Reconstructionist to Orthodox.

The Jewish community in Walla Walla first sprouted during World War II, when the Walla Walla Airport was used to train Air Force pilots. A large proportion of the Air Force pilots were Jewish, so a place of worship was needed. Rabbi Franklin Cohn, a refugee from Berlin, led Congregation Beth Israel after its founding in 1940. There hasn’t been a permanent rabbi or cantor in Walla Walla since Cohn left in 1942. Today, a rabbi from Seattle (Rabbi Stanley Yedwab, affectionately referred to as “Rabbi Stan”) travels to Walla Walla about four times a year to lead the congregation in Shabbat services.

Rabbi Stan isn’t always able to join the congregation for the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), so the congregation must find members of the community to lead services. Noah Leavitt, president of the congregation’s board of directors, explained that for the better part of its existence, the congregation has been predominantly “lay-led.” This means that the synagogue relies on community members within the congregation to lead services for Shabbat and other holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah.

Whitman students are one such source of able community members. The congregation benefits from the vitality, energy and fresh perspectives that students like Kamm and Friedman bring to the community.

“We’re blessed with a constant stream of really talented Whitman students who know a lot about Judaism and are happy to share their knowledge,” said Leavitt.

Kamm has always been involved with her local temple. She attends Temple de Hirsch Sinai in Seattle, the biggest Reform congregation in the Northwest. After her bat mitzvah, she started singing at Shabbat services monthly. She performed solo pieces for Rosh Hashanah and other holidays throughout her high school years. When she returns home during vacations and holidays, she often helps out at services. In fact, she will be singing at the Yom Kippur services at her local temple this week.

This year, Kamm serves as the liaison between Hillel-Shalom (the Jewish Student Union on campus) and the congregation of Congregation Beth Israel. She frequently attends Hillel-Shalom events, such as “Fridays at Five” (a weekly Shabbat celebration), along with Beth Israel programs and services.

Friedman, a sophomore at Whitman, is a member of the Conservative temple Congregation Beth Shalom in Seattle.

“It’s a very active Jewish community, quite different from the Jewish community here in Walla Walla. Here, the community is kind of thrown together and random,” he said. “To tell you the truth, though, I was never super involved in my community at home.”

His main contribution to the Jewish community is through tutoring pre-teens for their bar and bat mitzvahs. He started tutoring at the age of 14, right after becoming a bat mitzvah himself.

Upon arriving at Whitman last fall, Friedman spoke with Leavitt and offered to make himself available as a bar or bat mitzvah tutor to anyone in the community. Conveniently enough, the congregation was preparing for its first bat mitzvahs in over 25 years. One of Friedman’s students was bat-mitzvahed last summer, and his other student will be bat-mitzvahed this October. Friedman’s frequent outburst of, “I love tutoring! It’s so much fun!” make clear his passion for teaching.

Both Kamm and Friedman emphasized their gratefulness to the people in their local communities who took the time to teach them about Judaism.

“I learned everything that I know [about Judaism] from the people back at home,” said Kamm. Kamm mentioned Valerie Shields, the music director of Temple de Hirsch Sinai, for enabling her to lead services. “I really owe so much to her,” Kamm said.

Friedman spoke of his relationship with Joyce Shane, the principal of the Jewish elementary school that he attended.

“She really wanted me to learn as much as I could for my Bar Mitzvah,” he noted. Shane encouraged him to start tutoring and gave him the resources necessary to teach others what she had taught him.

When Friedman returned to Seattle this summer, eager to learn the prayers for the Rosh Hashanah service, Shane again took him under her wing and taught him a large portion of the material.

“I really got to reconnect with my Jewish education this summer,” Friedman said. “It was a great experience.”

When Friedman and Kamm reconvened this fall, they worked together to create a service with both integrity and accessibility.

“It was important to both of us to lead a service with good content and a balance of Hebrew and English,” explained Friedman.

The melodies they sang in the service were drawn from a wide variety of sources—tunes that they learned growing up, special High Holiday tunes (known as “Nusach”) and common tunes with which congregation members would be familiar.

Besides exhibiting a great knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish traditions, Kamm and Friedman are both talented singers. Kamm, a music major at Whitman, sings in the Whitman Chorale and is a member of The Whitman Chamber Singers and Sirens of Swank. Friedman, who intends to declare the vocal performance major later this year, sings with the Jazz Combo, Testostertones and his funk band. He was a member of the Whitman Chorale and The Whitman Chamber Singers last year but didn’t audition this semester.

Kamm and Friedman’s hard work preparing for the service seems to have paid off.

“Jacqueline and Davey ran a very professional series of services,” noted Leavitt. He emphasized their organization, dedication and sheer talent in leading a community-oriented and meaningful service. “It was just amazing to see!” he exclaimed.