Wednesday, June 14th, 2017...12:16 pm

Remembering Cantor Sarah Lipsett-Allison

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“She wanted to engage the community through music.”

by MAX SPARBER

“Sarah Lipsett-Allison was our cantor for 20 years,” Rabbi David Locketz, senior rabbi at Bet Shalom, tells the American Jewish World in interview before correcting himself. “Well, she wasn’t exactly our cantor the entire time, because she went through cantorial certification, but that’s not important to the story.”

He settles on a description that feels apt: “She was the voice on our bima for 20 years.”

Sarah Lipsett-Allison (Photo: Sam Stern)

Cantor Sarah Lipsett-Allison, who died of cancer May 30 at age 60, was a classical trained singer, having studied at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College in New York. She moved to Minneapolis in the 1980s with her husband, who found work as a librarian at the University of Minnesota. Lipsett-Allison, in the meanwhile, performed with a variety of local organizations, including Minnesota Opera and the Minnesota Chorale, as well as working as a vocal instructor.

She made her shift to working in synagogues through Rabbi Stacy Offner, who had cofounded the Shir Tikvah Congregation and whose daughter was one of Lipsett-Allison’s students. Offner invited Lipsett-Allison to volunteer to do cantorial duties, and she proved skilled enough that in 1997 Bet Shalom hired her as a cantorial soloist. At this time, Lipsett-Allison returned to school to become ordained as a cantor.

Rabbi Locketz describes the variety of jobs Lipsett-Allison performed at the synagogue, including teaching adult Hebrew, assisting with adults who were looking to become Bar or Bat Mitzvas, directing the synagogue’s many choirs, and even pushing for a community vegetable garden. “We deliver hundreds of pounds to ICA, our local food shelf,” Rabbi Locketz says. “That wouldn’t have happened without her.”

“She cared deeply about the decisions regarding liturgy,” Locketz continues. “It was extremely important to her that people be taught to pronounce the right way, that our trope was very exact for chanting Torah.

“Her biggest legacy was that she cared far more deeply than specifically about the music. She felt that music was a tool. She cared about deepening Jewish identity and participating in the community. She wanted to engage the community through music.”

Locketz describes the Bet Shalom board deciding to give Lipsett-Allison the title Cantor Emerita after her illness forced her to step down in January. “They wanted to give her the honor while she could still appreciate it,” he says.

“She was very beloved,” he adds. “There is a big hole in our community right now. She’s very missed.”

(American Jewish World, 6.14.17)

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