Seekers of Meaning 6/2/2023: Rabbi Barbara Symons, Cantor Rhoda Harrison, new book on Haftarah, “Prophetic Voices”

On this week’s episode of the Seekers of Meaning TV Show and Podcast, Rabbi Address chats with Cantor Rhoda Harrison, Ph.D. (center photo) and Rabbi Barbara Symons about the new CCAR Press book, Prophetic Voices: Renewing and Reimagining Haftarah. Rabbi Symons is editor of the book and Cantor Harrison is a contributor to the collection of essays.

The traditional haftarah cycle, read on Shabbat and holidays during the Torah service, contains a wealth of prophetic wisdom, yet today it is too often forgotten or ignored. Prophetic Voices gives new life to these ancient texts. A diverse group of contributors–including rabbis, cantors, scholars, educators, activists, and poets–provide short commentaries on each haftarah, demonstrating their profound relevance to the present. Moreover, the volume boldly invites us to rethink the haftarah canon. Going beyond the Prophets, it presents alternative readings from Jewish texts biblical to contemporary.

New haftarot for each Shabbat and holiday are included, plus haftarot for the Jewish American calendar, from Yom HaShoah to Pride Month to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The readings are enhanced by scholarly essays placing the Prophets in historical context and examining the role of prophecy in Reform Judaism. Prophetic Voices summons us to listen, study, think, and teach–as well as to sing, pray, and march.

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About the Guests

Rabbi Barbara Symons

Rabbi Barbara AB Symons graduated from the University of Michigan and was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1994. Since 2006, she has been serving Temple David in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. She is deeply involved in the interfaith community primarily through her work with the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium—of which she is past president—and through the Catholic Jewish Education Enrichment program. Engaged with the local community, Rabbi Symons has served as president of the hospital’s clergy board and rabbinic groups, and she is active with the town council, school board, and library. Barbara met her husband Rabbi Ron Symons during their first week in Jerusalem at Hebrew Union College; she is daily and deeply proud of, and inspired by, him and their three children, all of whom are not only committed Jews but learned, creative Jewish professionals. Rabbi Symons is the editor of CCAR Press’s Prophetic Voices: Renewing and Reimagining Haftarah (2023). She is thrilled to have even a small part in raising up prophetic voices through the many diverse voices included in this book.

Cantor Rhoda Harrison, Ph.D.

Cantor Rhoda Harrison served the Reform community in Baltimore, Maryland, for the first 25 years of her career serving as Cantor of the historic Har Sinai Congregation and later as Rabbi/Cantor of Temple Emanuel of Baltimore. A native of Philadelphia, she returned to the area in 2018 to serve as Cantor of Congregation M’kor Shalom of Cherry Hill and completes her tenure as senior cantor at South Jersey’s newest Reform congregation, Kol Ami, at the end of June, when she will join Congregation Beth Israel in Northfield, NJ, while pursuing advanced chaplaincy and pastoral care studies.

Cantor Harrison was ordained as Cantor in 1993 by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion after studying at both the Jerusalem and New York campuses and received Rabbinic Ordination in 2008 while pursuing her PhD in Jewish Studies from the former Baltimore Hebrew University. Her academic areas of interest are liturgy, the history of the siddur, biblical Hebrew, and cantillation. Her dissertation traced the evolution of a Yom Kippur rubric of prayer from its origins in the Mishnah to the modern period. In 2018, Cantor Harrison received an honorary Doctorate in Music from the Hebrew Union College marking her 25-year milestone in the cantorate.

A classically trained lyric-coloratura soprano, Cantor Harrison enjoys performing operatic, art song, theatre, and oratorio literature in addition to cantorial repertoire. Whether in the synagogue or on the concert stage, she couples her rich and emotive lyrical expression with her expansive range to express text and uplift audiences. She also enjoys teaching about the coupling of text and music immensely. In Baltimore, prior to the COVID pandemic, she and her synagogue accompanist performed a range of music regularly at Germano’s Piattini in Little Italy.

In addition to her congregation work, Cantor Harrison has served as a chaplain at Jefferson University and Lenox Hill Hospitals. In her spare time, Cantor Harrison enjoys almost any fitness activity but especially biking, swimming, and running; she enjoys baking and experimenting with gluten free and vegan recipes, and most of all, she loves spending time with her family.

Cantor Harrison plays the guitar, piano and flute. Her spare time hobbies include being a triathlete, runner and crossfitter. Cantor Harrison is also proudly raising and caring for her two amazing daughters, ages 17 and 19.

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