Songleader Bootcamp: My Jewish Journey
I grew up in NFTY and was very active in my synagogue. Thanks to my parents, my Jewish identity was very strong throughout my youth and continued into my college experience. Although I realized very early in my college career that my future would not include becoming a cantor, music always stayed my passion. After college I moved to St. Louis and began going to a very vibrant synagogue. There, I was inspired to not only go to synagogue but to sing Jewish music again. Uplifted and inspired, I began connecting more to Jewish music and realized that I wanted it to be my future. After a transformative trip to Israel, I decided to quit my jobs and move there to learn Hebrew, more about Judaism, and to finally write my own music. While living in Israel, melodies flowed. I wrote my first album, Inside Out, and then went back one more year to study at a yeshiva. This intense learning solidified my passion to become a music prayer leader as I entered my next chapter in life: marriage.
Singer-songwriter Abbie Silber shares IU memories and thoughts on her new album, 'Inside Out'
Growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Abbie Silber was uplifted and inspired by the Jewish song leaders at the synagogue her family attended. That early musical interest led Silber to study guitar, piano, voice and saxophone. She enrolled at Indiana University for undergraduate school, earning a degree in secondary English education, with a minor in music from the Jacobs School of Music. At IU, Silber was a member of the Singing Hoosiers and the Varsity Singers (she later earned a master's degree in education from Southwest Baptist University).
After grad school, she became a teacher and music director in St. Louis. A 2008 trip to Israel with her parents and mentor, Rick Recht, led to Silber's recent participation in WUJS Arts in Jerusalem -- which in turn opened the doors to a recording career, further studies at PARDES Institute of Jewish Studies, being featured as an emerging artist on Jewish Rock Radio and a new career goal: becoming a cantor. Here, Silber shares her Iowa-IU-Israel journey with Live at IU.
WUJS ARTS PROGRAM BRINGS CEDAR RAPIDS MUSICIAN TO ISRAEL
One young woman describes how a trip to Israel changed her life
NEW YORK – At 27, Abbie Silber of Cedar Rapids was already a musician. She had visited Israel with her mentor, Rick Recht, in 2008, and she was a fourth-year teacher at a school in St. Louis as well as music director at a large synagogue. Her life was busy, but something was still missing. She needed more time in Israel to mature as a Jewish musician.
Then, she discovered WUJS Jerusalem Arts, a program of Young Judaea, the Zionist youth movement of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The program for Jewish artists, writers, musicians and performers, ages 21-35, allows participants to study Hebrew language and Israeli art, while focusing on their own personal medium. The five-month program supplements classroom time with weekly field trips, overnight hikes, opportunities to meet Israeli peers and artists, and volunteer activities. At the end of the program, artists and musicians present their work in an exhibition.
Having completed an undergraduate degree in secondary English education and a minor in music from Indiana University, and a master’s degree in education, as well as having already significantly developed herself as a musician, Silber says she “just needed a program that would give me time to live in Israel and give me the support and push when needed. WUJS was perfect.”
While in Israel, Silber recorded and wrote the majority of her album, and then chose to remain in Jerusalem upon completion of the program. She took an Ulpan course last spring and is now studying at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, while performing across Israel.
“I enjoyed the learning so much that I realized more time was needed,” Silber says. “Because I had a great program like WUJS, I was able to find a home here in Jerusalem.”
Silber, now 28, feels so inspired by her time spent in Israel that when she returns to the United States, she intends to pursue her music career professionally. Her goal is to find a permanent role as a cantorial soloist or music teacher in a congregation or Jewish school. “I look forward to sharing my spark and passion for Israel and Judaism that would not have been fostered without my experience on the WUJS Arts track,” she says.
With 40 years of programming and 8,000 graduates, WUJS Israel continues to lead the way in post-college programs. Silber is just one young person whose life will be impacted forever by studying in Israel.
Founded in 1912, Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, is the largest women’s, largest Zionist, and largest Jewish membership organization in the United States. In Israel, it supports medical care and research, education and youth programs, and reforestation and parks projects. In the United States, Hadassah promotes health education, social action and advocacy, volunteerism, Jewish education and research, Young Judaea and connections with Israel. For more information on the organization, its projects and how to become a member or donate, please visit www.hadassah.org. For more information on WUJS Israel Hadassah, please visit www.wujsisrael.org.
Cedar Rapids native Abbie Silber has spent the past year and a half studying in Israel, something she says has helped her learn more about herself both as a musician and a Jewish woman. (Submitted photo)
CEDAR RAPIDS – Abbie Silber made a “crazy” decision last year that she says now has changed her life.
A 2000 graduate of Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Silber, now 29, received her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University and her master’s degree in education from Southwest Baptist University, she taught English for five years and was the music director of United Hebrew Congregation in St. Louis.
A visit to Israel in 2008 with her parents and musical mentor Rich Recht made her realize she wanted and needed to spend more time there, studying and focusing on her music.
“Leaving seemed crazy, but I couldn’t resist my pull toward Israel,” she said. “I knew if I didn’t act immediately I might never have the opportunity again.”
After almost 18 months in Israel, Silber said she’s still not quite ready to leave.
While studying in Israel, Cedar Rapids native Abbie Silber wrote most of the songs and produced her own CD, "Inside Out."
“Personally, the past year and a half studying in Israel has helped me learn more about myself as a musician and a Jewish woman,” she said. “Living in the heart of Jerusalem and learning and speaking the language of my ancestors in an incredible opportunity for any person, let alone someone who left a career in search of more in a time when quitting your job was insane.”
When she returned from that 2008 visit, Silber started searching for a program that would allow her to focus on her music while at the same time let her learn about the Hebrew language and culture. There seemed to be very few options, she said, because of her age and her focus.
Then she discovered the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) Arts program in Jerusalem. The five-month program for Jewish artists, writers, musicians and performers between the ages of 21 and 35 provides an opportunity for participants to study the Hebrew language and Israeli art as well as focus on their own works and meet Israeli and other Jewish peers.
Silber joined the program in August 2009 and completed it in February of this year. Though the program had ended, she said, her time in Jerusalem wasn’t over. She is now a student at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and is involved in intense studies of the Torah and other Jewish texts.
“There is nothing like learning and writing music in Israel,” Silber said. “WUJS opened many doors for me, but also left me realizing how much more I needed to learn.”
Participating in the Pardes program is an extension of what she started, she said.
“The intensity has enabled me to learn more about Judaism as a whole and as a means to become a leader and teacher in a synagogue as well as continue writing intentional melodies to important prayers,” she said.