The Jazz Singer is a classic film about a young chazan who abandons the synagogue for the music hall. Rabbi Daniel Glass has gone in precisely the opposite direction.
The new rabbi of Shomrei Hadass Federation Synagogue in Hampstead was a jazz pianist who used to play at Ronnie Scott’s.
As his interest deepened in Judaism, he decided to swap the keyboard for the Talmud, going to yeshivah in Israel and eventually entering the rabbinate. “I had to choose a job where I could perform on Friday nights,” he quipped.
“There’s a lot in common with being a jazz musician and studying in yeshivah. You do it because you love it and you put in immense energy and effort. With jazz, you master technique through years of daily practice that enables you to express yourself — that’s very much the type of thing in Judaism.”
Rabbi Glass, 41, who arrived at Shomrei a few weeks ago with his artist wife Melissa and their five young sons, will be inducted on Sunday at a service addressed by Federation Beth Din head Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein.
Both he and Melissa are graduates of Cambridge University, he in English literature and she in social and political science. Before Shomrei, the couple cut their teeth in young adult outreach, running the Belsize Park branch of the Jewish Learning Exchange from 2004.
Shomrei, whose congregants include Jewish Leadership Council chairman Mick Davis, has lacked a rabbinical presence for much of the past four years.
Its new spiritual leader sees plenty of opportunity for growth. “It’s a very warm shul,” he said. “People who recently started coming said they were bowled over by this. People either don’t know about the shul or they have the perception of it rooted in what it was 20 years ago. I want to build on its warmth and diversity.” He plans to increase its social, cultural and educational programming, and events for this month include a talk on the Middle East from a leading journalist and a dinner for young professionals.
“People want a lot of different things from a shul. They don’t want just a Shabbat service. They want a place where they can expand their social and Jewish life. People need to feel that Shomrei is a place where that can happen.”