Cantor Lisa B. Segal

Cantor Lisa B. Segal left a successful and rewarding career in Arts management to become a cantor, something she never imagined for herself until about ten years ago. Now, as she arrives at ordination and moves to expand her role at her beloved Congregation Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, she wonders, ‘How did I get here from there?’

Lisa grew up in a wildly musical family and a warm Jewish world in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At family gatherings, everyone sang and played: Lisa, her brothers, and their mom, with her father or uncle at the piano, and always their beloved zadie, singing with stunning beauty and strength in Yiddish, Russian and fractured English, picking his differently-tuned guitar. She went to Jewish camps and sang in the Temple Israel youth choir at a time when another Minnesota girl, Debbie Friedman, z”l, was infusing a new spirit into Jewish practice. At university, Lisa sang in Madison coffee shops and made pocket change singing jazz standards in the Paris Metro.

After college, though, Lisa went underground with her music, and even with Judaism. But those connections were rekindled 20 years ago when she met her beshert, midrash writer and maggid Arthur Strimling. Soon after, they encountered their rebbe, Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, who invited them to help found the Brooklyn community that would become Kolot Chayeinu. Among Rabbi Lippmann’s many gifts is her ability to draw out congregants’ ‘closeted’ talents, and that’s exactly what happened after Ellen heard Lisa serenade Arthur at their wedding. Within days, she asked Lisa to share her voice at shul.

Immediately the bimah felt like home. The fire was always there, smoldering, but thanks to Rabbi Lippmann, it began to burn in earnest. And within a few years, Lisa was the Hazzan/Music Director at Kolot and studying at AJR.

Throughout her studies at AJR, Lisa brought her learning back to Kolot, experimenting and introducing new and traditional music and liturgy to a receptive, growing congregation. She is proud to have represented Kolot at public events, including a highly publicized same-sex Jewish wedding on the steps of New York’s City Hall in 2003, and grateful to have had the opportunity to create a series of concerts called “Off the Bimah!” in support of Kolot. Both on and off the bimah, she feels blessed to be in musical partnerships with brilliant Jewish musician friends, who astound and elevate her with their gifts, and sends love and special thanks to Marty Ehrlich, Judy Ribnick, Zoe B. Zak, Eve Sicular, Raul Rothblatt, Roy Nathanson, Marc Ribot, Alicia Jo Rabins, and Cantor Natasha Hirshhorn.

Last year an elderly woman told Lisa, “When I first came to Kolot, you were a lovely singer. Now, you are a Cantor!” Lisa credits that transformation to all the wise, inspiring and loving AJR teachers who shepherded her along the path, with a special grace note to Cantor Lisa Klinger-Kantor; to her gifted fellow students; and to Cantor Joan Finn and Rabbi Enid Lader for the lifeline of friendship and laughter. Immeasurable gratitude to Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, and the creative, open, wrestling Kolot Chayeinu community, which nourishes and sustains her.