Cantor Randy Herman Joins Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley

Cantor Randy Herman (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley hired just its third cantor in the last 78 years: Randy Herman, 49, is moving into the community to replace Eliot Vogel, who retired last fall after serving the synagogue for 31 years. And it was Vogel who replaced Cantor Isaac Wall after the latter’s 46-year tenure from 1945 to 1991.

Herman has served a Jewish community for an extended period before. From 2007 to 2020, he helped lead Bet Torah in Westchester County, New York. But he has yet to find his forever home. After Bet Torah, he helped guide the Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Pikesville, Maryland. Yet he only stayed for three years.

Now, though, he thinks he may have found it.

But not just in the halls and on the property of Har Zion. Herman, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, believes he found his home on the Main Line, too.

With his wife Nicole and their two young children, the cantor moved into a Tudor home built in the 1880s in a quiet Wynnewood neighborhood. The house sits near the end of a cul-de-sac surrounded by other old homes and trees. It’s a 10-minute drive from Har Zion.

“They look like historic towns and neighborhoods,” Cantor Herman said of the Main Line. “And the trees and the quaint little downtowns and the food. It has all the sophistication of northern Westchester, but it’s more down to earth.”

The 49-year-old already had his eyes open for a new position when he heard that Vogel was retiring. Har Zion intrigued him because he attended the Jewish Theological Seminary at the same as its rabbi, Seth Haaz.

While one student was a cantor and the other a rabbi, they spent time together and got to know each other. Haaz loved Jewish music, and he attended the weekly cantorial minyan. He was the only rabbinical student who would show.

“He said the reason he did that was because he loved hearing the cantors sing. I couldn’t get enough of it. I loved it so much,” Herman recalled.

The two followed each other’s careers over the years and occasionally talked and/or saw one another. In 2005, the cantor was doing a summer pulpit in the Hamptons, and Haaz came to spend a Sabbath with him.

“And then we sort of lost touch,” Herman said.

But when the cantor called the rabbi earlier this year, they connected again.

“He was my dream rabbi to work with,” Herman said.

“I was excited,” Haaz added. “A few years back, when he had taken a job where he was before, I remember thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to work with Cantor Herman one day.’”

Cantor Randy Herman (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

This summer, the fun has started. Back on his audition weekend, Herman was leading Shabbat services on the bimah with Haaz. The congregants in the pews started singing along.

“Blowing the roof off,” Herman said. “It was the same thing on Shabbat morning.”

And it’s been the same thing in July and August, too.

“The Shabbat regular crowd here is second to none,” the cantor said.

That’s the kind of environment that the rabbi and cantor are trying to create.

“We both have a deep desire to create a community that is participatory,” Haaz said. “We want them singing. And we want them inspired.”

As the cantor put it, Har Zion is stable. Its membership has grown over the past three years. Religious school numbers are higher than they were before the pandemic. There are 40 or more bar and bat mitzvahs each year.

Now, Herman’s family will become part of this community. His son and daughter went to the synagogue’s camp this summer. They will attend nursery school and kindergarten in the fall.

Back at home on a late August Monday, the cantor’s day off, Randy and Nicole were talking about going to the DMV to get their Pennsylvania driver’s licenses. They have already knocked down the wall that separates their kitchen from the living room.

The cantor thought his family would have trouble buying in this Wynnewood neighborhood. Their initial attempts fell short as homes sold in less than two days. Herman believes he was able to buy this one because there’s some noise from a busy road beyond the fence in the backyard.

He doesn’t care. He’ll take it.

“The shul is exciting. The area is to die for. This is where I want to work,” he said.

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