Cantor Jamie Marx has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, New Orleans, Jerusalem and New York City. Going back to age 11, he never stayed in a place longer than five years.
That was until he moved to Broomall in 2014 to take over as cantor at Temple Sholom in Broomall.
What was so special about this Reform synagogue in a Delaware County town? It was the people, Marx said.
“I’ve learned that what matters more than the town you live in is having a community you belong to. That’s really been true,” he said. “I’ve found a community that cares about me, takes care of me and welcomes me and my family.”
Marx’s wife, Anna Marx, works as the executive director of Hebrew Free Loan Society Philadelphia, which gives out interest-free loans to Jews who need them. They have two children. As the cantor celebrates his 10th year at Temple Sholom, they are happy where they are.
“When you find that, there’s no reason to walk away,” said Marx’s work partner, Rabbi Peter Rigler.
Together, the duo leads the congregation of about 430 families. They say that congregants are almost sick of hearing how much they enjoy working together.
“We have found a unique partnership that is the ideal relationship between cantor and rabbi that you don’t often see on the bimah,” Rigler said. “There’s a great deal of respect for what we both can bring to the community and bring to each other.”
As the cantor, Marx is the musical leader of the synagogue. His youth choir has eight kids in it. His teen song led program has 14 kids. And his adult choir has 25 members.
Marx has done rock Shabbats. He tries to include a variety of musical influences, from 20th-century pieces to contemporary composers, in Temple Sholom’s weekly services. The cantor tries to remember that “not everyone will connect with every piece of music.”
“Some people will want to sing. Some people will want to sit and take it in,” he said. “But by giving lots of people a doorway in, it’s special.”
But Rigler credits Marx as more than just a musical leader. He is, as the rabbi puts it, “a full part of the clergy team.” This means he’s involved in life cycle events, educational lessons and the administration of the synagogue.
The rabbi describes himself as the creative one with his head in the clouds, and he describes Marx as “the detail person who asks what our objective is.” Marx and Rigler had already worked together on providing a digital option for services before the pandemic. But during COVID, they needed to increase the level of quality as more members checked in from home.
It was Marx, who built computers in high school, who took the lead in making sure that the presentation looked and sounded good.
“When our whole community had to not be in our building, we invested a lot in having technology in the building so we could have high-quality technology and video,” he said.
But more than any other quality, it’s the way that Marx deals with people that Rigler appreciates. During his Monday and Friday song sessions with preschool students, he’s energetic and he gets them singing. When a bar or bat mitzvah student isn’t studying hard enough, he gently encourages them to study harder.
“There’s a sense of relatability and kindness. It’s all to make this place a place of warm, positive experiences,” Rigler said. “He’s done a good job continuing that legacy and putting his own stamp on it.”
That was the way Marx was treated when he first visited for his interview in 2014. It was also why he ended up choosing Temple Sholom in Broomall.
“I just really felt like the community brought out the best in me as a cantor. And working with Peter is really a privilege. We genuinely like each other and have a lot of fun in what we do,” Marx said. “On paper, a lot of cantorial positions look very similar. But when you meet the committees, the leadership, the staff, that’s what really stands out. They had a legacy of welcoming everyone into their community and onto the bimah. They love to sing.”
The cantor has been singing since he was a kid, he said. But as an undergraduate at California Polytechnic State University, he studied computer science for his first two years. However, he kept finding himself in the music building.
He switched his major to music.
“I just followed my heart. That’s really been my approach for most of my life,” he said.