The 150 miles from Fort Worth to Abilene will seem like a hop, skip, and jump to Monica Braverman as she begins serving as cantor for Temple Mizpah, the local Jewish congregation.
Braverman lives in Crowley and owns an information systems company in Fort Worth. In addition to running a business, she flies almost every week to Boston to take courses leading to two degrees and an ordination from Hebrew College in Newton Centre, Massachusetts.
That’s a routine she has grown used to as she juggles her professional life with her life’s calling.
“I’m the original wandering Jew,” she joked.
Braverman, 60, will come to Abilene about every two months for services at Temple Mizpah and also on Jewish holidays. She definitely will be here for the High Holy Days, which begin with Rosh Hashana Oct. 3-4 and end with Yom Kippur on Oct. 12. Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.
Braverman’s selection as cantor for the congregation came about almost by happenstance. Rabbi Murray Berger of Dallas served from 2002 until this year. When he announced his retirement, an acquaintance of Braverman suggested that she would be the perfect match for the position of cantor.
She came to Abilene about two months ago to “audition” for the job.
“I guess it went well,” she said, and she was hired.
Braverman explained that a rabbi and a cantor are authorized to perform the same services. A rabbi’s area of expertise is in the study of text. A cantor specializes in liturgy. Braverman will sing or chant parts of the services she leads and will most often be accompanied on flute by Eliza Williams, who came with Braverman to a recent welcoming dinner and service.
When Braverman came for her “audition,” she received a unanimous vote from the Temple Mizpah congregation, said Marc Orner, president of the congregation.
“When she offered her first prayer,” Orner said, “we just sat there,” stunned at the power and beauty of Braverman’s delivery.
Braverman is the second woman to serve at the temple. Before Berger’s tenure, Elisabeth Stern led the services.
Braverman has such a gifted voice that she also sings with Fort Worth Symphony productions. She also is director of the children’s choir at Beth El congregation in Fort Worth.
The people who gathered for the welcoming dinner Aug. 12 probably aren’t all that interested in Braverman’s credentials as a cantorial soloist, which is her title until she receives her cantorial ordination in 2018 from Hebrew College. They heard what they needed to hear the moment she started singing as a call to dinner.
“Her voice is wonderful,” said Barbara Pollack, a member of Temple Mizpah since 1983. “We haven’t had that in a long time.”
In addition to her business experience, her involvement with professional music organizations, and her religious activities and studies, Braverman has an incredibly diverse background.
She grew up in Chicago and earned a bachelor of science degree from Bowling Green State University in Ohio in 1976.
That was in preparation for medical school, which she enrolled in and then changed her mind. She decided that technical writing was what she wanted to do and earned a master of arts degree in that field in 1982, also from Bowling Green.
Then, in the 1980s, computers burst onto the scene, and Braverman had a new career to consider.
“This is for me,” was her thought, deciding that she would learn all about computers and then teach software programming.
In preparation for that career, she earned a master’s degree in software engineering from TCU in 1996.
“No one told me you can’t do it all,” she said.
To prove it, Braverman started her own business in Fort Worth in 1984 and still runs it. But then her true love started calling — her religion and her musical talent.
“That’s where my heart ended up going,” she said.
She is active in the Beth El congregation in Fort Worth, serving as a bar/bat mitzvah tutor and a Torah study leader, in addition to her musical contributions. She sings in productions with the Fort Worth Symphony and was in the choir that supported Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli when he performed in Dallas.
It’s fortunate for members of Temple Mizpah in Abilene that Braverman is the high-energy, vivacious person she is. In addition to serving the Abilene congregation and involvement at Fort Worth’s Beth El, she also serves as a guest cantor for a Longview congregation, which is the same distance to the east of Fort Worth as Abilene is to the west.
Maybe Gene Goltz, a lifetime member of Temple Mizpah, whose father was a founding member, best described Braverman.
“She’s a fireball,” he said.