Jul 7, 2014
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Temple Beth Hillel in Richmond has announced that Fran Burgess, a classically-trained opera singer and accomplished musician, has become its Cantor.

Fran Burgess

Temple Beth Hillel in Richmond has announced that Fran Burgess, a classically-trained opera singer and accomplished musician, has become its Cantor.

She succeeds Cantor Howard Cohen, who passed away in June of last year.

Burgess received her ordination and Masters of Sacred Music from the Academy for Jewish Religion California (AJRCA) in 2012.

Cantor Burgess joins Rabbi Dean Kertesz in leading religious services and co-leading the family Tefillah service on Sunday mornings. Bringing a wealth of musical talent to all aspects of the congregation’s religious life, her new duties will include teaching an adult education class on chanting Torah and teaching religious school students the musical component to prayer.

She looks ahead to creating a youth choir.

“Music and prayer have a special bond in Jewish worship,” Burgess said. “Music opens a gateway to the soul. I have the privilege and pleasure of sharing our chain of musical tradition at Temple Beth Hillel.”

Burgess’ love of music began at a very early age. Raised in a musical family, by age six, she was the third member of a recorder trio with her mother and father. She later studied the flute, the oboe, and then voice at the Boston Conservatory of Music, Santa Cecilia Conservatory of Music in Rome, and the Manhattan School of Music.

Moving in an entirely new direction, she earned a nursing degree and followed up with a study of orthopedic massage. However, Burgess never forgot her love of music, studying voice and singing with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and the San Francisco Opera’s professional chorus for ten seasons.

Her path to become a Cantor began when she and her husband, Sandy Zirulnik, and children, Martin and Alexandra, became members of Temple Sinai in Oakland. Martin began his bar mitzvah studies while Burgess became more involved with synagogue life. She joined the adult choir and began leading services as a soloist.

Wanting to learn to pray like a Jew–not just sing a good service–led her to attend the Academy of Jewish Religion California where she was ordained after five years of study.

Now, Burgess’ cantorial voice becomes an integral part of Temple Beth Hillel’s congregational life when she assumed her new position with Rabbi Dean Kertesz on Friday at TBH’s evening Shabbat service following a potluck dinner.

People can meet her at Friday evening services on the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month as well as Sunday mornings when Beit Midrash Hillel, the religious school, is in session, or by appointment.

Temple Beth Hillel, the only synagogue in West Contra Costa, is located at 801 Park Central. Visit the synagogue’s website here.


About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.