This High Holy Day season, the congregation at Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue has something to sing about, to the lively and devoted Marcelo Gindlin. Affectionately dubbed "Cantor Marcelo," the Argentine Pied Piper came to the shul two years ago and created a brand-new music program. This soulful and spiritual 33-year-old is motivated by his love for music and his belief in its ability to heal.
"Preparing for the High Holy Days," Gindlin says, "my mind is drawn to the idea that we live in a fragile world. My mission as a cantor is to fortify our world and to create a musical environment that encompasses our people and our prayers." He compares the comfort of music to the way a tallit "warmly wraps our shoulders and safeguards our souls."
Gindlin graduated from the Latin American Rabbinical Seminar in his native Buenos Aires. There he worked as a cantor in eight different communities where he also wrote and directed musicals for his congregations. In addition, Gindlin worked as a music therapist, helping patients with various ailments to heal by playing instruments with them. After several successful years in Argentina, the cantor was ready for a change. While the country's economy wasn't as turbulent as it is currently, Gindlin felt that the political situation "wasn't respectful of the people." He was thrilled at the prospect of working as a cantor for one community full time, a situation that doesn't really exist in Argentina.
When Gindlin took the position at the Reconstructionist Malibu Jewish Center, he was intent on helping his new congregants find themselves through music. With his powerful voice, songwriting skills and ability to play guitar, keyboards -- "and maracas!" as he emphasized with a laugh -- Gindlin worked with the preschool classes, teaching them Jewish songs. It wasn't long before he decided that the community was ready for a music project.
Over the past year, Gindlin worked with members of the synagogue, teachers and preschoolers to produce "Tot Shabbat With Cantor Marcelo," which consists of kids' songs about the Sabbath. Adults and children who liked to sing provided the vocals. Fellow songwriters helped write music and lyrics and artists helped create the album cover. The cantor worked long hours with the volunteers from the shul, often using his days off to meet with them. "This is a community that needs these kind of projects," Gindlin says. "My role is to encourage people to enjoy Judaism through singing and get them to feel excited. [Writing musicals] is what I did in Argentina. Here it is a big challenge, because people aren't used to it."
Drawing from his roots, the cantor used a lot of South American influences in the album. "I wanted to incorporate a Latin style," he explains, "Latin music is much more alive and I believe the way that children pray is through dancing and singing." Many of the songs use repetition and break down the words into syllables, making them easy to say and remember. Besides the catchy lyrics and the danceability factor, it's Gindlin's vivacious personality that comes through. To supplement the songs in live performances, he and the volunteers developed a play to tie the "Tot Shabbat" songs together. While the album will eventually be available nationally, Gindlin and his cast continue to perform the show as a workshop in several communities around Southern California.
Besides leading services, directing the choir and getting the community fired up about music, Gindlin is also a multilevel teacher at the synagogue. He teaches music to the preschool children, helps adults learn Hebrew and practices the "Tefillah" with the children at the Hebrew school. This fall, he will direct the b'nai mitzvah program.
While the cantor is quite taken with his new surroundings in the United States, he is concerned about the friends and family he left in Argentina. He hopes to organize a music concert to raise money for the communities where he once worked.
Even though he's accomplished so much in his short time in the States, Gindlin still has a few tricks up his sleeve. He is currently developing a program for kids with special needs called, "To Be Different," and expects to create more inspiring musical projects down the line. As he reflects on the upcoming holidays, Gindlin's strong belief in the power of music continues to be a driving force and a source of optimism. "We can do so many things in this New Year, and renewing our spirit can make it so," he insists. With the power of music as his foundation, Gindlin suggests that to experience this reawakening, Jews must "tap into their inner melodies."