Cantor Ines Kaptustiansky knew from age 13 that she was called to serve Jewish communities through music. The question was how and where.
Born in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, into a devout musical family. Her parents met while singing in two different choirs. Her grandmother would sing melodies to her from birth; before Cantor Ines could speak, she could complete the melodies in response.
At age 13, at her Bat Mitzvah, she had a profound connection with her Jewish faith well beyond a typical coming-of-age religious service and party. Two years later her family took a trip to Israel where Cantor Ines’s life was changed forever. At the Western Wall, there was special energy calling her, so strong that she began singing. At that moment, she realized her life needed to be dedicated to Judaism and music.
In the Jewish faith, Cantors are formally trained vocalists and ordained clergy whose role is to lead their congregation in song and prayer and officiate major life cycle events. They also teach music to children and adults. However, a female Cantor is still not typical around the world, as Cantor Ines soon found out.
She studied at the only Cantorial school that would allow women in Latin America: Latin American Rabbinical Seminary. From age 18 to 24, Cantor Ines studied and was ordained as only the second woman to graduate as a Cantor in Argentina in 2009. From there Ines wanted to follow the traditional path most Rabbis and Cantors take by living in Israel for a couple of years after being ordained to refine her Hebrew and Jewish culture. However, Ines was not able to find any institution that would accept a female Cantor. Not to be deterred, Cantor Ines wrote to Raymond Goldstein, executive director of the Jerusalem Academy of Music at the time. His organization was the epicenter for Opera and Jewish Musical Art. While it was still risky to work with Cantor Ines, Mr. Goldstein agreed to train her for six months.
After returning to Argentina, Cantor Ines became an educational director at a Jewish Religious school since she was still unable to find a Cantor position in her home country, where the field is still dominated by men. At the school, she refined her music curriculum for B’nai Mitzvah preparation. Her work also included counseling which led her to pursue a second degree in marriage and family counseling. “I see everyone as individuals and members of a community. Helping connect people through music is my calling.” Cantor Ines developed programs for adults, special needs children, and people from all walks of life looking to grow spiritually through Judaism.
Cantor Ines learned about the Jewish Reform movement on YouTube, and a new world opened. She began to follow Debbie Friedman often quoted as “the Joan Baez of Jewish song” and a prominent leader in Jewish Cantorial training in the United States. Cantor Ines found hope she could realize her dream to be a Cantor in a Temple. She started to explore opportunities in the U.S. Her first break was as a guest Cantor for the High Holy Days at Sherith Israel Temple in San Francisco, CA with the Senior Rabbi Larry Raphael Z” L. For three years she celebrated with them every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. After that, she was the guest Cantor in Long Island, NY at the Jewish Center in Port Washington with Senior Rabbi Alysa Mendelson Graf.
To secure a full-time Cantor position in the U.S. Cantor Ines needed to join the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) and to join you need to be ordained through the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. Because Cantor Ines already had over 7 years of school and vast experience in sacred music performing as well as teaching, she petitioned to be able to sit for the ordination exam without additional educational training. She was granted permission and spent an entire year studying for the day-long examination. In February 2020 Cantor Ines flew to New Rochelle, New York, and spent an entire day with the faculty performing, interviewing, and taking a four-hour written exam. She passed the ordination exam with exceptional scores and became the first Latin American female member of the ACC just as the global pandemic brought the whole world to a halt.
During the pandemic, while Cantor Ines waited patiently for a position to open in the U.S., she worked with a Reform Synagogue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil designing live streaming capabilities as well as custom programming that would work with remote participation. Cantor Ines has always been exploring ways to make Judaism more accessible – she even traveled to Uruguay in 2018 to marry a same-sex couple since this was not permitted in Argentina.
As the global pandemic eased, new Cantor positions opened across the U.S. The leadership at Temple Shaaray Tefila believed it was time to hire a full-time Cantor for the Temple. A first since it was formed in 1976. “Having a Cantor will be transformative for Temple Shaaray Tefila. A Cantor uses music to expand your soul and intellect. They are ordained like the Rabbi and often have deep experience in psychology as well as Jewish musical heritage.” Explains Rabbi David Wilfond, of Temple Shaaray Tefila.
Cantor Ines spoke with dozens of Temples and knew immediately that Temple Shaaray Tefila was the perfect new home. “Rabbi Wilfond and the entire interview committee were so inviting. I knew immediately this was a very supportive community,” recalls Cantor Ines. While she had offers from more than 10 different Temples, she never considered anywhere but here in Bedford Hills, New York. “We could feel Cantor Ines’s deep religious calling and vast talent from the moment we met her. She is a complete gift to everyone in our community.” Sharon Feldman, President Temple Shaaray Tefila.
Cantor Ines is thrilled to be the first Cantor ever at Temple Shaaray Tefila. “Music can join people even when we have different ideologies. We are all one and music can be the great connector.” She is currently settling into her new home with her husband and puppy and preparing for her first High Holy Days on the bima for Shaaray Tefila at Caramoor this September and October 2022. And as always, please join Temple Shaaray Tefila every Friday evening to hear Cantor Ines, Rabbi Wilfond and Rabbi Greenberg celebrate Shabbat.