Cantor: ‘Messenger of the People to God’
The congregation at Temple Am David at 40 Gardiner St. in Warwick is a vibrant, growing entity devoted to the concept of promoting the ideals of Conservative Judaism and performing service to the community. Their website states, “Our Temple is a Place of worship and a center for spiritual, educational, and cultural enrichment.”
In addition to its beautiful large sanctuary and smaller chapel, the temple also has a Hebrew school, conducts adult education classes and serves as a social as well as a religious center. It strives to be a second home to members where one can enjoy friendship, comfort and renewal while keeping focused on the ever-changing needs facing the Jewish congregation and Warwick as a whole.
In addition to being affiliated with The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and all the Jewish related organizations and activities, it also has a strong sense of service to the community. Among its many projects and charities, the temple participates in the West Bay Community Action Program, a clothing bank and in raising money for Israel and for various local community projects.
Since December 2000, Temple Am David has looked to Richard E. Perlman as its cantor, spiritual leader and director of education. In an interview in May 2006 with Warwick Beacon feature writer Joe Kernan, Cantor Rick, who has been blessed with a quick wit as well as an exceptionally good singing voice, said, “I’m what is called a “Kol Bo” which means “I do everything.” In looking at Cantor Perlman’s many activities, this is an apt description of his duties at Temple Am David and the community as a whole.
Perlman brings with him a variety of experiences that serve to make him an outstanding religious and secular leader. He is well known throughout Rhode Island and much of the United States as one of the “Cantors Perlman Five.” This outstanding group of five cantors who give concerts consist of the father, Cantor Ivan E. Perlman, and his sons, Eli B., Emanuel C., Richard E. and Josh. The four sons have been trained by Ivan and have been singing together since they were young. Cantor Richard E. Perlman, for a number of years, thought he would not be a full-time cantor as he also pursued a career in radio, but as a trained cantor he occasionally performed services for small congregations that did not have a full-time spiritual leader. On one such occasion, when he went to Bath, Maine to lead the High Holidays Service, he had an experience that brought him to realize his calling was as a cantor.
At that time he was introduced to an elderly man with a thick European accent who called himself “Meester Singer.” Cantor Perlman was warned that the old man would sit in front and yell at the cantor if he wasn’t perfect in his service. He was told not to pay attention, as Mr. Singer yelled at all cantors. With some trepidation, Cantor Rick went through with the services and saw the old man sitting with tears in his eyes. Throughout the service he never yelled once. After it was over, “Meester Singer” approached Cantor Perlman and hugged him and cried, saying that it was the first time since his bar mitzvah that he heard the service done properly. Cantor Rick noted, “I guess my father trained me right.”
Later, after promising Mr. Singer that he would do the prayers at the old man’s funeral, he began to realize, “What I do really means something to people.” From that time on, Cantor Perlman decided to spend his life as a full-time spiritual leader.
In describing his role as cantor, he observed that while a rabbi is the messenger of God to the People, “The cantor is the messenger of the people to God, to help them properly pray to God.” His is an ecumenical approach to the religious life of the community believing, “We all pray to the same God, we just do things differently.” He has taken part in a number of Ecumenical services and has invited those of different faiths to the Temple’s Adult Education to present their views and has often sung in various churches when asked. He is even jokingly referred to as “Cantor Klaus,” as he plays Santa Claus on the radio to bring joy to young children with special needs, especially those who have suffered losses in their lives.
The stories of Warwick’s Houses of Worship will continue.