Cantor Kenneth Gould was with Temple B’nai Shalom in East Brunswick only five years before his tragic death from cancer in August 2013.
Nevertheless, he left a musical tradition at the Reform congregation that is being carried on by his successor and temple members.
“When he came he breathed new life into our music program,” said Lori Trachtenberg, a member of the temple’s choir. “One of the legacies he left was our fantastic Purimspiel, which has costumes and choreography and singing. Almost every congregant now wants to be part of it because it’s so much fun.”
To help fund the musical program the cantor helped launch, the synagogue held the first annual Cantor Kenneth Gould Memorial 5K Walk June 1 in Buccleuch Park in New Brunswick, bringing in a total of $1,200.
About 50 children and adults took part, following an arch of blue and white balloons and holding aloft photos of Gould, said Trachtenberg, who chaired the walk.
She said she considered him not just a friend but a “twin,” since they shared the same birthday, May 28.
“He was really an interesting guy,” recalled Harriet Golub, who was congregation president when Gould was hired. She often drove him to radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
“He was an opera singer and did Broadway shows, but decided he wanted to become a cantor,” said Golub. “He was a very private person, and I never heard him say a bad word about anyone — but he did things his way.”
In fact, Gould, who was 65 at the time of his death, came to the cantorate late in life after a career spent in the theater.
He held an undergraduate degree in music from the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and a master’s in music from Stony Brook College of the State University of New York. Gould trained with Lee Strasberg and the Circle in the Square Theatre School and studied in Europe at the American Institute of Musical Studies in Austria, touring Germany and Austria in productions of Berlin to Broadway and Oh, Coward!
Gould was ordained by the Academy for Jewish Religion in Riverdale, NY, and while there premiered two new works by Cantor Charles Osborne — “Souls on Fire” and “Kings and Fishermen” at Lincoln Center.
“Because of his training, elocution was very important to him,” said Trachtenberg. “He was a very thoughtful person and a very talented pianist as well. Music was his life.”
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer, who participated in the walk with his wife, Marcela Betzer, and three-year-old twins, Jonah and Naomi, said Gould had “a beautiful, deep, baritone voice and took great pride in enunciating.”
“The music sung on the bima was dignified,” said Eisenkramer. “He had a strong bima presence. He not only had an appreciation for Jewish cantorial traditions, but loved Broadway and popular music and being part of a congregation, leading services and interacting with adults and children.”
His legacy includes the Shabbat ShaBand, created by Cantor Andy Edison, who took over for Gould and is carrying on his predecessor’s traditions.
Ironically, Edison began his own cantorial career at B’nai Shalom — then the Reform Temple of East Brunswick — in the 1980s and had recommended Gould for the cantorial position there. When Gould — who tried to keep working during his two-year battle with the disease — had difficulty continuing, Edison returned to help out his old friend and has stayed on.
“Once, when Cantor Edison had just come, he was uncertain which part [in the service] he was supposed to sing,” recalled Golub. “With that, Cantor Ken got up and struggled to show him. There was not a dry eye in the house. He fought such a private, difficult battle.”
Gould had cancer of the throat, neck, and head, affecting his ability to talk and sing, said Golub. “I remember taking him to chemo and radiation therapy, and he could barely talk or move his head from side to side, but we would sing, ‘Shall We Dance.’ I would just take the ‘bom, bom, bom’ part. I always thought what a cruel twist of fate that his voice was taken from him.”