Less than three months after becoming cantor at Congregation Agudath Achim Freehold Jewish Center, Alan Smolen died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Smolen died shortly after midnight Oct. 22 at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune after reportedly shooting himself hours earlier outside the Marlboro Board of Education office in front of a township police officer.
FJC director Marvin Krakower said out of respect for Smolen’s family, the synagogue would not release a statement until after the shiva. He said the congregation would probably hold a memorial service for the cantor following shloshim, the 30-day mourning period.
Smolen, 46, moved to Englishtown after leaving his previous position at Congregation Beth Judah in Ventnor City, where he had been since 2006.
In an interview with NJJN just before starting the Freehold position, Smolen described himself as “committed to both the preservation of Jewish liturgy, nusah hat’fila (traditional prayer chant) [and] familiar congregational singing, as well as creative liturgy and fine quality contemporary musical settings.” (see related article)
Smolen had been excited about joining his new synagogue, adding, “The future bodes well for both of us.”
The cantor, a Chicago area native, became a Torah chanter at age 11 at Northwest Suburban Jewish Center in Morton Grove, Ill., and accepted his first High Holy Day position at 16.
Tamara Ruben, education director at Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford, taught Smolen in her seventh-grade Hebrew school class in the Morton Grove synagogue. The two had reconnected after 35 years only a week before his death.
“I just knew I would encounter him one day in the Jewish world,” she told NJJN. “Even back then he loved to sing and he loved Jewish music so much. He was a true songbird of Israel. He was always so full of life. What a loss of a young life and what a loss of a singing bird that God cut off short.”
Long active in the Cantors Assembly of the Conservative movement, Smolen served as a member of its executive council and as an instructor/mentor for the European Academy of Jewish Liturgy, which partners with the assembly. He was past chair of the organization’s Midwest region.
Smolen received bachelor’s degrees in Jewish history and liturgy through a joint program of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and Columbia University and a master’s degree from the seminary.
He had his first pulpit at Congregation Sons of Israel in Upper Nyack, NY, serving for five years.
The funeral was held Oct. 25 in the Chicago area. Smolen is survived by his wife, Marla Topp; his father, Ernest; his sister and brother-in-law, Renee and Dr. Elliot Roth; his brother and sister-in-law, Lee and Susan; and nieces and nephews.