When Marla Barugel was invested as a cantor in 1987, it was a milestone event; she was one of the first two women to become hazanot in the Conservative movement.
Now Barugel is reaching another milestone: After 26 years at Congregation B’nai Israel, she is moving on and, at the end of June, will become cantor emerita of the Rumson synagogue.
“I’m saddened that I will be leaving after so many years of service,” said Barugel, 57, “but I’m happy that I will be able to maintain the connection to the congregation, which I have always cherished. Congregation B’nai Israel has been like family to me for more than a quarter of a century.”
CBI will mark her departure with a tribute on Sunday, June 2. Congregants, friends, and former students will join together to share memories and recognize the achievements of her years at the 300-family synagogue.
Rabbi Jeff Sultar said, “Cantor Barugel has been here for an entire generation — long enough to name babies and then to conduct their wedding ceremonies years later. She is embedded in the life of the community. During her tenure, she officiated at the b’nei mitzva ceremonies of more than 600 students.”
“I enjoyed teaching each and every one of my b’nei mitzva students and seeing them progress and thrive,” said Barugel. “Each student is unique and learns in a different way. I have taught some of these students since pre-k music class, so I have watched them grow up and cultivated a relationship with them over the years. When I see them get married and have children of their own, the pride and joy that I feel to have been with them during their major life-cycle events is so fulfilling.”
Barugel also went through her own life-cycle events during her tenure at CBI. She and her ex-husband Alberto Barugel raised two sons, Michael, now 26 and a career development counselor at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, NC, and Avidor, 21, a student majoring in media studies and communications at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft.
“Avi survived two liver transplants when he was young, one at seven months old and the other at seven years old,” Barugel told NJJN. “The members of CBI were wonderful, providing not just emotional support, but blood transfusions as well. They helped us through a terribly stressful time in our lives.”
Music will be a major element of the June 2 tribute, with selections by Barugel, the congregation’s adult and youth choirs, and members of the New Jersey Cantors Concert Ensemble; Barugel was one of the first female cantors to join this group, which was founded in 1975.
Barugel expressed “how fortunate” she felt to have worked with CBI’s “talented and dedicated choir conductor, Rob Fire, and assistant conductor, Pat Fire.” Although the Fires recently relocated to Massachusetts, the cantor said she was confident that the choir would continue “to produce a beautiful sound.”
Also on the June 2 program is the only other woman in Barugel’s 1987 graduating class at Jewish Theological Seminary. Cantor Erica Lippitz, too, has spent the past 26 years serving a single synagogue community in New Jersey — Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange.
“We shared a great moment in history,” Lippitz told NJJN. Remembering those days, she said, “One part of the Conservative community welcomed and accepted us openly, while others wouldn’t even acknowledge our existence.” She praised the professors at JTS for “preparing us well and instilling confidence that female clergy had a real role to play in the future of Conservative Jewry.”
Remembering those early days, Barugel said that the JTS faculty members weren’t the only ones rooting for her and Lippitz. “The male cantorial students also were very supportive. They saw how hard we worked while taking the same classes,” she said.
Barugel also cited the pioneering accomplishment of Elaine Shapiro and Linda Shivers, two women who graduated before Barugel and Lippitz, but who were denied the “Diploma of Hazzan.” Both received this designation retroactively, but not until after Barugel and Lippitz had been invested.
Explaining her departure from her post at CBI, Barugel said, “The cantor’s position is being combined with that of the director of education.” Sultar confirmed that the move was being taken in an effort to economize.
Barugel told NJJN she is not yet certain what her next step will be. “I now have the time and flexibility to pursue any of the dreams I have not yet pursued in my life. The possibilities are endless,” she said, adding that she may take up freelance cantorial work, serve as a scholar-in-residence, give concert performances, or even a return to her pre-cantorial career as a teacher of foreign languages.
Or, she said, she may pursue a Certificate in Pastoral Education degree and become a hospital chaplain. “I’m very comfortable visiting with and singing to patients in the hospital, and I think it would be rewarding to help families cope with the illnesses of their loved ones,” she said.
Barugel becomes the second clergy member to gain emeritus status from CBI. The first was Rabbi Jack Rosoff, who retired in 1998 following 34 years as the congregation’s religious leader.