Whether she’s leading the congregation in prayer, helping a student or teaching a new melody, Elisheva Dienstfrey conveys the message that being a Hazzan is the world’s best work. A member of the class of 2000 of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s H. L. Miller Cantorial School, Elisheva came to Agudas Achim fresh from graduate school, and has never looked back.
Elisheva grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, singing in a children’s choir, led by her father, a radiologist. “People were always telling me that I should be a cantor,” says Elisheva, but she didn’t take it seriously until Cantor Josh Perlman took her under his wing. Perlman taught her that a cantor’s job involves not only singing but also working with people in the community and being a “mentsch.”
Elisheva majored in music and religious studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles. While living in L.A. she met her husband, Tobias, at a Hillel Shabbat service at the University of Judaism. “He asked me if I wanted an aliyah,” says Elisheva, who thought his offer was an interesting pick-up line. They were separated while she attended the first year of cantorial school at Pardes Institute in Jerusalem, where she studied Talmud, Hebrew and Nusach. “The day after I returned from Israel, Tobias asked me to marry him,” says Elisheva. They were married in 1998 after a two-year engagement.
Along with her musical talents, Elisheva also has the distinction of being a female cantor with a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Influenced by the crime rate in Albuquerque, her mother decided to enroll both of her daughters (and herself) in self-defense classes, along with her son. Elisheva still practices kickboxing and MMA (mixed martial arts) on her own.
In addition to her usual cantorial duties at Agudas Achim, Elisheva has been a member of the Executive Council of the Cantors Assembly, and an enthusiastic member of the Agudas Achim house band, Ein Lanu Z’man (www.einlanuzman.com).
Elisheva and Tobias have now called Alexandria their home since July of 2000, and not only have become part of the Agudas Achim family, but have expanded their own little family by four – Margalit, Akiva, Dassi, and Lev. “We have so many blessings in our lives, and Agudas Achim has made that possible.”
Please stop by Agudas Achim to sing, pray, or learn, and introduce yourself to Elisheva and her family. They’d love to meet you!