“Cantor Shoshana” received her cantorial ordination from ALEPH:  The Alliance for
Jewish Renewal in 2011.  Shoshana’s ordination was the culmination of many years of
study of Jewish texts, history, theology, music, liturgy, and practical work in the field
as a cantor, music director, hospital chaplain, religious educator of children and
adults, freelance writer and adjunct professor.

Cantor Brown grew up on the Chesapeake Bay, in Hampton Virginia with her three
brothers, and a house full of animals. “Susan,” as she was known then, especially loved
horses and horseback riding; also reading, writing, and music.  She was raised in the
Episcopal Church, and although she converted to Judaism at the age of 27, Shoshana
believes that many positive church experiences have influenced her as a cantor, such
as her enthusiasm for group Psalm-singing, both in English and in Hebrew.

Shoshana graduated from Smith College in 1980 with a B.A. in English literature, but
with a special interest in the relationship of poetry, philosophy, and prophecy.  By the
time she was in college, Shoshana had already begun to explore Jewish thinkers and
writers, such as Heschel, Buber, Rosenzweig, Wiesel, and I.B. Singer.  She also took
Yiddish while in college, and was encouraged by the Smith Hillel rabbi to explore work
in Jewish-Christian relations.

After college, Shoshana worked in Boston with the homeless and with Southeast Asian
refugees, and in 1983 she began studies at the Episcopal Divinity School in
Cambridge, MA, with the goal of being ordained in the Episcopal Church. It was at
“EDS” that Shoshana began to study Hebrew, and to plunge more deeply into her
interest in Judaism-which led her to decide to take a year’s leave of absence from EDS
to study as a visiting graduate student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

One year in Jerusalem turned into two, as Shoshana had now decided to convert, and
to continue with an additional year of study in Jerusalem at Machon Pardes. In 1987
Shoshana officially converted to Judaism.  In 1995, Shoshana earned an MPhil in
Midrash from JTS. Although Shoshana taught as an adjunct professor at SUNY Old
Westbury, on Long Island, she found that gradually her interest was turning back
towards clergy-work, with an emphasis on music and prayer.

In 2001, Shoshana married Mark Elber (our rabbi!), and in 2002 she began work as a
“cantorial soloist” (cantor without formal training) at Kehillath Shalom Synagogue, a
Reconstructionist congregation in Cold Spring Harbor, NY. Between the years of 2006
and 2013 Shoshana served as part-time or guest High Holiday cantor, music teacher
and bnei mitzvah instructor at various congregations across the liberal Jewish
denominational spectrum:   “I have worked, sung, played, or prayed in every kind of
congregation within Judaism,” says Shoshana, ”from Orthodox to Conservative to
Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and unaffiliated.  When someone asks me ‘what
kind of Jew are you?’ I might answer them jokingly and say ‘Reconservadox!’  But the
serious answer is that I am a Jew who takes God, mitzvot, spirituality, tefillah (prayer),
and social-eco-action (tikkun olam) seriously, while also believing that Judaism needs
to be updated to meet the needs of the 21st century. I have benefitted enormously
from my affiliation with Jewish Renewal*, which I credit with adding joy, creativity,
greater emotion, and elements of the mystical-hasidic path to my toolbox as a spiritual

*What is Jewish Renewal?  Here is a definition culled from the website of Rabbi
Marcia Prager, dean of ALEPH’s Rabbinic and Cantorial Ordination Programs:

“Jewish Renewal is a spiritual movement for progressive Jews that fosters a
personal connection to the Divine by infusing ancient Jewish wisdom with a
modern, egalitarian and socially progressive consciousness."

Jewish Renewal is a phenomenon, not a denomination. It resembles Reform Judaism
in some ways, Reconstructionism in other ways, and even Orthodoxy, especially
Hassidism, in some important ways. But it is not a formal denomination with a formal
hierarchy or structure. It is the ongoing creative project of a generation of Jews who are
seeking to renew Judaism and bring its spiritual and ethical vitality into our lives and
communities, and at the same time embrace a global vision of the role of all human
beings and spiritual paths in the transformation of life on this precious planet.

Jewish Renewal is dedicated to revealing Judaism's inner spirit and nurturing the
spiritual life of Jews. Jewish Renewal draws significant spiritual inspiration from the
legacy of Jewish mystical and Hassidic traditions, which is expressed in the cultivation
of traditional practices such as meditation, chanting, and davvening and the study of
traditional Kabbalistic and Hassidic sources to enhance both individual and communal

Jewish Renewal seeks to transform and renew the kavanah (spiritual intention) with
which Jews of all kinds practice Judaism.”  For further reading, go to

Important teachers and mentors:

Rabbi Jakob Petuchowski was my first teacher of Jewish liturgy.  He was a visiting
professor at Harvard Divinity School when I was at EDS (visiting from the Hebrew
Union College in Cincinatti), and he became a dear friend/father figure to me, helping
me to work through my decision to convert to Judaism. He is the author of
Understanding Jewish Prayer; Ever Since Sinai; Theology and Poetry; and When Jews
and Christians Meet.

Rabbi Burton Visotzky was my doctoral advisor when I was working on my doctoral
dissertation in Midrash at the Jewish Theological Seminary.  He was one of the key
players in bringing to birth The Genesis Series with Bill Moyer on PBS, and author of
many books, including Reading the Book; The Genesis of Ethics; and The Road to

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, grandfather of the Jewish Renewal movement, has
been and continues to be a huge influence on my approach to “jew-ing,” as he calls it
(living a Jewish life). His approach to prayer (“davvenology”) and his perspective on the
planet Earth as a living organism, with all of the peoples with their various paths to
God as different, vital organs of the planet is now inextricable from my way of thinking
and praying. “Reb Zalman,” as he is known, had his first congregation in Fall River,
and I am so happy to follow in his footsteps!  A few of my favorites of his many books
are: Paradigm Shift; Jewish with Feeling; and Davening: Meaningful Jewish Prayer.

About Rabbi Mark Elber
Rabbi Mark Elber, a graduate of the Rabbinic Ordination Program of ALEPH:  the
Alliance for Jewish Renewal, was ordained in January 2012.  Mark comes to the
rabbinate with a rich and varied background.  His parents were Polish Jewish
refugees from the Holocaust, and Mark grew up in Sunnyside, Queens hearing
Polish, Yiddish, Russian, German, and English spoken in the home.  In addition to
these languages, Mark fell in love with Hebrew  at an early age, to a large extent as a
result of family trips to Israel, beginning at the age of eight when he spent fifteen
days on an Israeli ocean liner sailing to the Port of Haifa where his aunt, two uncles
and assorted other relatives lived.  Upon returning to the States his parents sent him
to a Young Israel Orthodox Hebrew school, where he absorbed the language of prayer
and the Torah four afternoons a week.  Upon becoming a Bar Mitzvah he became
increasingly engaged in Jewish study and observance, studying privately with the
yeshiva students at Young Israel in Sunnyside who were eight to ten years his senior
and eventually finding his way to Lubavitch/Chabad in Crown Heights, Brooklyn
where he found a sense of devotion and passion for a spiritual life that he hadn’t
encountered elsewhere.  Too involved in the modern world in which he grew up to
ever truly be a traditional Chassid, Mark nevertheless found great inspiration in the
commitment of the Lubavitchers and in their leader Menachem Mendel Schneerson. 

Rather than following his father’s and older brother’s path into the medical
profession, Mark decided to study Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania.  His
interests resided more in Judaism, spirituality, philosophy, poetry and music. Mark
spent his junior year at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which intensified his
love of Israel and its culture and, subsequently, decided to pursue graduate studies in
Kabbalah and Jewish Philosophy at Hebrew University.  After three years of graduate
work, Mark returned to the States (for family reasons), and continued his studies
back at the University of Pennsylvania for one additional year before deciding that
academia was not his ultimate destination.
Thus began the next phase of Mark’s life, in which he taught Hebrew, prayer, Torah
and Haftarah cantillation, and various other forms of Jewish studies to bar/bat
mitzvah students and adults while pursuing careers in music and writing (both songs
and poetry). During the first half of the ‘80’s he put together two rock bands and
played the downtown clubs in Manhattan.  During the ‘90’s Mark attained residencies
at a number of artists’ colonies such as the Millay Colony for the Arts and Blue
Mountain Artists’ Colony to further pursue his poetry.  He also had the good fortune
of returning to Israel for another thirteen months in ’92 -’93, having been accepted for
a six month residency at the Arad Arts Project in Arad, Israel as a poet, after which he
spent seven months in Tel Aviv employed translating Israeli rock songs into English. 
(Mark had the pleasure of seeing one of the songs on MTV Europe.)  A few years after
returning to the U.S. he moved to Nashville, Tennessee to pursue songwriting from
’97 - 2000.  In Nashville he also taught Hebrew, Jewish Meditation, and Kabbalah,
running a Shabbat “meditation minyan” monthly at the local Conservative synagogue. 
From 1999 - 2002 Mark entered the first group of students pursuing certification as
teachers of Jewish Meditation from Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley, California.

Meanwhile, and most importantly, in 2001, Mark married our cantor, Shoshana
Brown.  They were living at that time in Huntington, Long Island.  In 2003, to their
great joy, their son Lev was born.  Shoshana, having begun work in the capacity of a
cantor at Kehillath Shalom Synagogue in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, was
studying for her cantorial ordination with ALEPH; therefore, when Mark finally
decided to pursue rabbinic ordination, he joined Shoshana as a student in the ALEPH
Ordination program.

Rabbi Elber is the author of The Everything Kabbalah Book, a published poet and
songwriter and the winner of a number of poetry prizes, including Beat Museum Poet
of the Year (2007).

Some of the teachers with whom Mark has studied that have been most important to
him throughout his life are Yehuda Amichai, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Levine, Rifka
Schatz, Yehuda Liebes, Moshe Idel, Yosef Ben Shlomo, Art Green, and Reb Zalman

In addition to intellectual and spiritual pursuits, Mark enjoys kayaking, biking,
hiking and traveling, having driven across the American mainland six times, hiked the
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, traveled throughout Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru,
the Amazon rainforests, and various European countries.

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