New synagogue cantor makes unique transition
October 31, 2012 | Mike Cohen - Quebec Bureau Chief
To say that Adam Stotland did not follow the traditional route to become a cantor is an understatement. Yet just one month into his installation in that role at the Shaare Zion Congregation in Montreal, he is gaining a lot of fans.
“Along with his regular cantorial duties and being accompanied by the 20-member Shaare Zion Choir, Adam is running some wonderful programs at Shaare Zion,” synagogue member Andee Shuster said.
Stotland, who grew up in the Town of Mount Royal and now resides in Côte Saint-Luc, spent the past decades playing ‘Jew Grass’ (Jewish Bluegrass) music with his band, Shtreiml. Having toured across North America, Europe and the Middle East, with a notable appearance at Montreal’s International Jazz Festival, he has been performing as a vocalist and instrumentalist to expanding audiences.
Stotland, 35, told the Jewish Tribune that he benefited from a great deal of private training from local rabbis and cantors.
“I would attend shuls where there was no cantor and I would lead the services,” he said.
Growing up, Stotland was a member of the now defunct Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Tifereth Israel Congregation where Rabbi Yonah Rosner served as a positive influence on his commitment to Judaism. After graduating from Hebrew Academy, he spent a year and a half in Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
“I tried to stay longer, but my parents would not have it,” he laughed.
Stotland enrolled in Dawson College and studied health sciences, but changed gears at Concordia University by entering political science. His dad Gerald was a lawyer and that seemed to be a logical career goal.
“I quickly saw it was not for me,” he said. “While I was thinking of taking time off school, one day I walked into the music department at Concordia. This was for me and I graduated with a Bachelor in Fine Arts.”
While at Concordia Stotland had his own band and soon joined one called Moshav.
“We played Jewish songs that were really cool,” he said. “I ended up playing with them for a few years. They travelled the globe and I served as their East Coast man and played base.”
Around the same time Shtreiml (www.shtreimel.com) formed and they are still going strong, performing at community events, weddings and outside of Montreal. Shtreiml recently released an album called Maagal (which means circle).
A year ago Rabbi Lionel Moses of Shaare Zion saw one of his concerts and suggested he apply for the vacant cantor’s position.
“My reaction was ‘I am not a cantor, but I am definitely interested.’ I went through the application and interview process and was hired. I am really enjoying it.”
Married and the father of a baby boy, Stotland has taken over as the main vocalist and band leader of the Shaare Zion Band, which performs at select Friday night services (before sundown). The program is called ‘The Band is Back.’
He is also leading a mom-and-tot oneg Shabbat class called ShabbaTOT, on Friday mornings. It promotes Jewish culture and customs as the moms and tots not only sing Jewish and Hebrew songs, but they perform all the Shabbat rituals.
Finally, he is running Cool Shul, an interactive Saturday morning synagogue service once a month for young adults, led by young adults.
“Adam has not only been leading prayers and explaining the Torah and Siddur text for novice shul-goers, but he encourages participation though a sing-a-long style of teaching the sung prayers,” said Shuster. “This is a program that barely got a minyan in the beginning and is now growing exponentially.”
Stotland added, “We are averaging 30 to 50 young adults a session and one does not have to be a synagogue member. I choose certain prayers and then provide historical background. Most shuls breeze through Shema Yisrael in four seconds. We will spend six minutes talking and chanting about it together. That is when you feel the energy of our group. What is equally important is people hang out after services.
For more information, Stotland can be reached at (514) 481-7727 ext. 226 or email@example.com.