Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Editor, Jewish Press
At the June 3 Awards Night and Annual Meeting, the Jewish Federation of Omaha will present Temple Israel’s Cantor Wendy Shermet with the Jody and Neal Malashock Award for Professional Excellence. This award is given annually to a professional in the Omaha Jewish community who has shown exemplary performance in advancing the mission of the organization.
For 18 years, Cantor Shermet has served not only the Temple Israel congregation, but our community as a whole and she has done so with grace, compassion, skill, sincerity and a genuine love for the Jewish people. She has been part of the clergy team at Temple Israel since 2001. She has a Master of Music Degree from the New England Conservatory of Music, and ordination and a Master of Sacred Music from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. And yes, you can find her on YouTube and Spotify, so after her retirement we can continue to listen to her fantastic voice.
“Cantor Shermet has deeply touched the lives of an entire generation of people,” Rabbi Brian Stoller, head rabbi of Temple Israel, said. “From teaching our children, training our B’nai Mitzvah students, leading our congregation in prayer and life-cycle events to walking beside us during times both joyful and painful, she has provided thoughtful spiritual guidance at every level.”
During her 18 years at Temple, she has served as a role model:
“She demonstrates a genuine love for and understanding of the community,” Rabbi Stoller said. “To other Jewish professionals, she models the importance of building personal relationships with congregants, knowing their experiences, struggles and aspirations and caring for them as individual human beings. Her colleagues can learn from her that, perhaps more than anything else a clergy person does, building and nurturing relationships is the most important work.”
In 2018, Rabbi Josh Brown, who had worked closely with her for four years, described Cantor best when he said:
“Everyone recognizes Cantor Shermet’s dry humor and seemingly tough outer shell. But I don’t know if people realize that time and again, students walked by my office, past Rabbi Azriel’s office, and headed straight for Cantor Shermet’s office to share their most intimate concerns. When a student wanted a shoulder to cry on, it was Wendy’s door they knocked on. And they were right to do so. That outer shell covers her tremendous heart.”
“Wendy has a rich understanding of Jewish music,” Rabbi Emeritus Aryeh Azriel said. “Her’s is not Debbie Friedman-type camp tunes. On Shabbat and holidays, she selects motifs that fit the words and reflect who we are as Liberal Jews, whether through works of German-Jewish composers, Hassidic niggunim or shtetl melodies.”
In addition, Cantor Shermet built Temple Israel’s Kol Rina choir into a “powerful and spiritual presence,” according to Rabbi Stoller, “and founded our First Friday Shabbat Band which adds energy and spirit to our worship once a month. She has also taken a lead role in cultivating interfaith relationships through music and has nurtured an annual choir exchange program with St. Paul Methodist Church and helped train the Tri-Faith Initiative choir. More recently, she founded the Kol Chokolad children’s choir at Temple.”
“She deserves this award,” Temple Israel president Andie Gordman said. “In addition to everything she has done at Temple, she has had tremendous impact on the community as a whole. For instance, she was instrumental in restarting the Omaha Jewish teen trip. This is one more beautiful way to honor her and show our appreciation.”
Please plan to attend the 2019 JFO Awards Night and Annual Meeting on Monday, June 3, at 7 p.m. in the JCC Community Theater to honor Cantor Wendy Shermet as she receives the Jody and Neal Malashock Award for Professional Excellence.