James Gloth remembers the first time he came to California. Every day, it seemed, was a beautiful day. Yosemite was so beautiful that he could not believe it was in the United States.
It was the summer of 1991, shortly before Gloth graduated from college. Working as a counselor for the United Synagogue Youth of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, he toured America by bus.
In Yosemite, he met a rabbi named Nathaniel Ezray.
Now Gloth has finished his cantorial studies, and he is returning to California to work as a cantor at Temple Beth Jacob with the rabbi he met in the park.
He starts work at the Redwood City synagogue at the beginning of July.
"They said they weren't just looking for a pretty voice," Gloth said, recalling the synagogue's announcement that it was looking for a new cantor. "They wanted someone spiritual, who would be a partner with the rabbi and who could be part of people's lives, a lot more than being a singer. That's the kind of cantor I wanted to be.
"With a lot of other synagogues, cantors will work for the rabbi and their job will be to sing this, this and this." But Gloth's job is not only to sing, but also to become a part of the community, to visit the sick, to draw people to the synagogue, to continue learning.
The match between cantor and synagogue was a long time coming. Beth Jacob went two years without a cantor, searching for just the right one.
"We had a really careful criteria," said Ezray. The rabbi began at the temple only two years ago, and found that his first important duty was to find a replacement for Cantor Hans Cohn, who was retiring after 31 years.
"We did input groups, focus groups with the synagogue and a really careful screening process," the rabbi recalled. "We were looking for someone who primarily was a big mensch and really cared about people."
Gloth is the perfect fit, Ezray said.
"He has a passion for teaching Judaism, a love of Jewish music, a love of inclusiveness that fits really well with this synagogue and a sense of the building and the growth that can happen here."
Gloth, 27, grew up just outside Akron, Ohio. He was 10 or 11, he said, when the idea first struck him to become a cantor. A new cantor had arrived at his temple and started a junior choir, which Gloth joined. He and this cantor became friends, and shortly after his bar mitzvah he began occasionally substituting when the cantor was away.
Majoring in Judaic studies at the University of Cincinnati, he graduated in 1992. For the past five years, he has been living in Manhattan, studying at the H.L. Miller Cantorial School and the College of Jewish Music at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He received his Diploma of Hazzan and Master of Sacred Music in May.
Soon after returning from that fateful bus trip in the summer of 1991, he started dating his high school classmate, Bina Carr. The couple has now been married for three years.
Gloth knew he wanted to work for Beth Jacob as soon as he saw the synagogue's application.
"They were obviously very thoughtful in what they wanted. It felt right, right from beginning."