Musical roots run deep for two new East Bay cantors

In the conclusion of J.’s two-part series on new clergy in the Bay Area, meet two cantors now serving Bay Area congregations.

Last week’s article detailed four new senior rabbis at local congregations: Gershon Albert at Beth Jacob in Oakland, Rebecca Gutterman at B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek, Aubrey Glazer at Beth Sholom in San Francisco and Steve Finley at Shir Shalom in Sonoma.

In addition, in an article last month about longtime Rabbi Daniel Pressman retiring, J. provided details about the new senior rabbi at Congregation Beth David in Saratoga, Rabbi Leslie Alexander.

This article concludes with an update on the rabbi search, and a new assistant rabbi, at Temple Sinai in Oakland.


Cantor Fran Burgess

Temple Beth Hillel, Richmond

Cantor Fran Burgess

For Cantor Fran Burgess, music has always been in her blood, but she explored careers as a massage therapist and registered nurse before committing to her lifelong passion. “I got really disillusioned with nursing,” she says, “but my background in it helps me with my pastoral duties.”

Burgess started her new job at Reform Temple Beth Hillel in Richmond on July 4. She replaces Cantor Howard Cohen, who passed away last year.

The classically trained opera singer and musician studied voice, oboe and flute at various institutions, including the Boston Conservatory of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. She also sang with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and San Francisco Opera for 10 seasons. “I was adventuresome,” she says, recalling the musical career that took her around the world.

After growing up on Long Island, Burgess moved to New York City and drove a cab to make ends meet while studying music. “I didn’t really know what I was going to do,” she says. “Now I’m doing music full-time and on my fourth career.”

Burgess graduated in 2012 with a master’s degree in sacred music from the Academy for Jewish Religion, California in Los Angeles. She lives in Berkeley with her husband, Sandy Zirulnik, and two children.


Cantor Risa Wallach

B’nai Shalom, Walnut Creek

Cantor Risa Wallach

Cantor Risa Wallach says that music runs in her family: She started playing piano at her father’s knee when she was 5. The daughter of composer and professor of music Larry Wallach, she is the new cantor at Conservative Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek.

Wallach, 42, grew up in Great Barrington, Mass., and moved to California after graduating from college. “I had friends in the Bay Area and I was interested in working with people with HIV/AIDS,” she says. After nine years of social work, she was asked to help lead services, which led her back to school. “The more I learned,” she says, “the more I realized I wanted to become a cantor.”

Wallach was involved with leading services at Congregation Netivot Shalom and Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley before going to cantorial school at Hebrew College in Newton Centre, Mass.

Before graduating earlier this year and moving back to the Bay Area, Wallach taught music in religious school and was an education intern at Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in Massachusetts. She lives in Oakland.

“I trained in a pluralistic seminary,” she says, “and am passionate about meditation and chanting from a progressive lens, using arts and social justice.”

Temple Sinai, Oakland

Rabbi Yoni Regev

Temple Sinai of Oakland currently is searching for a senior rabbi to replace Rabbi Andrew Straus, who left after his contract expired on June 30. Mike Baker, president of the temple’s board, said the congregation hopes to find a replacement by the end of the year, but he would not shed any light on who might be a candidate.

According to the Sinai website, Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin has taken over as acting senior rabbi.

In the meantime, Israel native Rabbi Yoni Regev has been hired as an assistant rabbi by the East Bay’s largest synagogue.

Regev, 31, who was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles this spring, assumed his position at the Reform synagogue on July 1. His wife, Lara Pullan Regev, will be ordained next spring. She started working at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael this summer.