Lifecycles | Local | Senior Lifestyle | Seniors

Music is local Hebrew choir leader’s lifeblood

Rina Paz, right, leads members of Tucson’s Shirat HaShirim Hebrew choir in a rehearsal. From left, Norma Torres, Norma Edgerton, Lorena Caspar, Armando Garcia, Ruby Rodarte and Crystal Rodarte

Rina Paz leads Tucson’s Shirat HaShirim Hebrew choir and does other volunteer work within the Jewish community. She grew up in Haifa, Israel, in a large family that was always singing and dancing. Ever since she was a little girl, she says, she has been living life as the strongest person she could be and adding music and tradition wherever she goes. “It’s in my blood,” she says. “It really makes me smile. I’m really happy when I hear singing.”

Paz describes her childhood as a wonderful time in her life. “Everybody was singing and dancing in our neighborhood. You could hear the mothers and fathers singing while cooking and cleaning and the kids were singing and dancing. It was a lot of fun.”

Paz and her family would gather during the holidays and celebrate Israeli traditions together. Her mother would make latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) during Hanukkah.

On Shabbat, her father would go to the synagogue and then her family would have a traditional dinner. They would say prayers and blessings for what they had. Paz says she continued this nostalgic tradition when she had kids.

When Paz was 18 years old she left home to join the Israeli army. It was a big transition in Israel for young adults to join the military.  “Our parents were crying and we were crying,” Paz says. “I missed home very badly.”

Paz worked in communications while she was in the Israeli military.  After the army, Paz became a teacher at a boarding school in Beer Yaakov. Every three weeks she would get a break to go home and enjoy Shabbat.

Paz carried her love of music into her work, teaching her students dances, songs, and activities.  “I really enjoyed it. It was a nice part of my life,” she says.

After working at several boarding schools, Paz decided she wanted to experience big city life. She moved to Tel Aviv and worked first at a bank, then at a travel agency. During this time of her life, Paz traveled to Europe during her vacation time and saw the world.

While working for the travel agency, Paz met her husband, Avi, who eventually asked her to marry him and move to the United States.

“It was a very difficult decision for me to leave Israel and my family and my job. To go to the unknown and a different country. It was very scary but I couldn’t help it,” Paz says.

They lived with friends in New Jersey for three months, and then moved to Brooklyn and subsequently to Staten Island. Paz and her husband both worked for an Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, doing local distribution, public relations, and advertising. Eventually, they made their way to Tucson. At the time, Paz’s children were young so she decided to stay home to raise them. When her children were older, she went back to work as a caregiver for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, visiting patients in their homes, her current occupation.

Paz now loves the United States but misses her family in Israel. This doesn’t stop her from enjoying her life though.  As for her family life, though her marriage didn’t last, Paz says that her biggest accomplishment is her children.

“I have three children and I’m very proud of them. My kids are very smart and independent and that is why I’m proud of them,” she says.

“Nobody knows everything,” Paz believes. “You should listen and learn from kids and grown-ups and all people. I’m still learning. Every day I learn something new.

“I’m very very strong. I learned it from my father and my mother. They never give up and they are very strong like a rock.”

Paz says the hardest part of her life was coming to the United States. It was difficult learning the language and the culture but Paz stood her ground and persevered.

Her hard work paid off and Paz recalls that three weeks after she immigrated, a woman in a grocery store commented that Paz’s English was very good for having just moved. It motivated Paz and she decided to be a more social person. Since then, Paz has maintained that social lifestyle. She sings in the choir to keep up her musical skills, volunteers at the Tucson Jewish Community Center’s early childhood education center, and visits a 97-year-old woman, Hazel Rappeport; they were originally paired by Handmaker, and Paz helps Rappeport practice her Hebrew conversation skills.

Paz says she loves being the choir instructor. Music and singing have helped her through the dark times in her life. “It’s my therapy.”