Cantorial Soloist Nichole Chorny has had a love for Judaism and Jewish music for almost as long as she can remember. “I always had a sense of belonging and connection to the Jewish community,” Chorny says. “From a young age I knew I wanted to do something related to Judaism and music.”
And that “something” evolved into a career at Congregation Anshei Israel, where Chorny is celebrating 10 years as the synagogue’s cantorial soloist. “Since 2014, I have been blessed to have a full-time position at the synagogue that was my first spiritual home, and I’ve loved every moment of it.”
Her passion is inspired by the liturgy, the music and the sense of community. “Singing together creates connection in every direction – to God, the past, the future, and to each other. That’s always drawn me in and made me want to share that connection with others. There’s such beauty and meaning in the melodies we heard growing up and we have a beautiful connection to those memories. But new melodies expand our hearts and enable us to experience the liturgy in new ways, find new meaning in the texts.” That is one of her goals as she introduces new melodies into the prayer services – to keep the community engaged with the texts, thinking about the words, and not just praying by rote.
For Chorny, serving as clergy is about so much more than just the music. Since 2020, she has also served as education and youth director. “My days are always varied. I might be teaching music to 2-year-olds in the morning and visiting a 102-year-old in hospice in the afternoon. I seek to help each congregant connect to Judaism in whatever way is meaningful to them.”
Chorny grew up in Tucson and became a Bat Mitzvah at Anshei Israel. “I dove into learning the liturgy and Torah. I loved the melodies, loved to be surrounded by other Jewish people and feel like part of the community.” She would often go to services on her own “as the token young person.” After her Bat Mitzvah she continued to lead services and chant Torah and Haftarah. In high school she started thinking about becoming a cantor. While earning a bachelor’s degree in music education with an emphasis in vocal and choral music at the University of Arizona, she taught religious school and tutored B’nai Mitzvah students.
Chorny met her husband, Joel, on a Taglit Birthright Israel trip during her junior year and moved to the Washington, DC area after graduating, where Joel was in law school at George Washington University. When they moved back to Tucson in 2010, Chorny found herself once again immersed in the Jewish community, teaching and leading services part time, while also working as a music teacher in the Sahuarita Unified School District. In 2014, she was asked to apply to be the full-time cantorial soloist at Anshei Israel. “When I was offered the position, I felt like my dream had finally come true.”
That dream has included raising both of her children – Tzippora, 11, and Gideon, 7 – to share her love of Judaism. And she now has the joy and honor of helping Tzippi prepare for her Bat Mitzvah next fall, coming full circle.
Over the years, Chorny pursued cantorial studies off and on and she now plans to complete her training at the Cantorial Internship of the Cantor’s Assembly, while continuing to serve Anshei Israel. She says her role won’t really change; she’ll just have more knowledge to share with the community.
In a fitting tribute to her first decade as cantorial soloist, Congregation Anshei Israel will honor Chorny at “Harmonies from the Heart” – a Shabbaton and concert, February 2-3, with special musical guest Rabbi Josh Warshawsky.
Warshawsky is a Jewish musician, songleader, composer, and educator, who has released five albums of Jewish music and been featured on eight music anthologies. He was ordained in 2019 from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, served as rabbi-in-residence of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago and is a core educator of Songleader Boot Camp.
“It’s going to be really special to have Rabbi Josh here, to bring his beautiful melodies and the innovations that he’s brought to Jewish music,” says Chorny, who has been incorporating his music into Anshei Israel’s Shabbat services over the last two years. “I’m excited to be able to sing with him over the weekend. I enjoyed learning with him in the past and I can’t wait to share him with the community.”
The highlight of the weekend is a concert on Saturday, February 3, at 7:15 pm featuring many of Warshawky’s original melodies. He will also join Chorny and Rabbi Sara Metz for a family friendly Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night (followed by dinner) and Shabbat services Saturday morning. All programs are open to the public. The event schedule, tickets and sponsorship information are at www.caiaz.org/harmonies.