Hebrew name: Sarah
Job: Psychotherapist, music therapist, musician (Sarah Blacker Band, The Ammonium Maze)
Currently living in: Salem
Alma mater(s): Berklee College of Music / Salem State
Favorite foods: Lobster (I know, not very Jewish of me!), sushi, avocado, dark chocolate
Favorite movies: “Rain Man,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
Favorite TV shows: “SVU,” “48 Hours,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “New Girl”
Favorite travel destinations: Vermont, Colorado, British Columbia
Somewhere you’d like to go next: Banff
Favorite Jewish people not in your family: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Miriam Maisel
Favorite Jewish holiday: Sukkot
Favorite North Shore spot: Singing Beach during dog season
What is your Jewish background?
I grew up in Wellesley where I attended temple. Philosophically and culturally, I grew up in Jewish traditions. My grandpa was a rabbi, my uncle was head of a temple in Newton. So I had all the good foods, all the good traditions, all the good stuff.
Where did that Jewish background take you as you grew up?
It’s funny because in most of the places I’ve lived, there haven’t been a lot of Jewish people, so I think I’ve experienced more often than not being just kind of “other” and not having as much Jewish connection until more recently.
What sparked that connection recently?
My husband, Aaron Katz, who is the song leader at B’nai Abraham in Beverly, and I both found B’nai Abraham in really synchronistic ways. I had lost my dog of 15 years and was driving around that one night just crying. Then I saw a menorah that had this ray of moon cast over it. I pulled over and it happened to be B’nai Abraham. Fast forward a year and we were performing at my husband’s camp, Camp Avoda. He was wondering, ‘Why am I not doing more with the temple right now?’ Then he randomly reached out to B’nai Abraham and they said, ‘Oh my God, we’ve been waiting for somebody to come here and do more music with us.’ We’ve become really involved with that temple in particular, and the awesome congregation and community that belongs there.
How do you incorporate Judaism and music together in your work and in your life?
I’ve been singing a lot with my husband, which has been so much fun. We started doing Shabbats over Zoom during the pandemic. He was doing the music and he was always asking ‘Why don’t you sing with me?’ We did a ton of that on Zoom, and he does different song circles and some different events I’ve been able to do with him. On Yom Kippur I sang “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, who’s my favorite.
Can you tell me a little more about the service experiences during the pandemic?
Yeah, it was pretty emotional but also very comforting. I think we were all looking for those places of comfort. The rabbi did a lot of services around healing and being together and the togetherness of sharing space with people who were all looking for the same thing and wanting to be together. We had the experience of sharing music and finding peace together. It was really nice. There were a lot of outdoor services too, when we could be together.
I’ve talked to some people involved in different aspects of the Jewish community about life during the pandemic finding community moving out of the pandemic. Everyone I’ve talked to mentioned the special parts of being outside and doing services. What are your thoughts or experiences with outdoor services?
I love the North Shore itself where it’s old trees, or natural birds sounds and the elements of nature, the sunset. For me, nature has always been a really strong pathway to spirituality. So connecting with people in that space felt really soothing and almost amplified. There were some tricky elements of being outside. There were kids screaming in the park, or it was at first difficult to hear each other singing through the masks. But when we were able to kind of take them off and people got more comfortable, and involved some percussion and things, that was a lot of fun.
How does Judaism impact your work in music
I’ve had limited experience working with people in music therapy who are Jewish, but I worked as an activities director and music therapist at a nursing home in Lynn called Life Care Center of the North Shore. And it’s interesting because some of the people before I even knew that they were Jewish, I felt most connected to. Then, finding out they were Jewish and being able to share that with them was really powerful. Being able to sing some prayers with them, towards end of life, was really moving. There were even some Russian speaking residents who didn’t speak any English, but we just sing prayers. There was one resident in particular, I sort of adopted her as my Jewish grandma, and we got to spend a lot of time singing together. She used to play accordion, so she was really passionate about the music groups, and that was a lot of fun.