Rachel Gottlieb Kalmowitz is honored to be the Cantor at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Prior to assuming her position at Beth El, she was a resident of New York City, where she had a rich variety of musical experiences in opera, musical theatre, and concert work. As soprano soloist, she has performed an extensive repertoire, including Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, Bach’s Magnificat, and Orff’s Carmina Burana. Favorite opera roles include Gretel in Hansel and Gretel, Despina in Così fan tutte, and Monica in Menotti’s The Medium. She had principal roles in Singing With My Demons and Moses, My Love; new plays premiered in New York City, and won a Grand Award for her work as Clara in Sondheim’s Passion. She was also a District Winner in The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Rachel received her cantorial certification from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a Master of Music in voice performance from University of Michigan, as well as degrees from Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy. She lives in Birmingham, Michigan with her husband, Carey, and daughter, Ilana.
You can only have one: Rose’s caramel corn, an ice cream cone from Jersey Junction, or a Yesterdog. Which do you choose?
I am a huge fan of Yesterdog. So, even though I am now primarily plant-based, since this is a virtual hot dog, I’m going with my fav order from there - one Cheddardog and one Yesterdog. I do have great memories of running into Rose’s as a little kid, wearing my swimsuit, the screen door slamming behind me (remember when it was screened-in??). Also, of riding my bike to Jersey Junction (but I liked to get the Jelly Belly’s, and took forever to decide on my mix each time, as well as the licorice pipes).
What was your path from East Grand Rapids to where you are now in life?
I went to Interlochen Arts Academy for High School, so EGR Middle was my last experience there. Then on to Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, for a Bachelor of Music, and University of Michigan for a Master of Music, both in voice performance. I lived in New York City for many years, as an Equity actor and professional singer, doing musical theatre, opera, and oratorio. I also became a licensed massage therapist, when I became tired of working as a waitress (at French Roast, upper west side) and a temp (at Morgan Stanley, midtown). I moved back to Michigan in 2004, to become the Cantorial Soloist at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills. In 2016, I completed a four-year certification program through Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in NYC, and became a full Cantor. As part of my program, I spent a summer studying in Israel, and advocacy for a strong US-Israel relationship has become very important to me. I am married to a health care attorney named Carey, and we have an 11-year-old daughter, ilana, who is in 6th grade at Detroit Country Day School. I also have two step-sons, Eitan and Ezra, who live in Brooklyn and Baltimore, respectively, and a beautiful Russian Blue cat named Winky.
What specific thing did you learn in East that has enabled you to be successful?
I was in SAGE, a program for advanced students, when I was in 5th grade. We met 2 or 3 afternoons a week. There I learned how to do complex logic puzzles. This skill stayed with me, and when I took the GRE, which involved similar puzzles, I got 99th percentile on that section. I fully believe that was due to the program at East. I still love to do logic puzzles, and I think it will keep my mind sharp as I age!
What were you like in school?
I was a good student, always participated in class, and had a few close friends, rather than a large clique.
Did you have a favorite teacher or class?
In middle school, I loved Science with Mr. Haverkamp and Social Studies with Mrs. Belfer. Side note - when my father-in-law lived in Delray Beach, Florida, he lived down the street from Claire Belfer, so I had the opportunity to visit with her approximately 30 years after I was her student! Also, Mrs. Trout in 3rd grade at Lakeside, whom I credit for teaching me my multiplication tables, and Eric Schweinzger in 5th grade at Wealthy, who was one of the most creative teachers I ever had.
If you had to choose one moment in one location to serve as the signature moment of your East school experience, what would it be?
I loved the freedom we had in middle school, to go out for lunch (at Jacobson’s!) or eat on the hill overlooking the lake.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
Since middle school is inherently a difficult time (for girls especially), I wish I had known that even if you are teased for being who you are, you will ultimately gain respect and achieve success because of those same traits.
Do you stay in touch with many people from East Grand Rapids?
Not many, but a few. Facebook has been great for this!
What advice do you have for young East alums who are just starting out?
Don’t panic if you don’t yet know what you want to do with your life. You will likely follow more than one path. Enjoy your journey, and allow yourself to learn and grow from every person and every experience.
Who else would you like us to have a virtual cup of coffee with?
Darcy Hopkins Afman, Amy Spaans Brooks, and Sarah Brown Brennan.
Bonus question: What are you glad we didn’t ask you about?