On August 21st, we had a retirement party to honor Cantor Kal Socolof. Many of you were present for the brunch and delightful time that brought the community together. For those who could not attend, I would like to share Norm Siegel’s speech for our honoree:
You know when I was asked to say a few words about our honoree, I was stumped and still am as to what to call him. Should I call him honest politician, an obvious oxymoron, should I call him teacher, should I call him Cantor or should I call him Spiritual Leader? As many of you know, before I retired I was a Supreme Court Justice and did many jury trials. So I decided since I had before me such an intelligent and informed group of people. Why not let you decide what our honoree should be called. Therefore I am making you all jurors and charging you with the responsibility of determining what our honoree should be called. I will present you with some hearsay evidence, some of my own personal observations and some eyewitness testimony. So let’s get started.
Our honoree’s teaching career started in 1979 when he was appointed to the position of instructor at Herkimer County Community College. By the time he retired in 2017, he had attained the rank of full professor of radio and TV broadcasting. While at HCCC, he was loved and respected by not only his students but by his colleagues and the administration. This is not an easy accomplishment in the academic world. This adoration was exemplified by the fact that when he retired he was not merely given a perfunctory good bye but was instead granted the unusual designation of professor emeritus. His teaching skills and style will be discussed later.
We will next talk about the possible title of honest politician. Most of us think of the word “Trustee” in the context of a synagogue or hospital board member. That is not the trustee I am referring to. Our honoree lives in a small town called Ilion, not exactly a hot bed of liberal thinking. However, because of the respect that everyone had for him, our honoree was drafted to run in a 4-way election for 2 seats on the Ilion village board. He ran as a Democrat in a largely working class Republican area. Not only was he elected to one of the two seats but he led the ticket getting the most votes of all 4 candidates, another example of how well respected he is, not only in the Jewish community but in the community at large. He is a truly exceptional individual. In these troubled days it is good to see that there is still room available for an honest politician who does what he thinks is right and not what is politically expedient. He also showed great wisdom in not seeking re-election.
Now let’s go on to the possibility of calling him Cantor. Our honoree started at Temple Beth El in 1979 as a Hebrew School teacher. At the time, Temple Beth El had a Cantor. In 1985, he became our Cantor and started giving Bar and Bat Mitzvah lessons to students, with his first student being Randy Rockford. I will know call upon Rusty the bailiff, also known as Rabbi Geier to present some eyewitness testimony. (VIDEO WAS VIEWED HERE)
That testimony represents just a tiny portion of the almost 200 students that our honoree prepared for their entry into Jewish adulthood. As most of you know, working with adolescents is not easy. But the warmth and admiration shown by these witnesses exemplifies the true depth of the characteristics that make our honoree truly unique. He had the ability to engage children who probably didn’t want to be there to become willing participants in their study. He was able to impart lessons about life that far exceeded their Hebrew learning and served them well for the rest of their adult lives. That is truly an extraordinary talent. As a cantor we were all privileged to hear a beautiful voice chanting prayers that did not come from the words in a book but came from a man’s heart.
Now allow me to digress for just a moment. Several years ago a non-member of Temple Beth El asked me a question. He asked, “Why does your Cantor close his eyes when he chants?” I know perhaps some of you have the same question. I quickly replied, “ Because the words are on the inside of his eyelids.”
Now it’s time to address the title of Spiritual Leader. After working with Rabbis Solomon, Gerstein, Siegel, and Kopelman our honoree became our Spiritual Leader in 2016. Since then congregants have solicited guidance from him on many topics. Kal was always willing to discuss any topic and never backed away from a tough question. It was not difficult to accept his final decision or answer because one of his greatest attributes was his ability to listen to others, consider their opinions if different from his and discuss issues rather than unilaterally dictate them. He always listened and respected your opinion. It was always a pleasure to have a discussion with a person who had a brilliant and open mind, with whom you may disagree but who was never disagreeable. His concise sermons were always brief, thorough and incorporated the Torah portion into current events. This unique ability was the reason that congregants looked forward to his sermons rather than dreaded them. I bet you wish I had learned from him! When I spoke with our Honoree he told me he enjoyed being our Spiritual Leader, enjoyed being liked by the congregation and also liking the congregation. Temple Beth El was truly blessed to have a leader like our Honoree, even if it was just a few important years.
You have now heard all the proof and it is time for you to cast your votes so that we know what to call this person. All those in favor of “teacher”, all those in favor of “honest politician”, all those in favor of Cantor, all those in favor of Spiritual Leader/Rabbi”.
All of you may remember the line in a famous Mel Brooks movie, “It’s good to be the King”. Well it’s also good to be the judge and I’m going to overrule you and tell you what I think we should call Kal Socolof. And I think you will all agree. I think we should call him a true Yiddisha Mensch!
Thank you to all who attended the concert with Rabbi Geier. It was wonderful that he shared his special talent with the community.
(Check out the photos in this issue) I am looking forward to more events that will bring our community together.
Our high-holiday services celebrated at 1607 Genesee were extra special. Thank you to RCIL for accommodating all our needs to be able to pray in that sanctuary once again. Thank you to Rabbi Geier for making sure the set-up was exactly as we needed from the sound to the lights and of course the services.