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Even on the High Holidays, this cantor is on call
Cantor Shlomo Glick both sings Jewish prayers and works as an EMT.
September 24th, 2014
12:34 PM ET

Even on the High Holidays, this cantor is on call

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog editor

(CNN) -  According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashana, God decides who will live and die during the next year. For Cantor Shlomo Glick, the holy days - which begin the Jewish new year - are particularly poignant.

Not only does Glick, who lives in Jerusalem, stand at the front of synagogues and sing solemn prayers on Rosh Hashana, but he is an EMT for United Hatazalah, a volunteer emergency service.

Glick, 36, spoke to CNN via email about his spiritual and secular roles - including a time he stopped religious services to treat a man in cardiac arrest.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: For people who might not know, can you explain a bit about the role of a cantor?

A: A cantor leads Jewish congregations in prayer. We are professional singers who have extensively studied the order and meaning of the prayers in addition to how to carry our voices. A good cantor tailors the tunes and style of prayer with the audience to ensure that everybody sings in unison and finds meaning in the service.

Q: Which job, EMT or cantor, do you think is more important?

A: I love performing and inspiring people in prayer, but there is no greater feeling than saving a life.

Q: You work closely with human frailty. Does that make the High Holy Days more poignant for you?

A: According to our tradition, Rosh Hashana is when God decides how our year will unfold: who will live and who will die, who will struggle and who will succeed.

Coming in such close contact with death and illness on a daily basis definitely adds meaning to my prayers and enables me to connect on a personal level to every word that I sing.

Q: Do you turn your cell phone or pager off during High Holy Day services?

When I am in Israel, I'm on call 24/7; it doesn't matter if it's Rosh Hashana or even Yom Kippur. I'm always connected to the United Hatzalah GPS system that informs me whenever I am close to an emergency.

But when I'm performing at a concert or leading prayers at a synagogue, I try to only take calls that are actual life and death situations. If someone's life is in danger, I will drop everything, jump on my "ambucycle" and be with them in less than three minutes.

Q: Have there actually been times when you’ve had to respond do a call during a service?

I was once leading a Rosh Hashana accompanied by a choir in huge synagogue in central Israel when all of a sudden a man in the congregation collapsed in cardiac arrest. I stopped the service and ran over to help. After 10 minutes and with the help of a defibrillator, I was able to shock him back to life.

Q: Has a patient ever asked you to sing?

One time, I was informed that a young man was standing on a rooftop in Jerusalem threatening to commit suicide. Paramedics, the fire service and the police where on scene preparing for the worst-case scenario. He had locked himself on the roof, and police were frantically trying to convince him to come down.

I was standing and watching when his father spotted me in the crowed and told me that the boy loved cantorial music and had owned all of my music. I was sent up to the roof, where I counseled him. We eventually agreed that he would come down.

Q: Is there a particular song that you really enjoy singing during Rosh Hashana?

There is one prayer that is truly the pinnacle of the Rosh Hashana service, in which the cantor recites the words "On Rosh Hashana, it is decided who will live and who will die." It is the most moving part of the service, and I am always touched by this prayer.

Q: So what’s more exciting, helping save a life or singing for high holiday services?

It is extremely exiting to sing in front of a large audience or to lead a large congregation in prayer. It is my life’s work. But nothing can compare to saving a life.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Faith & Health • Holidays • Israel • Judaism • rosh hashanah

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.