Joan was born in Ft. Benning, Georgia. Her early life was spent moving with her family to various locations in the United States, Europe and Asia. High School years were spent in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her undergraduate musical studies were at Oberlin Conservatory and the University of Hawaii. During this time, she first began singing professionally at the only Jewish congregation in Hawaii, Temple Emanuel. The beauty of the music and the warmth of the congregation stayed with her as she moved to New York to complete her Masters Degree in Performance at the Manhattan School of Music. While there, she heard for the first time, female students leading Shabbat services at the Jewish Theological Seminary just across the street. At the time, she didn’t realize how the possibility of female clergy would radically change her later life. After graduation, Joan took a detour into the world of international banking, where she met her husband and greatest supporter, Ron. They knew they were meant to be together when he played guitar and they harmonized Simon and Garfunkel tunes. His daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Martin, have been a source of love, support and laughter in the ups and downs of life. Their daughter Emma’s Bat Mitzvah this coming October and sister Liese’s two years later have served as an impetus for Joan to finish her studies in time to be called Grandma Cantor Finn.
The first time Joan walked into her congregation, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel (‘TSTI’) in South Orange, NJ. was for Ron’s daughter Cindy’s Bat Mitzvah, officiated by Cantor Abraham Levitt. Who would have guessed that, years later, Joan would sit in her Reform Liturgy classes at AJR taught by Cantor Murray Simon, and hear Cantor Levitt’s beautiful music while she learned about the incredible history of hazzanut and the cantorate? Or that years later, Joan would stand on that same bima with Cindy’s daughter Berret, while leading High Holy Day services? Hopefully, when Joan’s grandson Zach is old enough, he will have the opportunity to stand in the spot where his grandmother, mother and sister have.
TSTI has nurtured Joan musically and spiritually beginning with the choir led by Michael May, z’l. Singing the beautiful Jewish texts brought her back into the world of singing and to one of her most important mentors, Cantor Ted Aronson. His beautiful voice and moving services on the High Holy Days inspired her to become more involved in the workings of the congregation. He encouraged her interest in cantillation and got her involved in tutoring Bar and Bat Mitzvah students. The joy Joan derived from teaching students to chant and learn how to confidently lead their congregation in prayer were central to her desire to become a cantor. Rabbi Harvey Goldman got her involved in work with Outreach for interfaith families and lay leadership of services. Rabbi Daniel Cohen sent her to the Reform movement’s Para-Rabbinic program and made her the congregational Cantorial Soloist. It was only after Joan got to lead High Holy Day services at TSTI that congregant Rabbi Arnold Zoref, an AJR graduate, told her about AJR and the possibility of actually becoming a cantor. Joan met with Cantor Ken Cohen who showed her that her dream could become a reality. While at AJR, Joan met her teachers, Cantors Sol Zim, Lisa Klinger-Kantor and Ramon Tasat, whose love of hazzanut and bel canto, beautiful singing, are an inspiration for every cantorial student. Today, Joan frequently works with Rabbi Ellie Miller at TSTI, who is a constant source of inspiration. Rabbi Miller not only has a beautiful voice, but her calm in the midst of the storm of congregational life and her compassionate work with students are models Joan hopes to emulate.
As one can see, Joan’s road to the cantorate has not been traveled alone. Without the support and love of her family, friends, fellow students, administration and teachers, she could not have stayed on the path. Sometimes, the bridge she was trying to cross felt very narrow, and the abyss below deep and frightening. In the darkest moments, the hands that reached out were those of classmates Enid Lader and Lisa B. Segal, whose intelligence, humanity and kindness serve as a models of what it is to be spiritual leader of K’lal Yisrael. Her friend, Michele Mestman, has been an unfailing source of support, playing for each of Joan’s practica and always providing friendship and laughter along with beautiful music. The spiritual light that all these supporters have given off in their musicality, knowledge, humor and goodness helped lighten the pressures from school and work so that Joan could complete her journey. She dedicates her ordination to everyone whose support, assistance and kindness enabled her to reach the other side.