God’s word, a light for her path, was first experienced by Isabel in her father’s small Orthodox shul in the East Bronx. As a young child, she would stand outside and listen to the heavenly sounds drifting out from the upstairs window. As she climbed up the steep flight of steps to where her father and uncles sat, she felt closer to God than anywhere else.
Although Judaism was limited in her home, Isabel grew up surrounded by her family’s love of Jewish music, particularly the glorious voices of world renowned cantors. Her mother played the piano, and her father’s tenor voice filled their Bronx apartment. Longing to play an instrument, her mother enrolled her in the Preparatory Manhattan School of Music where she learned to play the piano. However, she was never interested in pursuing a musical career.
Isabel graduated from Mills College of Education, received her master’s degree from Lehman College, and obtained her supervisory certificate from Manhattan College. She taught elementary school in the West Bronx where she and a colleague created the Performing Arts Class. Grades three through six were housed, all day, in an open-classroom where the arts were incorporated in the New York City curriculum. The sparks within the subjects were ignited. Isabel brought her talents in the arts to her students, which enabled them to discover and build upon their own strengths and abilities. Original operas, created by her students, were performed for the community, and the students entertained audiences on the stage of Avery Fisher Hall. Isabel’s achievements as a teacher were recognized when she was awarded N.Y.C. Teacher of the Year in 1986, and ‘PAC’ received the distinction of being an exemplary program in the city schools.
In 1987, Isabel, husband Jay, and daughter Mered moved to Yorktown and joined the Yorktown Jewish Center. After Mered became a bat mitzvah, Isabel was inspired by the spiritual experience. She participated in the adult education courses given by the rabbi, began leading Shabbat services, and chanted haftarot. After celebrating her adult bat mitzvah twelve years ago, her connection to and love for Judaism grew. Once again, Jewish liturgy and the beauty of the cantorial art filled her soul.
Isabel was accepted to AJR and the study of Judaism began to shape who she would become as a cantor. She has been fortunate to serve as a cantorial intern at the Pleasantville Community Synagogue for the past three years. Rabbi Mark Sameth has provided her with spiritual experiences in all life cycle events, leyning Torah, chanting haftarot, and davening. He has entrusted her with his pulpit during his Sabbatical and vacations, and has provided challenges and opportunities for her to grow as a clergy leader. She also teaches in the Hebrew School where she combines her teaching skills with her love of Judaism. Her children’s choir is a welcomed addition, and she is currently teaching an adult bat mitzvah program at PCS and the Yorktown Jewish Center.
Isabel is deeply appreciative of the support, encouragement, and unwavering faith of her family and friends who have been on this lighted spiritual path with her. Her husband Jay, daughter Mered, and son Gregory have been continuous sources of love and inspiration.
She is grateful to AJR’s outstanding faculty, students, and administration who have made AJR an exciting and supportive seminary where intellectual and spiritual growth are cultivated.
Isabel dedicates this ordination to her father and mother, Nathan and Gertrude Levitt, and sister Ethel. May their memories be a blessing.