Temple Emanu-El’s new cantor brings her ‘drive and passion’ to inspire through music; will also serve as youth director


EDISON – Emily Simkin knew she wanted to use music as a vehicle for spirituality and inspiration since she was 9 years old.

It was during her experiences at Camp Harlam, which is part of the Union for Reform Judaism family of camps and youth camps in the Poconos, where her inspiration blossomed.

“From there I became more and more involved in the synagogue and I insisted on going to a Jewish State School,” she said.

Simkin, who grew up in the Philadelphia area, attended the now Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, for her high school years and went on to receive her undergraduate degree in music from Berklee College of Music in Boston with a minor in psychology.

She was recently ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. The first year of study is spent in Israel and her following years were spent in New York where she served the Jewish community in cantorial, educational and youth professional roles in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts and Hawaii.

On July 1, Simkin began her new role as cantor at Temple Emanu-El, bringing her drive and passion. As cantor, she uses different Jewish music styles and forms, whether on the guitar or with the temple’s pianist, to express Jewish spirituality and meaningful life cycle events.

Along with cantorial services, Simkin will also take on the role as youth director.

“I’m really excited to work with the youth group, grades 2-12,” she said. “I think it’s so important to have fun with the kids. Absolutely there is time for connection through prayer, but also there can be connection through laser tag.”

Simkin comes to Temple Emanu-El in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic. She led her first Shabbat service with Rabbi Rebecca Gutterman through a Zoom livestream and was able to meet many of the congregants through Zoom after.

“It was a bit different,” she said, noting although it wasn’t her first time leading services on Zoom during the pandemic in her previous role at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, it was her first livestreamed service.

Simkin said the congregants at Temple Emanu-El have given her a warm welcome. As they continue through the pandemic, she said she looks forward to working with Gutterman on how best to serve the community, implement modern technology and stay present through the conditions.

Post pandemic, Simkin believes she and Gutterman will make a dynamic team to create liturgy to incorporate in services to engage every age and stage of every congregant.

Simkin aims to frame her cantorate around Jewish mindfulness, pastoral care, experiential education, and youth engagement. She particularly enjoys training b’nai mitzvah students, writing a creative values-based curriculum, interfaith programming, and engaging with congregants of every age and stage in the community.

In her free time, Simkin spends time practicing yoga, gardening, making art and enjoying good wine, she said.

Simkin noted Camp Harlam is not only where she found her calling, it is where she met her husband, Adam Halpern, who is currently a medical student at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harlem.

The couple live in Staten Island  and together they enjoy time outdoors, cooking, and the best that Netflix has to offer. They are the proud pet parents of two cats, Hilly and Ru, named for Hillary Clinton and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.