BAYSHORE — The brainstorming began almost as soon as Cantor Moshe Friedler tendered his resignation. After 21 years at the Rodeph Sholom synagogue, Friedler will travel nationwide to Jewish communities too small to hire a rabbi or cantor.
How could the congregation express appreciation and admiration for the man who taught their children, sang at their weddings and cried at their funerals?
Well, members decided, with a cabaret of performances by former students, now entertainers, who attribute some of their professional success to their robust role model.
They would show Friedler, who taught them all how to chant the traditional Hebrew prayers at age 13, the range of his influence.
They would show him how bar and bat mitzvah training instilled confidence, showmanship and above all, passion.
"He has an aggressive love for music," said Evan Koteles, 22, who formed the band 10th Concession with his brother Ian, 27. Photographs of dozens of Friedler's students appeared on a video screen behind the brothers as they performed two original songs at the Feb. 26 farewell fete dubbed Sholom Moshe!
The cantor's boundless enthusiasm, said Evan, sent him a powerful message: "Sing it like you love it.''
Sam Port, 26, an up-and-coming talent living in New York, absorbed that "magnetic energy,'' too, he said. He sang a song from Phantom of the Opera with the gusto that Friedler exemplifies.
"He expected so much of us,'' said Port, recalling their weekly Hebrew sessions. "That accountability," he said, taught him the importance of preparation. "There is no time to waste in a performance setting."
Susie Matbony Rayburn sang show tunes and joined Port in a Cole Porter medley. Rayburn sang in the synagogue's choir for 20 years and has performed in 50 musicals.
Another self-starter, Ester Steinberg, 20, attends New York University and has performed standup comedy in clubs around New York and Los Angeles. Her tribute came by way of jokes that cracked up the crowd.
"He's vibrant, dynamic, larger than life," said Jane Levin, chairwoman of the farewell gala. The event tickets will pay for a free congregational dinner in June for all 465 families belonging to the Bayshore Boulevard synagogue.
Friedler, a native Argentinian, turns 68 this month. His parents fled anti-Semitism in Europe in the early 1930s and settled in Buenos Aires, where they opened an underwear factory.
By age 10, his heart was set on being a cantor. He spent endless hours memorizing recordings of the best-known synagogue voices. An accordion was the best bar mitzvah gift imaginable.
"You see, the cantor is the spirit and the rabbi is the intellect," Friedler explained. In other words, the rabbi sermonizes and the musician harmonizes.
He found cantorial work in Argentina, Panama, Mexico City, California and Miami before arriving in Tampa in 1990. His son, Ariel, now 33, grew up in Miami and now lives in Washington, D.C.
After his divorce, Friedler said, "I drove to Miami every Tuesday for 10 years to pick him up after school, take my mother shopping, eat dinner and drive back to Tampa.''
Friedler guesses he has taught 5,000 students. To banish discouragement, he likes to use a sailing analogy.
"In a sailboat, you sit and wait for the wind to start to move,'' he said. Each child progresses at his own pace, "to be ready when the wind blows."
Come September, Friedler will follow the wind, behind the wheel of his Mountain Aire RV, license plate OY VEY2. On board will be Tikvah, his pet Yorkie, his Apple laptop, a guitar and his accordion.
"It will be Moshe's Motorcoach Tour," quipped Levin.
Reach Amy Scherzer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3332.