Hazzan Rozansky heals body and soul

This physical therapist is also a cantor.

Michele “Mimi” Rozansky knew from age 14 that her life’s work would be in the healing arts. In 1980, the Milwaukee native earned a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from University of Wisconsin-Madison and returned to her hometown to work with children living with severe neurological challenges. In 1997, she opened her own practice, Or- lanu Therapies — The Myofascial Release Center of Milwaukee. Since then, she has specialized in helping children and adults dealing with chronic pain and trauma. In January, the physical therapist completed a six-year project to add a new set of tools to her therapeutic repertoire. She was ordained as a cantor by the ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal Ordination Program.

For Rozansky, the title of hazzan is a natural next step in what might seem an unusual career arc. Growing up at Beth El Ner Tamid Synagogue in Mequon, Rozansky always felt most connected to Jewish liturgy and ritual through music. She sang in the synagogue’s children’s choir, which tackled four-part choral works by renowned composer, Max Janowski z”l, who directed the adult choir in the mid-1950s.

As a 20-something raising a young family, Rozansky was a founding member of Shir Hadash, Milwaukee’s first Reconstructionist congregation, where she served as cantorial soloist from 1989 to 2015. She began co-leading Shabbat and high holy day services and officiating at lifecycle events. In 2012, she returned to sing at her childhood synagogue — now a church — when the Milwaukee Jewish Community Chorale performed a tribute concert in celebration of Janowski’s centennial. The experience would prove pivotal for Rozansky, who said the experience moved her to join the chorale.

In 2013, the choir participated in the annual HaZamir North American Jewish Choral Festival. While browsing information ta- bles in the venue lobby, Rozansky met representatives of several cantorial programs.

“My chorale director, Enid, told me, ‘You should do this,’” Rozansky said. “I was always so moved by cantorial music, but I realized that I didn’t really know its origins or meaning. I felt a real pull to that hazzanut lineage, which goes back to the Levites.”

Rozansky took the plunge, enrolling in the ALEPH Ordination Program for its distance-learning model, and for its Davvenen’ Leadership Training Institute, a two-year component of the curriculum involving four five-day retreats at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut.

“We learned how to create the space — or what the Hasidic rebbes call a ‘vessel’ — for transformation to happen, instead of ‘I, the cantor, performs and the congregation receives,’” Rozansky said. “We learned to facilitate an experience of participation and connection, which then moves one to join in communal prayer. When this happens, you literally witness teshuvah, a return, a person coming home to their true self.”

That’s where the connective tissue of Rozansky’s two career paths began to gel. “At the same time that I was learning to create a space for spiritual healing, I was also learning to help people recover from trauma, as a physical therapist,” she said. “Both practices require spiritual and emotional exploration in order to reclaim oneself, to remember who you really are.”

Combining her unusual skill set, Rozansky said she will continue to officiate at lifecycle events for unaffiliated Jewish community members and lead monthly Kabbalat Shabbat gatherings. ”I want to help others find the meaning of their prayer, their window to connecting to something larger than themselves, be it the kahal [congregation], nature, the universe, or God,” she said. “When we sense our connection, we realize our holiness. Inspired by my ALEPH rebbes, I envision designing and leading Shabbatons of healing, sacred time for personal and communal teshuvah and renewal. Through sharing music, Torah, and neshama (soul), I will create and hold the space for others to experience the joy and magic of their personal Shabbat, their personal teshuvah, their renewal of the soul.”

ALEPH Ordination Program ordained nine rabbis and two cantors on January 12, 2020. From left to right: Rabbi Zeh José Amarante, Rabbi Caryn Aviv, Rabbi Alan Scott Bachman, Rabbi Shir Yaakov Feit, Hazzan Evlyn Gould, Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi Mem Mary Ellen Movshin, Hazzan Michele Rozansky, Rabbi Elca Rubinstein, Rabbi Pauline Tamari, and Rabbi Brett Tancer. Photo by Janice Rubin, used with permission.