Starting in July, Mariel Guarrera-Ashkenazy will begin working as Cantorial Intern at Temple Judea of Manhasset. Mariel is an experienced and talented young cantorial fifth-year student at Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion. She is studying in the Cantorial Ordination program, where she will earn a second Master’s degree in Sacred Music.
At an early age, Mariel began to develop a love for Jewish music while a member of the Temple Judea Junior Choir. She especially connected with special prayer melodies that she heard during Shabbat (Sabbath) and holiday services.
Mariel’s favorite melodies have always been those that allowed her to hum or sing along. Even if she couldn’t find the “right” words, she found that singing could act as a vehicle for prayer. In services, Mariel loves a mix of old and new melodies, as she feels it represents our relationship with Torah. “We return to Torah every year, reading the same words, but finding new meanings”, she stated.
Mariel, despite her young age, has had a long history at Temple Judea, having attended after-school classes starting in kindergarten and continuing through her teenage years. She is deeply connected and committed to the Temple community. Her late mother, Larissa Guarrera, was a former president of the congregation, and her father, Dr. Vincent Guarrera, is a current member and a Trustee. Her home life centered on observing Jewish traditions and holidays. She graduated from Skidmore College, studying religion, theater and sociology, further reaffirming her commitment to Jewish learning and music.
In 2011, she went to Israel on a Birthright trip for Jewish Educators. That trip helped her to realize her calling to become a Jewish educator as a professional. As a result of this inspiration, she applied to HUC-JIR for her Master’s in Religious Education degree, which she earned in 2015.
From 2015-16 she worked at Temple Judea as an Education Intern, working with grade-school students and teens, teaching music and tutoring. She reactivated the teen youth group and assisted with the family Journeys program; she tutored students in Hebrew and generally spread joy through her love of teaching with her beautiful voice accompanied by her guitar.
This current year, Mariel taught music to the younger students, tutored older students, facilitated the youth group and assisted the Director of Education, Lauren Resnikoff, in administering the Better Together grant program, an inter-generational program for teens and seniors that connects the generations. The seniors in the Better Together group are mostly Holocaust survivors who share their related experiences with the teens, such as describing being a survivor or serving as soldiers that liberated the camps.
Mariel is passionate about protecting the environment. She developed and taught a curriculum for her high school students as an intern facilitator in Temple Judea’s NFTY group (Northeast Federation of Temple Youth). Her program was based upon protecting the environment and encouraging sustainability. She designed a unit on GMO’s and had her students discuss the pro’s and con’s after they studied and read about this issue. Her emphasis to the students was always on the responsibility of Jews to take care of the Earth as partners with God.
She looks forward to engaging young families in Jewish life. One of her plans is to hold monthly Family Shabbat services, engaging the young members of the Temple in the services. Her plans also would include holding Shabbat services outside, in the Temple Judea Lipsey Memorial Garden, experiencing God while surrounded by nature
Mariel is excited to begin this new chapter at Temple Judea and is looking forward to serving the community in a cantorial and educational capacity.