Congregations & Organizations
Shir Ami installs Cantor Betcher as spiritual leader


Congregation Shir Ami celebrated Cantor Marie Betcher, ACC, as their first spiritual leader with an Installation Service and Ceremony in their sanctuary at the Live Oak UU in Cedar Park.
Betcher is certified and invested from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion-School of Sacred Music in New York City and is a regular member of the American Conference of Cantors.
Shir Ami, which serves north and northwest Austin, Cedar Park and Williamson County, was represented by Jodie Billings, who presented Betcher with a B’rit Kodesh pledging to honor her with a sacred covenant as the congregation’s first spiritual leader. Proclamations were sent to honor Betcher and Shir Ami from state Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan), state Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin and one of four Jewish members of the Texas House) and Mayor Bob Lemon of Cedar Park. All declared the day of the event, Aug. 23, as Cantor Marie Betcher Day.
The heart of the ceremony was a Ma’ariv Service filled with music and tributes to Betcher. Listening to her praises prompted Past President Jason Fay to observe, “I knew how much Cantor Marie has done for Shir Ami, but it was wonderful hearing her former teachers, friends and colleagues talk about how much she’s done for them, too.”
She was joined on the Bimah for the ceremony by a number of special guests: Jay Rubin, chief executive officer of the Jewish Community Association of Austin; Rabbi Gary Perras of conservative Temple Israel in Winter Springs, Fla.; Rabbi David Komerofsky, executive director of Texas Hillel; Rabbi Monty Eliasov of Congregation Shalom Rav in Austin; Cantor Alane Katzew, director of music programming for Union of Reform Judaism; Rabbi Cookie Olshein of Congregation Beth Israel; and Cantor Barbara Finn of Congregation Albert in Albuquerque, N.M., who shares the pulpit with Rabbi Joe Black, widely known in the Reform movement for his compositions and CDs.
Rubin told the congregation, “The Jewish Community Association of Austin looks forward to partnering with Congregation Shir Ami and Cantor Marie Betcher to deepen the connection of Jewish individuals and families in Williamson County with each other and with the Jewish community throughout Central Texas.”
He added, “More and more Jewish residents are attracted to Williamson County by affordable housing, quality public schools and employment opportunities. The JCAA is committed to exploring a variety of ways to serve them closer to home as well as to connect them to the Dell Jewish Community Campus.”
Concluding, Rubin said, “In her enhanced role as the new spiritual leader of Shir Ami and with her deep ties throughout the Jewish community, Cantor Betcher is uniquely positioned to play a key role in the process.”
The celebration began with a wine-and-cheese reception at 6:30 p.m. as Shir Ami members and friends gathered. Services followed the reception, during which the Installation Ceremony was held. Rabbi Perras and Cantors Katzew and Finn gave an installation sermon.
At the end of the Installation Service, Shir Ami board members were called to the Bimah and passed the Torah from one to another and finally to Cantor Betcher. Board members are Melanie Williams, president; Billings, senior vice president; Dottie Elliott, vice president of education; Alex Lewis, secretary; and trustees Fay, Diana Davenport, Maxine Kaplan, Beth Rogalski and Jonathan Harris. Unable to attend were Norma Freimark, immediate past president, and Alysa Gisser, treasurer.
The Shir Ami Adult Choir — Fran Benoff, Marvin Benoff, Lee Frank, Marvin Frank, Allen Kaplan and Elyse Tarlton — went to the Bimah to sing for Cantor Betcher. After some remarks by Betcher, a special musical presentation by both Franks as well as Kaplan, accompanied by Greta Gutman, honored the installation.
At the conclusion of the service and ceremony, the Shir Ami Religious School Gan Yeladim Choir and other Shir Ami children joined Betcher, all the clergy and guests on the Bimah for Havdalah.
A lavish Dessert Reception followed in the Social Hall, with goodies baked by Benoff, Billings, Harris, Diane Stepakof-Fay, Yael Abraham, Lee Frank, Betsy Geesin, Norma Goodman, Maxine Kaplan, Shelly Krugel, Leslee Simmons and Wendy Turner. Others contributing to the reception were Tarlton, Williams, Bonnie Abrams, Jill Balagur-Conn, Jonathan Betcher, Joanna Bitner, Monica Bouzaglo, Alex Freimark and Beth Rogalski. Shir Ami students volunteered to serve at the reception: Shiraz Abraham, Hannah Fay, Carolyn Freimark, Jacob Geesin, Jacob Golden, Sarah Liberty, Samuel Liberty, Geri Schiff, Leah Simmons and Matt Williams.
Billings chaired the committee that planned and orchestrated the event; members were Abraham, Abrams, Harris, Kaplan, Rogalski, Stepakof-Fay, Williams, Balagur-Conn, Ed Bailen, Norma Freimark and Betsy Geesin.
In addition to serving as Shir Ami’s spiritual leader, Betcher continues as the congregation’s education director. She leads all services and holiday celebrations; officiates at life-cycle events; directs the adult and children’s choirs as well as the High Holiday Children Shofar Corps; teaches adult-education, Sulam and basic Judaism classes; and represents Shir Ami in the Jewish and interfaith communities.
Allen Kaplan, a founder of Shir Ami, said, “Spending the evening with our Shir Ami community and our guests reminded me of how far our congregation has come in just six short years. Cantor Marie’s installation as our first spiritual leader was another important milestone.”