Cantor Carol Chesler was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. She received her first guitar at age of 9, and developed a strong desire to become a folk singer and classical guitarist. Cantor Chesler received her
B.A. at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, graduating Magna Cum Laude, and then pursued a career in Jewish music education and Jewish communal services in the Chicago area. She worked for Hillel, serving Jewish college students, as well as a number of synagogues as music teacher, song-leader, and children’s service leader.
When the Jewish Theological Seminary allowed women to become invested as cantors, Cantor Chesler auditioned and was accepted. She left for a year of study in Jerusalem, where she met her husband, Barry, a rabbinical student. They married the following year, both graduating from JTS in 1992.
The Chelsers moved to Long Island to serve the Malverne Jewish Center as a rabbi-cantor couple. During their six years in Malverne, Cantor Chesler also served several other local congregations as Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutor, music teacher, and adult ed programmer. Over the succeeding years she has taught Bar/Bat Mitzvah lessons to hundreds of students in congregations all over Long Island.
She then served 12 years as a full-time cantor at the Huntington Jewish Center. Cantor Chesler is a mezzo soprano, and sings in a register that is welcoming to all voices, with the goal of full participation by all.
Since 2017 Cantor Chesler has been at Temple Beth Torah, Westbury, NY, a congregation of 300 families. Her duties include leading all religious services, teaching B’nai Mitzvah, being the weekly Torah reader, performing life cycle events, pastoral care, adult ed, and creating a variety of programs for all age groups. She engages teens to participate in synagogue life by inviting them back as Torah readers, Haftarah chanters, Megillah readers, and to volunteer in community mitzvah projects.
For six months during 2021 when Temple Beth Torah was between rabbis, Cantor Chesler served as single clergy (“Kolbo”), covering all rabbinical duties during that time, as well as her own cantorial obligations. She delivered Divrei Torah from the Bima and online (4 per week), and conducted all religious services throughout these months as sole clergy of the congregation.
During COVID she developed community-building programming, including: creating a Chesed Committee which delivered Shabbat gift bags to all members among other activities; coordinating multiple food drives; launching a weekly Zoom “drop-in-and-chat” session to bring isolated congregants together for social connections and healing; initiating Zoom singalong sessions; and producing YouTube demonstrations such as challah baking for Shabbat and cheesecake baking for Shavuot.
Cantor Chesler was the music director at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires each summer from 2002-2019. She created the annual musical program for over 500 campers, ages 3-16, infusing American, Israeli, Hassidic and Jewish pop music. She supervised the music staff, including during the off-season to prepare for the next summer.
Other activities: Since 1998 she has been an Early Childhood Music Specialist, teaching both secular and Jewish music to 2–5-year-olds. She continues to lead religious services and music at assisted living, nursing homes and rehab centers, something she started doing in 1999. She also has taught cantors and cantorial students at the Cantors Assembly and JTS, both online and at on-site conferences.
Cantor Chesler, and her husband, Rabbi Barry Chesler, live in Huntington, Long Island, NY. They have four children, Rafi , Aliza, Avi , and Galit, the youngest of whom is in high school, plus their dog, Shachar.