The daughter of a mother with roots in Latvian Jewry and a Baghdad-born father of Babylonian Jewish tradition who emigrated to America, Cantor Elizabeth Shammash grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts as the youngest of five siblings. She attended Heritage Academy, a traditional Jewish Day School that welcomes Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews together under one roof. This and her experiences with her father at Temple Beth El, hearing the majestic voice of Cantor Morton Shames, largely shaped her Jewish perspective and musical tastes.
Having played violin since the age of four and later viola, she went on to study voice and become a professional singer with a career in opera and concert (see mezzo bio). In 1994, she began a nine year tenure as High Holy Day Cantorial Soloist at Falmouth Jewish Congregation on Cape Cod, and later served as High Holy Day Cantorial soloist at Congregation Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, PA. She served for three years as Cantor of Congregation Mount Sinai in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
Cantor Shammash received her investiture and Master of Sacred Music from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in May 2007. During this time she explored Jewish music from classical hazzanut to Yiddish and Ladino repertoire, and wrote her Master’s thesis on contemporary Israeli art song composers from the Zionist pioneers to the present. Her mentors at JTS included Hazzanim Lawrence Avery, Charles Davidson, Raphael Frieder and Jack Mendelson. She has served Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell, PA since 2007. She feels fortunate to have found her calling in the vast and beautiful world of Jewish music and loves to share this passion with congregants of all ages, in music of diverse genres, connecting them to our rich liturgical and cultural tradition both on the bima and in concert.
Cantor Shammash’s recordings for the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music (Naxos) include two discs of Yiddish Theatres songs with conductor Eli Jaffe and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, David Stock’sA Little Miracle for mezzo-soprano and orchestra with conductor Gerard Schwarz and the Berlin Radio Orchestra, Hermann Berlinski’s Avodat Shabbat, Ernst Toch’s Cantata of the Bitter Herbs with Gerard Schwarz and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Thomas Beveridge’s Yizkor Requiem and Yiddish Art Songs of Lazar Weiner. One of her first projects at TBI was to record and produce an album of the Friday night service, entitled Yedid Nefesh: Friday Night at Tiferet Bet Israel.
Cantor Shammash served on the Executive Committee of the Cantors Assembly from 2010-2013, and is a member of both the Cantors Assembly and American Conference of Cantors. In addition to Jewish Theological Seminary, she holds a Master’s degree in Music and Voice Performance from Manhattan School of Music, an artist diploma from Boston University’s Opera Institute and a B.A. in Italian Studies from Brown University, including a year of study at the Università di Bologna in northern Italy. She received certification as a yoga teacher from Om Yoga Center in New York City in 2003. She lives with her husband, David Reed, in Philadelphia.