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Pandemic Inspires Creative Way To Fill Needs, Cantor At LA Synagogue Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Anybody whose work involves drawing a crowd has to be creative while crowds are discouraged. Mike Stein is such a person. He is a cantor at Temple Aliyah near Los Angeles.

MIKE STEIN: A cantor is the minister of music. So I do everything that a rabbi does. But I can sing.

INSKEEP: He ministers to about 900 families.

STEIN: In normal times, I have a bluegrass service, a jazz service, reggae service. And what I've done is I've taken our ancient liturgy and I've put it to different styles of music, which is something that the Jewish people have always done.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEIN: (Singing) Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

These days, Stein has been holding services on Facebook, YouTube and Zoom. He says that's limited what he can do. But it's also inspired creativity.

STEIN: We've had bar mitzvahs from home. We also had a car mitzvah. One of our congregants went to a big parking lot (laughter). And the young man did his bar mitzvah. And people were in their cars honking. And then when it was over, they played on a big loudspeaker, like, (singing) hava nagila. Like, they drove their cars in a circle around the parking lot (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Keep driving.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Drive, everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Drive.

STEIN: But on another note, when this first started, the hardest thing was the lack of human contact. It's been really difficult. And I do a lot of ministering to people in hospitals and others. And I have not been able to visit anybody since - yeah, I guess sometime in February. And that's been really tough. And usually, I go to their hospital bed. And I play the guitar. And I sing. And that brings them great comfort.

MARTIN: Stein has this song for those who might be feeling isolated right now.

STEIN: I'll sing a song that I wrote that I sing, a healing song. It's called "Refaenu." And it comes Tehillim - from Psalms. And it goes like this (Singing in Hebrew).

INSKEEP: Mike Stein is a cantor at Temple Aliyah, Woodland Hills, Calif.

STEIN: (Singing) God, only you can bring true healing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.