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The Spirit of Song: Remembering Cantor Brad Kurland

For 39 years, Cantor Bradlee Kurland brought music, joy and spirit to the Herzl Ner-Tamid congregation on Mercer Island

Article by Vivian Blum and Michael Stein

Photography by Dafna Tarlowe, Glindon Marten, Talby Gelb

Originally published in Mercer Island City Lifestyle

For close to four decades, the melodic sounds of Cantor Bradlee Kurland's voice drifted down from the bimah at Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation, lifting the spirits of the congregants and enriching their Jewish lives through song. But beyond his wonderful voice and musical talents, it was Cantor Brad's warm personality, genuine care for people, and ability to instill meaning and comfort through Jewish ritual that truly made him a beloved figure in the Mercer Island Jewish community.

The Spirit of Herzl-Ner Tamid

For 39 years, Cantor Bradlee Kurland breathed life and spirit into Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation on Mercer Island. His warm and welcoming personality, love for music and Jewish tradition, and ability to connect with people of all ages made him a beloved figure in the community.

Brad, as he was affectionately known, served as cantor and music director at Herzl-Ner Tamid from 1984 until his passing this past May at 68 years old. In that time, he officiated at countless life cycle events for congregants, - including weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, baby namings and funerals. But his presence went far beyond officiating at services. His smile, sense of humor and joy at simply being with the community endeared him to members young and old.

"He truly had a way to make everyone he encountered feel special," said Mickey Friedman, president of Herzl-Ner Tamid. "We were all lucky to have him in our lives."

Brad's voice, warm personality and ability to transform even the most mundane of rituals into meaningful experiences left an indelible mark on Herzl-Ner Tamid and the entire Mercer Island Jewish community. "He was the spirit of our Herzl community," one congregant said.

Although his physical presence is gone, the spirit and memory of Cantor Bradlee Kurland will remain forever in the hearts of those whose lives he touched. His memory is indeed a blessing.

A Life In Jewish Tradition, Music and Community

Brad was raised in Swampscott, Massachusetts and completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science at Yeshiva University in New York. He had a great love of music, but his true commitment was to Jewish learning. What mattered most to him was passing on Jewish traditions and knowledge.

In addition, Brad received a Bachelor of Hebrew Literature degree from Hebrew College in Boston. Following his undergraduate career, Brad received a Master of Education degree at Salem State University in Massachusetts. Subsequently, he entered cantorial school at the Jewish Theological Seminary, an intensive program for aspiring cantors. He graduated from JTS in 1984 and took a position as cantor at Herzl-Ner Tamid. Recently he received an honorary doctorate degree from JTS.

During his high school and college years, Brad volunteered to entertain the sick and elderly at various organizations including the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center where he served as the assistant to the rabbi. Brad’s musical interests included folk dancing and he was a member of the Zamir Chorale, a world-famous choral group.

As an excellent Torah reader Brad led congregational services, officiated at life cycle events, taught Hebrew school classes, coached Bar and Bat Mitzvah students. Part of his official duties included visiting congregants in hospitals and nursing homes. Beyond Herzl-Ner Tamid, Brad served on the boards of various Jewish organizations and mentored younger cantors, teaching them skills needed to connect with and inspire communities.

Despite his many accomplishments, Brad's humility, warmth, and genuine care for people remained his most defining qualities. The outpouring of love and gratitude expressed by members of Herzl-Ner Tamid and the broader community following his passing speaks volumes about the positive impact Brad had on so many lives.

Remembered With Love and Gratitude

Scores of congregants shared moving reflections on Cantor Brad following his passing, celebrating his ability to instill joy, comfort and meaning through music, ritual and his mere presence. "Brad brought so much joy to everyone he met," said one congregant. Others described him as "the kindest of all the people on earth" with an "incredible ability to connect with so many of us on a deeply human level."

“There was something about Cantor’s whole persona that radiated this breakout quality, just barely below the surface. We saw it in the gleam in his eyes. We saw it in his smile. We saw it in the way he would rock the bar and bat mitzvah kids back and forth during his mi shebeirach blessing for them. We saw it in his signature ‘Yeahhhh.’ “

“He took a personal interest in the kids, he laughed with them, he encouraged them. No matter what their abilities, he made each child feel that they were wonderful. And, over the course of 39 years, thousands of kids loved Judaism more, loved being Jewish more, because of their relationship with Cantor Kurland.”

“Cantor Kurland was able to convey a deep respect for the traditions of the Jewish people, and the restless, joyous, breakout spirit which has been our hallmark when we have been at our best.”

The outpouring of support for his wife Sandy and their children, Akiva, Talya and Noam from the Jewish community, neighbors, and friends demonstrated the depth of love and gratitude people felt towards Cantor Brad. Herzl-Ner Tamid President Mickey Friedman summed up the community's feelings: "To the Kurland family: Thank you for sharing his love, humor, voice, talents, caring, wisdom, and soul with us for so many years. His memory IS a blessing."

Cantor Kurland's role within Herzl-Ner Tamid made him a prominent figure within the broader Mercer Island Jewish community. His music, personality and pastoral care touched many people, reaching Jewish families across the island. His passing is a loss, not just for Herzl-Ner Tamid but for the greater Seattle Jewish community. 

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