Henry was blessed with a good ear.
As I wait in the coffee shop to meet with this longtime musician, and newly vested cantor, I notice him approaching from the street. He sees someone sitting outside the shop, an older man who looks troubled. Henry stops before he enters the shop to place a hand on the shoulder of this man, and spends a few minutes talking with him.
When Henry finally enters the shop, he stops by my table, and asks if I wouldn’t mind waiting a few more minutes, so he can buy a muffin and coffee for his acquaintance — someone down on his luck.
“It takes so little to fall on the other side,” Henry says, when he finally sits down with me.
Henry has been performing music since his college days, but about seven years ago he decided to merge his love of the art with his love of the Jewish people, and become a cantor.
He was vested last year by Hebrew College in Newton, Mass., and this season spent his first High Holy Days as the spiritual leader of a local congregation.
“It was a natural transition,” Henry said. “I’ve always been involved in Jewish music in Pittsburgh, and I like being with other people.”
Henry’s main instrument is the guitar, but he also plays the upright bass, and “noodles on the mandolin,” he said.
And, of course, he sings.
The Wilkes-Barre native was happy to return to Pittsburgh following his investiture, having established himself here after years of playing Jewish gigs around the city.
While he has spent much of his life honing his musical skills, the pastoral side of his new profession seems to be second nature to him.
Working in music for so long, and facing constant self-critiquing taught him to advise others to “don’t beat yourself up,” he said.
“The pastoral counseling comes a little bit with age and experience,” he added “You have to have a good ear.”
Henry is enjoying working as a cantor, he said, but hopes to supplement his income by performing at weddings and doing some concert work.
The man is ambitious, working on a few albums, and also has plans to initiate some large projects in the Jewish community.
While Henry has a palpable fondness for Jewish Pittsburgh, he does find one aspect of the community challenging: meeting his besheret.
Ready to settle down and start a family, the dating pool here is well, limited, he said.
“I have been in town for so long, the dating pool in Pittsburgh is not an open sea; it’s a pool,” he said.
Never married, Henry said he has “been looking forever” for the right woman.
He is looking for someone with “a good attitude, and a good smile is huge,” he said. “And there is nothing wrong with a little eye candy — a nice Jewish punim.”