Cantor Anna West Ott, along with Hazzan Sheldon Levin, co-founded and has co-directed Makhelat Hamercaz since 2003, in a career that has been all about leading groups in song. She is Cantor Emerita at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, NJ, after 21 years. While there, the music program was enhanced to include three choirs, two bands, guitar and songleading classes, and a concert series, along with training hundreds of B’nai Mitzvah and being part of the “joys and oys” of congregational life.
During her years in the cantorate, she was also active in the greater Jewish and Interfaith communities, directing Kol Halayla, the Jewish a cappella group at Rutgers; founded the Anshe Segulah Men’s Chorus for Yom Hashoah events; and founded what is now HaZamir Central Jersey, a project of the Zamir Choral Foundation, for teens to sing Jewish choral music. She spearheaded many interfaith events, including services for Thanksgiving, MLK, and Earth Day. After her Hebrew day school education at Hillel Academy in Perth Amboy and Bruriah High School in Elizabeth, Cantor Ott received her BA in Music Education and Piano from Douglass College, and MA in Vocal Performance from The College of New Jersey. She taught for ten years in the public schools of Piscataway NJ, and it was there that skills were honed in choral
direction and guitar instruction. There were also performances with Plays-in-the-Park and the Middlesex Opera Company as well as experiences as diverse as cabaret, folk, rock, jazz, and Early Music integrating her talents as singer, pianist, and guitarist. Then came Cantorial Ordination at the Academy for Jewish Religion in 1998.
All of these experiences have come together in Makhelat Hamercaz, the Jewish Choir of Central Jersey. Under the direction of Cantors Ott and Levin, Mercaz has presented many concerts for synagogues, libraries, senior living centers, and nursing homes, and has performed at the North American Jewish Choral Festival. In November 2012 they were invited to perform at the Nicholas Music Center at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, alongside the world-renowned Kirkpatrick Choir and Glee Club. There has also been much collaboration with groups of different nationalities and faith traditions. As of September 2021, she is now also the Artistic Director of Kol Dodi, the Jewish Choir of Metrowest.
Cantor Ott resides in East Brunswick, NJ and has three adult sons with families of their own, all living in central New Jersey.
Hazzan Sheldon Levin is a well-known as a cantor, conductor, and educator. In 2002, he co-founded Makhelat HaMercaz. From 2001 until 2003 he served as the President of the Cantors Assembly. For twenty-five years, he was the cantor and educational director for two congregations in Philadelphia. Since 1999, he has been the hazzan at Neve Shalom in Metuchen, where he also is the Adult Education Director. Under his direction, the Neve Shalom Adult Education program was honored with the Gold Solomon Schechter Award by United Synagogue for its performing arts programming.
Hazzan Levin holds degrees in Opera, Voice, Hebrew, and a Master's Degree in Choral Conducting. He has edited seven books on Jewish music and education and Bar and Bat Mitzvah training books for every Torah portion. Prior to coming to NJ, he directed the Arbel Chorale in Philadelphia for eighteen years and for over thirty summers has been on the staff of the North American Jewish Choral Festival. Currently, he directs the NJ Cantors Concert Ensemble and has arranged hundreds of Jewish Choral pieces. Last year a book of his original melodies was published.
He was given the “Ateret Kavod” award by United Synagogue of the Delaware Valley and the Moshe Nathanson Conducting Award and the Samuel Rosenbaum Award for Creativity and Scholarship by the Cantors Assembly. The JCC of Middlesex County honored him with a Community Leader award and the Jewish Theological Seminary awarded him an honorary doctorate. He and his wife, Nita Polay Levin, were honored by Israel Bonds with the Crown of Jerusalem award. They have three adult children and two grandchildren.
Dave Schlossberg is an award-winning pianist and composer. He served for 23 years as the Collaborative Keyboard Artist at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, and currently accompanies many groups, including the acclaimed New Jersey Cantors Concert Ensemble; Makhelat Hamercaz, the Jewish Choir of Central New Jersey; Kol Dodi, the Jewish Community Choir of Metro-West; and the Monroe Township Chorus. Dave recently finished a 13-year tenure as the musical director of the Monroe-based Concordia Chorale, He is also a founding member of Tsu Fil Davids (“Too Many Daves”), a Klezmer band out of Highland Park.
Dave's compositions of Jewish choral music have won acclaim. Dave is frequently sought after for instrumental and vocal arrangements for solo or ensemble. His award-winning debut album, A Place Beyond Words, offers sensitive piano improvisations of classic Jewish liturgical melodies. Dave is currently working on a semiautobiographical musical about his journey through spinal cord injury, entitled Facing The Music.
More information about Dave Schlossberg can be found at his website, www.daveschlossberg.com.