After 23 years in Ottawa, Cantor Daniel Benlolo will leave Kehillat Beth Israel at the end of the month to become cantor and ritual director at Shaare Zedek Congregation in Montreal.
Cantor Benlolo began his cantorial career when he was just 17 at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Montreal, an Orthodox and Sephardic congregation. He arrived in Ottawa in 1993 to serve Congregation Beth Shalom, then an Orthodox congregation, and Beth Shalom West.
Beth Shalom West eventually severed its ties to Beth Shalom and became Congregation Beit Tikvah. Cantor Benlolo remained with Beth Shalom which eventually became a Conservative congregation. In 2016, Beth Shalom amalgamated with Agudath Israel Congregation to form Kehillat Beth Israel.
Late last month, Cantor Benlolo met with the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin in his Kehillat Beth Israel office to reminisce about his years in the city.
“It’s more than a job, it’s a passion,” said Cantor Benlolo. “I figured it out after 23 years.”
But “being a cantor was never enough for me, I wanted to do more. So I started to conduct bar and bat mitzvahs for the aged at Hillel Lodge; I produced a CD with the children at Ganon Preschool; and a musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” with the participants of Tamir; I did interfaith work and sang to people from all over the world,” he said.
Perhaps Cantor Benlolo’s most notable achievements beyond his congregational work have been with Tamir, the Jewish Ottawa agency that provides assistance and programs to adults with developmental disabilities. Cantor Benlolo has directed Tamir’s Judaic program and led the Tamir Neshama Choir for many years.
Cantor Benlolo’s office walls were filled with photos and posters from his myriad activities over the years.
“I took every opportunity I had to do good for this community and everything I did has made me who I am today,” he said.
Although he is moving to Montreal, Cantor Benlolo said the Ottawa community will remain important to him.
“It’s important for me that people know my leaving does not mean I’m turning my back on the community”, he stressed. “I’m going to keep coming back to visit and to sing at events. I also want to bring Tamir’s choir to perform in Montreal. I will miss them so much and I’m so proud of them.”
The months since making the decision to leave Ottawa “have been very emotional,” he said. “I can feel the love and the power of the community. I am leaving here with mixed feelings, but now I need to be close to my family.”
In a letter to Kehillat Beth Israel congregants about his decision to return to Montreal, Cantor Benlolo explained that his children have moved there and that his wife wanted to be there to help care for her parents.
“I’m very excited for this new chapter, but saying goodbye to Kehillat Beth Israel is both hard and heartwarming at the same time,” he said. “KBI is one of the things I’m most proud of. The amalgamation is beautiful, and there’s still much more to do.”
Cantor Benlolo plans to decorate his Montreal office with the photos and posters that filled the walls of his Kehillat Beth Israel office.
“They are like pieces of memories. A good baggage that I carry with me to form the archive of my life. It’s like reading a book when you can’t start from the beginning or ignore everything you’ve read before. I really don’t want to, either.”