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Barbara Jean Ostfeld

OSTFELD, BARBARA JEAN (1952– ), one of the first U.S. women invested as a cantor. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, one of three children of Dr. Adrian Ostfeld, an epidemiologist, and Ruth Vogel Ostfeld, Barbara was musical from very early childhood and knew from an early age that she wanted to be a cantor. Ostfeld's decision to apply to the sacred music undergraduate program at HUC-JIR was not motivated by a particular political or feminist viewpoint. Initially, she was unaware that women had not previously been admitted to the school. At HUC-JIR Ostfeld was profoundly influenced by Arthur Wolfson, cantor at Temple Emanuel in New York City, who taught her both contemporary Reform music and traditional nusaḥ. She graduated in 1975, receiving ordination at age 22. She also met and married her first husband, Frederick Herman, during her years of study. This marriage was not successful and Ostfeld later married Todd M. Joseph, with whom she had two daughters.

Ostfeld served congregations in Great Neck, Rochester, and Buffalo, New York, where she fulfilled the full range of cantorial responsibilities, including funerals, weddings, leading services, and directing a children's choir. Early on her talents were recognized by the Reform cantors' professional organization, the American Conference of Cantors (ACC). She served on board positions of the ACC, as Secretary (1978–80), as vice president (1980–82), as a Northeast regional representative (1994–96), and several terms on the board of directors. From 1996 to 1998, she chaired the Joint Cantorial Placement Commission. She received an honorary doctorate in sacred music in 2000. In 2002, she accepted the directorship of the Placement Commission of the ACC.