Cantor Sharon M. Wallach, who had been affiliated with Adat Chaim Congregation in several roles since its founding in 1985, died Friday of cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care. She was 52.
Ms. Wallach, the daughter of a businessman and a homemaker, was born in Philadelphia and raised in Cheltenham, Pa.
After graduating from Cheltenham High School in 1975, she earned a bachelor's degree in music, speech and hearing in 1979 from the University of Pittsburgh.
The following year, she earned a master's degree in education for the hearing-impaired, also from Pitt. She came in 1980 to Baltimore, where she taught for several years in city public schools.
Ms. Wallach, who lived in Reisterstown, had been a member of the Reisterstown Jewish Center, where she had been responsible for liturgical music and leading prayer services.
She continued in that capacity after the Reisterstown Jewish Center merged in 1985 with Kol Tikvah Congregation to form Adat Chaim Congregation, a Conservative synagogue that is located on Cockeys Mill Road in Reisterstown.
Ms. Wallach had worked as music specialist at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Day School and Religious School, Beth Tfiloh Community School, Chizuk Amuno Rosenbloom Religious School and the Jewish Community Center.
During the summer months, Ms. Wallach served as director of Beth Tfiloh Camps' Jewish Culture Program.
Ms. Wallach's guitar playing and passion for music defined her role at the synagogue, where she founded the Shirei Chaim Chorus and Shirei Noar, its youth chorus. She also performed for many local Jewish organizations and cultural festivals.
"It was as if her guitar was a fifth appendage," said Rabbi Michael Meyerstein, who is executive director of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis and served as Adat Chaim's rabbi during much of Ms. Wallach's tenure. "Her motto: 'Have guitar. Will travel and sing.' "
"She was a very modest woman and music was her first love, and it didn't have to be Jewish music," said Gary S. Posner, who is a lay leader at the synagogue.
"She also loved working with kids and teaching them music and religion. During the last 30 years, she tutored more than 400 students for their bar mitzvahs, and in doing so, touched many lives," he said.
Ms. Wallach was a 1994 graduate of Maalot Seminary for Cantors and Judaists in Rockville, where she earned her cantorial certification.
Three years later, she was made a member of the Cantors Assembly, an international organization for Conservative cantors. She was also an active member of the Cantors Association of Greater Baltimore, the Women's Cantors Network and Guild of Temple Musicians and was secretary of the Seaboard Region of the Cantors Assembly.
"Cantor Wallach was a champion for our synagogue, Judaism and everyone who knew her," said George Korba, president and a founding member of Adat Chaim. "She motivated generations of students and elevated the Jewish identity of the adults whose lives she touched."
"She was the ever-present lifeblood of Adat Chaim. When our rabbi passed away, she stepped in and did both roles as rabbi and cantor," Mr. Posner said. "Rabbis come and go, presidents come and go, but Cantor Wallach was always there giving families and children a voice."
Ms. Wallach was also active in efforts promoting interfaith dialogue in the community and was an active member of the Reisterstown- Owings Mills Ministerium, an alliance of clergy in Northwest Baltimore County.
One of her efforts was organizing an annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service in which clergy and community members from all walks of life gathered to pray and sing.
The event also collected food and money that was contributed to the Reisterstown Crisis Center and other organizations that helped the needy.
In his eulogy, Mr. Meyerstein recalled Ms. Wallach's "sincerity [and] sweet modest demeanor."
Recalling her diminutive stature, he said, "Notwithstanding the disparity in our respective heights, the more I reached down to hear what she had to say in private, the more I looked up to her for being a wonderful trustworthy friend to me over the years."
Mr. Meyerstein added that "her death is a huge loss for the community and me personally."
"She was the pulse of the synagogue," said her sister, Deborah Wallach Gibson of Argyle, Texas.
"She had never married and the synagogue was her surrogate family, and she enjoyed interacting with the people there," Mr. Posner said. "It was her greatest joy."
Mrs. Gibson said her sister liked traveling to upstate New York in the summer and studying Israeli folkdances at a camp.
"Sharon Wallach was a very special person who never sought praise for herself. She was the last person to ever seek the praise she so richly deserves," Mr. Posner said. "No one deserved more recognition."
Services for Ms. Wallach were Sunday at Adat Chaim.
In addition to her sister, Ms. Wallach is survived by a brother, Allen Wallach of Glenside, Pa.; a niece and a nephew. Her longtime companion, Larry Lippmann, died in the late 1990s.