The Face of Malibu by Johanna Spinks

Cantor Marcelo Gindlin

Dolphin Award winner Cantor Marcelo Gabriel Gindlin, 46, moved to Malibu from Buenos Aires almost 15 years ago. He graduated from the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires and has a master’s degree in music therapy. He has been the full-time cantor at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue (MJC&S) since 2000 and helped develop the synagogue’s Hand-in-Hand program, offering young adults with special needs various programs and activities.

Gindlin has recorded the song, “Hine Ma Tov” with actor Adam Sandler that appears in the album, “The Jewish Songbook.” He has published many scholarly papers in the field of music therapy and has presented at several world conferences. His “Tot Shabbat with Cantor Marcelo” album has been distributed worldwide. 

The Malibu Times got a chance to sit down with the man who has had two life dreams accomplished: the first, to sing with the late Israeli singer Ofra Haza. And the second, to be a gay clergy who can be respected and honorable in the land of the free. 

Tell me a little about your life as the cantor at the MJC&S. Why did you accept and when? How has the experience been so far? 

I needed a change. In retrospect I think I came out here because of the anti-Semitism in Buenos Aires, the politics in Argentina and my struggle as a gay man. Let’s not forget about the two terrorist attacks in the ’90s (Jewish Federation and Israeli Embassy collapsing to the ground), and the disappearing people and concentration camps in the ’70s. 

What inspired you to develop the synagogue’s Hand-In-Hand Program? What does it offer? 

I used to do seminars where high school students with special needs came together with mainstream students to interact in different workshops, culminating in an artistic show at a local theater that integrated different abilities. I was the first Jewish music therapist that worked with Jewish school-age kids and with Jewish adults with special needs. Over the years I felt the need for this program in Malibu because I worked with people with special needs here in Malibu. And so I brought to my team [of] two people: Lisa Szilagyi and Janet Ettenger, and the three of us co-directed the program. 

You are a performer as well and have performed numerous concerts as a soloist with the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, including the Sephardic Ladino Concert at the Ford Amphitheater. Where are some other places you have performed? Which has been the most memorable for you and why? 

The Ford Theater has been fantastic. I still perform with the L.A. Jewish Symphony every year and it’s a blast. I also sing in different venues around the world. But the most powerful performance was in Poland when I sang five years ago at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. 

What projects are you currently working on? 

I’m working on expanding our successful program, Hand in Hand. I’m working on connecting with other institutions around the world. I also would like to find or build a place where adults with special needs can gather every day of the week to learn, work and be. Everyday I also work to make a difference in people’s lives and I enjoy motivating people to be believers. 

What is your favorite thing about Malibu? 

The people that blend with the geography. Very down to earth, very colorful as the flowers here, with different dreams and different heights as the mountains, in constant movement as the waves. Sparkling great ideas as the stars at night. Illuminated nights with fantastic moon faces … everything has the living sparkle of God inside, and the nature is our teacher. 

If you could change one thing about Malibu what would it be and why? 

The people of Malibu are very united and insightful. I will just pray for more tolerance and acceptance among all of us no matter what your religion is. The most important is to be a “believer,” a “dreamer” and have a “spiritual life.” In terms of city planning or infrastructure, I would add a lot more lights and bumps all along PCH to prevent speeding and accidents. 

How was it having your portrait painted by Johanna Spinks? 

She is truly an artist. Very sensitive and tries to capture what she sees and what she feels about the person sitting in front of her. It was the first time having my portrait painted and I think she really got me. The expression in my eyes says it all. When you have to explain art … it stops being art … so I invite you to experience it! 

Johanna Spinks does portraits on commission and also teaches classes in portrait painting. She may be reached at Johanna@johannaspinks. com or 310.384.7029.