Singing for your supper; collaborative’s new direction

St. Louis Jewish Light

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

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If I can, I like to work out around 4, 4:30 p.m. — in time to watch either reruns of “Law & Order: SVU” or “Jeopardy” — and right before the J becomes super crowded. The only problem is that I’m often competing with a guy who likes to work out at the same time as me, on the same machine.

I’ll admit I’ve muttered some not nice things about this guy when I’m ready to work out and find him on “my machine.” Then, as circumstances would have it (as they often do in the St. Louis Jewish community), I not only met the guy but also learned how he is living out his golden years. After serving as a cantor at Congregation Shaare Zedek for 25 years, Paul DuBro has taken his cantorial show on the road.

“I’ve been in Vancouver, Phoenix, Teaneck, N.J., Albuquerque and now, Charleston, W.V.,” said DuBro, 65. “It’s given me a wonderful opportunity to see congregations all over North America and to travel. It’s been a really warm experience.”

As a freelance cantor, DuBro primarily applies for jobs for the High Holidays. Whatever congregation hires him typically pays his way to and from that city, plus room and board during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and a negotiated salary. DuBro and his wife, Marty Schaeffer, executive director of Kol Rinah Early Childhood Center, then spend the 10 days or so between the holidays touring the area on their own.

However, getting the job in the first place, isn’t all that easy. “I understand there are about 40 applications for each position,” said DuBro, whose “day job” is working in insurance. “Applicants range from (cantorial) students to cantors without congregations to retired cantors.”

Congregations looking for seasonal help tend to be small and cannot afford a fulltime cantor. DuBro sends a recording and then if selected, goes through a formal interview to secure the job. Come fall, he will return to Congregation B’nai Jacob in Charleston, W.V. for the second year to help conduct High Holiday services. The “Conservadox” congregation, as DuBro describes it, has about 250 families from throughout the state and a fulltime rabbi, who DuBro says is “extremely welcoming and collaborative.”

Not all of these gigs are something to sing about.

“I did a Passover cruise, which sounds wonderful, but they worked me to death,” said DuBro. “Still, the food was really delicious.”

After hearing about my new best friend Paul DuBro, I began thinking about possibilities for my retirement. Specifically, I wondered if there are any Jewish communities out there, especially in Hawaii, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida, in need of a freelance editor to help produce a newspaper for the High Holidays. In the meantime, at least I’ll have first dibs on my machine between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

A work in progress

The B’nai El Collaborative refers to the partnership between B’nai El Congregation and Congregation Shaare Emeth that was begun about a year ago. Rabbi Scott Saulson was hired as a consultant on a part-time interim basis to help determine the mission of the collaborative, as well as its programming, and Michelle L. Gralnick was hired as its executive director.

Today, both are no longer with the collaborative. Larry Sparks, who is leading its visualization process, said that Saulson’s consulting work was “done,” though his official contract goes through June 30 (he is returning to Atlanta next week). Sparks added that “we made the decision having a full-time executive director was more than we needed.”

Marci Rosenberg, who is also on the collaborative’s leadership team, was more direct. “(Saulson) had a vision for what he wanted this collaborative to be, but nothing was happening,” she said. The initial plan for the collaborative was to focus on programming for adults 50 and older.

Both Rosenberg and Sparks agree that the B’nai El Collaborative is still trying to figure out how to best serve the needs of its members and the St. Louis Jewish community at large.

“If we can figure it out in terms of a collaborative, great,” said Rosenberg. “If not, we’ll figure something else out.”

Law and disorder

In October of last year, a new Missouri law made it legal to celebrate Christmas in public schools. Specifically, the law stated, “any state or local governmental entity; public building, park or school; or public setting or place is not allowed to ban or restrict the practice, mention, celebration, or discussion of any federal holiday” including Christmas.

At the time, I wrote about the new law and quoted Rep. Jill Schupp, who said it was “a terrible piece of legislation.”  Schupp, a Jewish Democrat from Creve Coeur, added, “It’s under the pretense of providing freedoms to everyone to celebrate what they want. But it’s really just about celebrating Christmas.”

Now, my friends at the Jewish Community Relations Council tell me about a new bill in the Missouri Legislature that would undermine the separation of religion and state. HB 1303 (also known as the “Missouri Student Religious Liberties Act”) would, among other things, allow organized student prayer in public schools during the regular school day and allow school events, including graduation, to include speakers who engage in religious speech.  The concern is that such provisions could lead to the situation where one religion is favored over another and sends a message of exclusion to those who do not adhere to that religion.

Like the “Christmas” law that passed last year, HB 1303 will likely result in costly lawsuits if passed because it conflicts with the U.S. Constitution in several areas.

JCRC is urging us to get in touch with our state senators and let him or her know your opposition. If you need assistance, give JCRC’s Gail Wechsler a call at 314-442-3894.

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