Audiologist hears call of Judaism, social justice activism

Koach Baruch FrazierWORK:  Chief audiologist at the Center for Hearing & SpeechHOMe:  University CityFAMILY:  His partner is Melissa Bennett, spiritual director for the Ferguson Center for Spiritual Living INTERESTS:  Reading and making music, including singing, drumming and playing the trombonePERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT:  He is an expert in the physiology of earwax and a member of the board of the Missouri GSA Network, which empowers young people to fight homophobia and transgender phobia in schools.


A family friend’s hearing problems first sparked Koach Baruch Frazier’s interest in audiology. What drew him to Judaism after growing up in Kansas City in a family with several African Methodist Episcopal pastors? 

Keep reading to find out. 

An audiologist for more than a decade, Frazier, 37, is chief audiologist at the Center for Hearing & Speech in Rock Hill. The center offers audiology and hearing aid services, speech and language therapy, school screenings, and a hearing conservation program for industrial and manufacturing settings. Community outreach includes an affiliation with Affinia Healthcare, formerly known as Grace Hill Health Center, which serves low-income families.

Frazier also is a cantorial soloist at Central Reform Congregation and has participated in marches in Ferguson with other CRC members. He made time recently to talk about his profession, his conversion and his life. 

The center’s website says that more than 28 million Americans — one out of every 10 — have some type of hearing loss, and about 260,000 individuals in the St. Louis area are affected. Please talk a bit about that. 

Hearing loss can occur from birth to the end of your life, so the range is from cradle to grave. The loss can come from a medical condition that occurs during or right after birth or it can be acquired as the result of a disease.

But hearing loss affects everything, right?

Yes. A hearing aid helps in a person’s entire life — with family and friends, at work, in a worship service. 

What can we do to prevent hearing loss?

We can’t often control a genetic disposition to hearing loss, though sometimes we can control it after a disease or medical disorder. One thing we can control is noise. We are such a noisy society, but we can keep earbuds from being too loud and we can wear ear protection when working in a loud environment.

What drew you to a career in audiology? 

After I entered St. Louis University as a pre-med student, I would often go back to Kansas City to stay with a family friend. She had Ménière’s disease, a disease of the inner ear. Her hearing fluctuated, she had vertigo and a ringing, buzzing or whistling in the ear.

And you wanted to help her?

I did. I went back to school and changed my major. Then I went to Central Michigan University for a doctorate in audiology.

How did you become interested in Judaism?

At St. Louis University, I took a theology class from Rabbi Mark Shook. At some point, I realized I had been raised in a different religion from what I felt I was, and I told Rabbi Shook that I felt like I was a Jew. 

What about Judaism appealed to you? 

The Hebrew language — there is something deep and special about it. Also the traditions speak to me, the antiquity, the rich use of symbols, the music and the prayers. 

Did you convert right away? 

No, but after I met Rabbi Susan Talve in 1998 or 1999, I started living as a Jew. Today, I am on the board at CRC. I express my Jewish identity at the synagogue, at work as I serve people and my community, and in my social justice activism.

You have participated in protests in Ferguson. What did you do there? 

I tried to be a centering force, a calming force. I drummed on my djembe — an African drum — and that cadence, so much like a heartbeat, helped us as we marched. That’s just one of the many reasons I appreciate my synagogue. We will stand up for justice, for making things right.