Cantor becomes rabbi, luxury shopping, diary chronicles

United Hebrew Cantor Ron Eichaker recently completed rabbinical studies and received his ordination this spring.

Ellen Futterman, Editor

While you were sleeping

A favorite 2016 Jewish Light story of mine detailed Cantor Ron Eichaker’s mentoring of an Olympic hopeful in javelin throwing. Through the story readers come to know that Eichaker, whose cantorial day job is at United Hebrew, qualified for the men’s U.S. Olympic Team in the javelin in 1976. Unfortunately, while training for those Olympic Games in Montreal, Eichaker injured his elbow, needed surgery and was ultimately unable to compete. Still, an elite athlete who became a cantor – you don’t come across that combination everyday.

Now, add rabbi to Eichaker’s list of accomplishments. During summer sabbaticals from UH and his “free time,” Eichaker studied at the Rabbinical Academy of America. Typically a four-year program, Eichaker, 62, managed to finish in two years, and received his ordination in the spring.

Over-achiever? Eichaker prefers the phrase “aggressive academic.”

He explained that with his 40-plus years of cantorial experience on the pulpit as well as his educational background, he “tested out” of some of the course work, but was responsible for getting his own mentors and advisers to cover the specific subject matter.

An early assignment required him to translate a 60-page booklet of Hebrew literature filled with segments from the Torah through 20th-century Hebrew poetry. “I had to translate every piece in its context,” he said. “It took me a year. I wasn’t going to a lot of movies or sleeping much,” he added with a laugh.

He sought tutorials with local Hebrew instructor Rami Pinsberg who, for an entire year, met with Eichaker on Monday afternoons. “He was vital to my success in the Hebrew literature component,” Eichaker said. 

“I also received some review and advice for my rabbinic codes component from Rabbi (Brigitte) Rosenberg and Rabbi (Howard) Kaplansky (both of UH).  In the area of philosophy I reached out to some internationally acclaimed professors who were generous with their time and review of my research and written work.  I have made new connections in the academic world that could be of value to UH and our community in the future.”

Advertisement for The J

In a letter to congregants about Eichaker’s achievement, Rosenberg explained that he will continue as cantor, officiating funerals, weddings and baby namings, leading services on his own, teaching and providing pastoral care and counseling – “all of which he could already do with cantorial ordination.”

“His rabbinic ordination elevates us all, as he essentially has studied and earned another degree, from which we will all benefit,” Rosenberg wrote.

For his part, Eichaker says he plans to develop and grow UH’s adult education courses and is currently writing curriculum to expand his work in ethnic gastronomy (we’ll save that for a future column).

“My smicha represents the culmination of a process that developed organically and marks an end to formal rabbinic studies. It opens opportunities for me to provide broader resources to UH and our community,” he said.  “This process has also helped me to look at Jewish culture and its expressions in a different way.  I feel artistically refreshed and inspired to move my educational development into other areas that may benefit from a different perspective.”

Eichaker also was quick to thank his wife, Heidi, and their daughters, Lauren and Lindsay, adding that they are “three strong women who value education and life-long pursuits of knowledge.”

Lots of lux

Shoppers wanting top designer finds will be glad to know that a luxury consignment pop-up is now open in Richmond Heights through Aug. 15.

Founded by Jewish childhood friends Brielle Buchberg and Lindsay Segal, who graduated from Washington University in 2005, Luxury Garage Sale features a curated selection of designer handbags, clothes, shoes, jewelry and accessories, in a range of sizes and price points. The pop-up is located at 18 The Boulevard, in the same shopping center as Crate & Barrel, across from the Galleria.

“Shoppers can expect designer goods at 20 to 90 percent off the retail price, depending on the condition of the item and what is currently on trend,” said Buchberg. She added that designer handbags with logos and all-over monograms “are having a big moment” as is anything Gucci, Fendi or Chanel, the latter of which is “timeless,” she added.

In addition, anyone with designer items in her closet looking to consign can do so. Customers can drop off their merchandise during store hours or arrange for an in-home consignment consultation.

A preview party will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, July 19. For hours and more information, go to

Family lore becomes fodder for book

When Joy Passanante’s father died in 2001, he left her the four-volume diaries he kept while serving in World War II. She, in turn, gave them to her mother.

When Passanante’s mother died in 2005, she got the diaries back, along with 1,365 pages of love letters that her father had sent to her mother during the war.

“My mother kept the letters by her night table,” said Passanante, 71, who lives in Moscow, Idaho but grew up in Olivette and graduated from Ladue high. “We had clear instructions not to read the letters until she died.”

Passanante did more than read them. She wrote a book called “Through a Long Absence: Words from My Father’s Wars,” (Mad Creek Books, $23.95), which tells of the relationship between her St. Louis parents, Bart Passanante, who was raised Catholic, and his beloved Jewish wife, Alberta “Bertie” Rosenbloom Passanante, during their nearly three-year absence from each other in WWII as well as their trouble-fraught courtship in the 1930s.

Much of it is set in St. Louis.

Passanante, a retired professor at University of Idaho, explained that her mother lived on Cates Avenue with her Eastern European family while her father’s family, who were Italian, lived next door. That’s how the couple met.

“I grew up doing Jewish holidays with my mother’s Jewish side of my family and Christian holidays with my dad’s Catholic side,” she added.

Passanante met her husband, Gary Williams, in a Shakespeare class at Washington University, which they both attended. “My husband got a job in Idaho and I came with him barefoot and pregnant,” she joked. “I do like it here but I miss everything about St. Louis.”