Brodsky’s interests vary widely


Dan Brodsky is a man of many talents. Some people know him as the cantorial soloist at B’nai El Congregation. Some people know him as The Wine Guy. And most recently, some people know him as the executive director of the New Mt. Sinai Cemetery.

And yet, in spite of wearing all these different hats, none of them is the reason that brought this Champaign, Illinois-born man to St. Louis in 1980 — it was the St. Louis Cardinals.


“Growing up in Champaign, I was one of the few people in the area who did not root for the Cubs,” Brodsky said. “So when I returned from studying in Europe and realized I didn’t want to live in Champaign anymore, even though I had family in Chicago I decided to come to St. Louis.”

Upon arriving in Cardinals territory, Brodsky started getting singing gigs. In 1982, while singing at a bar mitzvah at B’nai El, the congregants in attendance took notice of his voice and asked him to sing during the High Holidays. He has been there ever since.

“Dan is great to work with. He’s flexible and has the interests of the congregation at heart,” Rabbi Daniel Plotkin, spiritual leader of B’nai El, said. “Dan has been a constant here since the 80s. I don’t think B’nai El would have made it to this point if he hadn’t been that sense of stability.” In 1987 Brodsky was given the official title of music director and cantorial soloist.

Plotkin said that once he got to know Brodsky’s capabilities he wanted a way to feature his voice and creativity. So once a month B’nai El holds a cantorial service where Brodsky selects the music and takes the time to explain the melodies and talk about the composers.

B’nai El is not the only institution to benefit from Brodsky’s musical gift. Since 1980 he has been singing with the Saint Louis Symphony Chorus and performs in six or seven concerts each year. In addition, Brodsky is the leader of the tenor section.

Brodsky’s vocal aptitude was formalized at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he received a bachelor’s and a master’s of music in vocal music. After graduating with both degrees at the tender age of 21, he headed to Paris to study privately with the renowned baritone tenor Pierre Bernac. “He was quite famous and is still regarded as the name in French singing,” Brodsky said.

After returning to the States, at about the same time Brodsky was singing around St. Louis he began working for a wine company. He had always had an interest in wine so it seemed like a good move. “There’s a famous saying: ‘Wine is the hallmark of civilization.’ I like to joke that making wine is the world’s second oldest profession. Even Noah got drunk,” he said. After the company went out of business, Brodsky decided to start his own company and called it The Wine Guy because that’s how people used to refer to him.

“He’s terrific. Dan’s very professional, knowledgeable and explains the wine without trying to sell it,” Harvey Leader, who, as executive director at Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel, has been purchasing wine for the synagogue from Brodsky, said. “He’s just a real nice guy.” Leader said he appreciates Brodsky’s knowledge about kosher wines and the Jewish community.

Brodsky’s involvement in the Jewish community led him to his most recent endeavor: the executive director of New Mt. Sinai Cemetery. He has been a member of the board since 1985 and when Bennett Lerner, the previous executive director who recently passed away, became ill last year, the board asked Brodsky to serve as acting director. During the course of searching for a new executive director the board realized that he was the best person for the job.

“As acting director Dan handled many critical issues as well as the normal business of the cemetery. It quickly became apparent to all the board members that his outstanding performance stood out from the other applicants,” Sanford Silverstein, a board member, said. “Dan has the ability to accurately grasp the salient elements of any issue that appears to need attention and to transmit same to whoever may be the proper person to take needed action. That coupled with his communications skills, orderly organization of administrative details, keen perception of need along with his pleasant personality makes him very easy and pleasant to work with.”

While Brodsky’s path to this point in his life seems as though it has been smooth, in 2006 he was thrown a life-threatening curve ball: cancer. Just before the High Holidays he went to a dermatologist to have a small growth removed from the middle finger of his right hand. Right after Yom Kippur Brodsky received a call from his doctor telling him to come in to the office. “That’s not a good thing to hear from any doctor,” he recalled.

His apprehension was legitimate: the doctor told him he had Merkel cell cancer, a very rare, and very malignant, form of skin cancer. “Usually these cancers form on the trunk of the body where the normal method of treatment is to remove a large tissue area,” Brodsky said. “In this case, there was no large tissue area so they had to remove the entire finger.”

No sooner was he recovering from the shock of the surgery and learning to live without a finger than he received yet another terrifying phone call. “The head of radiology at SLU called a month after my surgery to say he saw something on the CT scan they took when they were checking me for any Merkel cells in my stomach area.” It was testicular cancer. The surgery to remove the tumor was in December 2006 followed by intensive chemotherapy treatments. For four months, he endured a schedule of five hours of chemotherapy a day, five days a week followed by two days of treatment per week for two weeks and then back to five days a week. The chemo destroyed his taste buds, causing even water to taste awful. “I lost 28 pounds during that time. It’s not exactly the weight loss program I’d recommend,” Brodsky said showing his usual sense of humor in the face of trial.

Throughout his cancer battles Brodsky continued running his wine business, working part-time at the cemetery, singing at B’nai El, and even performing a solo with a sextet with the symphony. He credits his love for his family with keeping him going. “You’re thinking you’re going to die and you have a five-year-old child, and that’s a big reason to fight,” Brodsky said. And while his prognosis looks good — he just passed the one year mark of his last chemo treatment — he appreciates the frailty of life and has become outspoken about the importance of cancer screenings and taking good care of oneself.

Brodsky’s ability to juggle so many interests and vocations is a testament to his organizational skills, personal strength, and his knack for maintaining a sense of humor. “I use an electronic organizer and am a time-oriented person. I have 34 clocks in my home,” he said. “Daylight savings time is always an event.”