Shaare Zedek Hazzan Dulkin accepts new post in N.J.

Hazzan Dulkin

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Kol Rinah means “joyous voice” and St. Louis’s newest synagogue will now be in the market for a new one with the departure of Hazzan Joanna Selznick Dulkin, which was announced late last week.

“St. Louis has been and continues to be a wonderful place for our family and I am deeply grateful for the generous offer extended to me to continue as your Hazzan,” read a letter Dulkin wrote to Kol Rinah congregants. “However, after much soul-searching, we have decided that a return to the East Coast provides broader career opportunities for my husband and allows us to rejoin the family and community we left seven years ago.”

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In a release by the congregation, Shaare Zedek Synagogue President Steve Keyser praised Dulkin’s influence.

“Joanna energized us with her passion, engaged us through music and encouraged new families to join,” said Keyser. “We will continue down that path with the same commitment and energy she brought to our community.”

Dulkin has spent more than six years with Shaare Zedek, which is now in the process of merging with Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel to form Kol Rinah. 

Dulkin has accepted a new job as hazzan of the Jewish Center in Princeton, N.J.

“Obviously, we’re sorry to see the hazzan go,” said Keyser in an interview with the Light, “but we understand her reasons for taking the position.”

Keyser said Dulkin had meant a great deal to Shaare Zedek.

“We’re a very musical congregation and she’s attracted a lot of young families,” he said. “She will definitely be missed both professionally and personally.”

Keyser said that the position will be replaced and the decision would be taken on behalf of Kol Rinah, not just Shaare Zedek.

“Whatever we do from a standpoint of searching for klei kodesh would be a joint process that we would do as a merged congregation,” he said.

Keyser said the personnel committee has begun the work of contacting cantorial groups and associations, including the Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York to seek candidates for the job. Dulkin also said she had accepted an invitation to help with the process.

Shaare Zedek and Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel, which voted to merge late last year, are already worshipping together and will continue to combine operations over the course of the spring and summer before moving into the Shaare Zedek location after the High Holidays. That move is described as a near-term relocation, expected to last about three to five years as the new congregation ponders the question of a permanent home.

Keyser said BSKI has no one employed at present as a cantor.

Interviewed by the Jewish Light, Dulkin, who is set to depart sometime in June and assume her new duties the following month, said she fell in love with Shaare Zedek instantly upon coming to town.

“There are so many wonderful memories. It’s strange to think of them as memories because I’m still living it,” she said. “The people that I connected with here in the congregation I will hope to stay connected to. It’s a very special community to me and all the music we’ve made over the years is very special.”

During her tenure, Dulkin was instrumental in creating the DorWays program, an educational initiative for younger members and their families. It has since become a mainstay of life at the shul.

“We had a congregant come forward and sponsor the program because he was so inspired by how his grandchildren were so engaged and loving being Jewish so I’m really proud of that,” she said.

She also said Friday night services have been revitalized with a Shabbat Rinah participatory musical format.

“When I got to the synagogue there were maybe 10 to 20 people who would show up on a Friday night and now we get between 45 and 300 depending on the event,” she said.

Shaare Zedek’s Rabbi Mark Fasman said the hazzan’s legacy won’t be forgotten.

“She’s meant a great deal,” he said. “She’s been a transformative force over the years in the sense that she brought a kind of talent as well as personality that were able to establish a different level of music in our worship services.”

Fasman said some cantors have a strong voice while others have ability as a song leader.

“She happens to have both and that’s very rare,” he said.

An exact timeframe on the search for a replacement isn’t set but Keyser didn’t think the merger would affect it.

“The way we’ve been operating since the vote to merge occurred last year was to form committees that were made up of both legacy congregations,” he said, “and that includes personnel so I don’t think that the merger process is in any way going to impact the timeline.”

He said he recalled that it took about a year to find Dulkin.

“Our focus is on the right person, not how fast it happens,” he said.

Dulkin said her immediate future won’t just involve her new duties. She will co-chair the Cantors Assembly convention this May and is set to be named an officer in that organization. In addition, she sits on a committee that is working on a new siddur for the Conservative Movement.

“I have taught entire families of children for b’nai mitzvah, watched babies grow into kindergarteners and kindergarteners to sixth graders,” she said in her farewell letter. “It has been my privilege to stand with you in times of sorrow, to simply sit with you when there were no words, to sing or pray with you as the moment allowed. It continues to be my joy to dance and celebrate with you, to teach and learn with you.”

Dulkin, a native of northern California, is married to husband Ryan, a Jewish studies professor. The couple has two children, fourth-grader Zac and first-grader Jesse.