Stephen Barr: A new cantor in Fair Lawn
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Stephen Barr: A new cantor in Fair Lawn

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With a relatively new rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom in Fair Lawn has added a new cantor, as well. Stephen Barr succeeds longtime cantor Brian Shanblatt, who served the congregation since 1991.

Barr spent 15 years as the cantor and ritual director for the Oceanside Jewish Center in Long Island and two years at the Dix Hills Jewish Center. He also served as cantor at the Marathon Jewish Center in Douglaston, N.Y., and Temple Emanuel in Paterson.

The Beth Sholom cantor studied at Yeshiva University – Belz School of Jewish Music; the Jewish Theological Seminary; Midreshet Yerushalayim in Israel; and at Manhattan’s Mannes College of Music.

Exploring differences between his last position and his new one, Barr said, “My previous congregation was egalitarian. [Beth Sholom] is traditional.” In addition, he said, he trained a cadre of Torah readers at the Oceanside shul so that the congregation would have readers in his absence.

“I spent a year setting up an alternative service so they could read in a non-critical environment,” he said.

At Beth Sholom, he is the only Torah reader, although he will try to encourage lay Torah readers.

While he was originally hired to work part-time, he said, the synagogue has added responsibilities to his portfolio, including not only “cantoring, but Torah reading, b’nai mitzvah tutoring, and involvement in the consolidated religious school.” The synagogue recently partnered with Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood to form the Northern New Jersey Jewish Academy.

Barr said he hopes to achieve an expert rendition of Torah reading with trope, something “I’ll drive myself to accomplish.” He also wants to create “an exhilarated congregation, with foot-tapping and spirit that soars throughout the entire service.” For that, he said, he will offer up “cheerful melodies.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes to raise the level of exhilaration and jubilance,” he said, adding that people have already approached him, calling me “the most enthusiastic chazan I’ve ever heard.”

He realizes, however, that he will have to be flexible.

“As in many shuls, different people want different things,” he said. “For example, survivors and people of that generation may want the service to remain as they know it.” He will go out of his way, he said, to learn the melodies they like. Barr said he has a “fabulous working relationship with rabbi. He’s a very warm person.”

Rabbi Alberto Zeilicovich, originally from Argentina, joined the congregation in August 2010.

While some synagogue members left during the rabbinic transition, “I expect people will come back when they see that the rabbi and cantor are real mensches and that the atmosphere is cheerful,” said Barr.

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