By Rachel Gross Weinstein
Cantor Don Croll has considered Temple Shalom his second home for the past 17 years, a place where he has fostered his love for singing and built relationships to last a lifetime. He will sing his final note as a full-time cantor next week as he embarks on retirement after 34 years in the field.
Temple Shalom will honor Croll during a Shabbat service at 7 p.m. Friday, May 31 at the synagogue, 6930 Alpha Road in Dallas. The event, called “Shalom Shabbat Shalom,” is open to the community, and various people who have been close to Croll over the years will speak. A dessert oneg will follow.
Croll is looking forward to seeing what retirement will bring, he said. Although he will no longer walk through the doors of the synagogue every morning, he and his partner, Jan Gartenberg, are staying in Dallas and are excited to continue being part of the community.
“There are so many possibilities for me now, and I’ve heard people say that they do more in retirement than when they worked,” he said, laughing. “A cantor is not a 9 to 5 job, and the idea of being able to wake up on a Sunday and read The New York Times is great. Although I don’t know what’s next, music will always be a part of my life and I’m excited for the future.”
Croll will officially become Temple Shalom’s cantor emeritus and hopes he can still use his skills to teach, be a substitute cantor or even serve as a cantor-in-residence. The synagogue has not yet found anyone to replace him.
Since arriving at Temple Shalom in 1996, Croll has spent countless hours training bar/bat mitzvah students, performed in numerous concerts and made the synagogue more musical, which he said have been some of his biggest accomplishments over the years. He has also worked with adult b’nai mitzvah and confirmation students, taught classes and participated in the synagogue’s many Purim Shpiels.
“We are a singing congregation and that was important to me. When I arrived, people were singing, but you couldn’t hear them in the main sanctuary and now you can,” he said. “I will remember that fondly, and it feels good knowing that I brought more of that to the congregation. Working with students has also been one of the best parts of my job, and I have always tried to make each one shine as bright as they can for their bar or bat mitzvah.”
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Croll majored in theater at Ithaca College. He always had an interest in music, something for which he developed a love after seeing his mom participate in the choir at his home synagogue.
He graduated from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Sacred School of music in 1978. He then became a full-time cantor at Temple Beth Torah in Upper Nyack, N.Y., for 10 years, followed by stints in Los Angeles and Albuquerque before coming to Dallas.
Croll also has a rich history in acting, which he said has helped in his cantorial work. He began his career on Broadway in 1971 in the revival of Leonard Bernstein’s “On The Town,” starred in the off-Broadway musical “The Golden Land,” toured in several productions of “Man of La Mancha” with Howard Keel and John Raitt, and danced in “Fiddler on the Roof.”
His love for Broadway music has influenced his role as a cantor, Croll said. Broadway songs were the highlight of one of the many Metroplex Cantorial Concerts he participated in, and he has performed various other hits throughout his time here.
“Music engages people, is spiritual and helps us connect to our tradition, and my musical theater background has allowed me to do even more as a cantor; that’s been wonderful,” he said. “I’ve also met the late Debbie Friedman and Josh Nelson and have also worked with other noted cantors over the years. That has been very gratifying.”
Working with other area cantors and clergy has been rewarding too, he said, and his colleagues feel the same way.
Temple Shalom Rabbi Emeritus Ken Roseman, who serves at Congregation Beth Israel in Corpus Christi, was at the synagogue until 2002 and said it was a pleasure working with Croll. He has made a tremendous impact on Temple Shalom, Roseman said.
“It was wonderful working with Don, and he is able to sing everything from Broadway songs to the most complicated cantorial music,” he said. “It was great to have at resource like that. He always worked hard and has a marvelous sense of humor, which goes a long way. There is no question he made the congregation better and I believe everyone would say that.”
Added Temple Shalom Rabbi Andrew Paley: “He is kind, caring and absolutely beloved here, and it’s been wonderful working with him. There is always something to laugh about with him and always something to appreciate. He has been at life-cycle events and important moments in the congregation, so he has been a guiding light in many ways. With his presence, we have been able to provide the right programs and he has been an invaluable part of the congregation.”
It’s these moments, Croll said, that he will miss the most.
“I will miss the people — from young families, to adults, to members of the brotherhood, sisterhood and Shalom Silver — and everyone else who has been so good to me over the years,” he said. “On June 1, after I sleep in, I’ll be able to take a big breath and say ‘what do I want to do next?’ I don’t know what that is, but the possibilities are endless.”