By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — When it comes to finding a new cantor for the 770-member congregation of Temple Shalom, retiree Don Croll can be a pretty tough act to follow.
It took a search committee two years to find the ideal candidate to replace Croll — who in 2008 was named Temple Shalom Brotherhood’s Man of the Year for his 13 years at the Dallas synagogue.
But when Devorah Avery, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, applied for the position, synagogue officials said they knew they had found the right person for the job.
“When you meet her for the first time, you receive a smile, warm and great enthusiasm that is just magnetic,” said Dennis J. Eichelbaum, Temple Shalom president. “She is pure energy and excitement.”
Cantor Avery, who started this month, said Temple Shalom feels like a great fit.
“I felt like I should let the universe guide me, and I believe I was called to this community,” she said. “Everything just kind of fell into place and it seems like the right place. I wanted to be closer to my family and wanted to go into a great overwhelmingly friendly community. I feel like I found that.”
Croll, now cantor emeritus, said he likes his successor.
“She is very personable,” Croll said. “I know that everyone on the committee that chose her is very excited to have her. … She and I performed at a concert in Tulsa 10 years ago. She has a beautiful voice. I had lunch with her this week and I know she is excited to be in Dallas and closer to her family in Tulsa.”
It can be a little daunting to step into the shoes of someone as accomplished as Cantor Croll. Before he retired in May 2013, “he was inducted as a Life Member into the Brotherhood’s Hall of Fame,” according to his biography on the Temple Shalom website.
Recently, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion bestowed an honorary Doctorate of Music degree on Croll for his 25 years as a cantor.
A search committee was organized. It consisted of 15 people — choir members, young adults, people with children, the rabbi, members of the senior committee and others who will work with the new cantor.
The recruiting was done through the Union of Reform Judaism’s online placement service.
Synagogue representatives describe the qualities of the cantor and the service publicizes that information to the applicants who are wanting to work in a new place.
“Once the process started committee members started receiving the résumés along with a tape or CD,” Eichelbaum said. “The committee would then look through these and then interview candidates through Skype.”
Of those who applied over the two-year period, five candidates warranted face-to-face interviews. And of those five, Avery was the candidate who shone through. She applied in December 2014.
“We took our time to get the one we wanted,” Eichelbaum said.
Committee members were searching for someone who would fit in well with Temple Shalom —which in March celebrated its 50th anniversary.
“Some candidates get wrapped up in the politics of Texas, which makes it difficult,” Eichelbaum said. “They’d have concerns and ask questions like, ‘Does everybody carry a gun?’ But she (Avery) grew up in Tulsa and has experience and knowledge of the South.”
Avery graduated from the University of Tulsa with a Bachelor of Arts in Music with an emphasis in voice and viola.
She attended Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s School of Sacred Music, received her Master’s in Sacred Music and was named cantor in May 2007.
During cantorial school, she served congregations in New York, Colorado, Texas, and West Virginia. While in Israel at HUC-JIR, she visited and served Jewish communities in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
She was assistant cantor at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Illinois, and cantor of Temple Israel of Northern Westchester, New York between 2009 and 2015.
She and her husband, Aaron Greenberg, now live in Carrollton.
The new cantor loves to swim. She doesn’t consider herself a great swimmer but she participated in the Hudson River Swim for Life, a three-mile swim to raise money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, in September 2010.
She played viola professionally for a few years before cantorial school. She loves to meditate.
And she’s really looking forward to contributing to Temple Shalom.
“I hope to really help to enrich the music there and build on whatever they already have,” she said. “I do have some ideas — some things I want to bring in. So we will see what happens. It’s not about me, but the community. My job is to see what I can do the serve the community, see what they need, and see where my ideas can fall into place.”