by Erin COLLINS
Celebrating the golden anniversary of anything requires hard work, dedication and a love for what youre doing. Gerald DeBruin possesses all of these qualities and has used them in his 50 plus years serving as Cantor for Temple Beth El.
Born in London, England in 1922, he and his parents moved to Buffalo, NY in 1924. My parents were hardworking people, said DeBruin. He learned the importance of diligence and putting forth ones best effort from them.
DeBruin enlisted in the Armed Services for a period of three years. Upon his return, he joined the choir of Temple Beth El in 1945 as their baritone soloist. He acquired his musical training from the well-known composer-arranger and Choir Director Samuel Luskin. This prepared him for his position as Cantor in 1950.
When I was a youngster, I enjoyed singing very much. I thought that my future would be in opera or musical stage productions since I participated in the public school and high school productions and enjoyed this type of music, he said. It was at the insistence of a rabbi that he worked with that DeBruin got his BA in Music in 1972 from the University of Buffalo.
A cantor must have knowledge of the Hebrew language, Hebrew Liturgy, Jewish Tradition and practices. He is responsible for the performance of life cycle events from birth to death, including pastoral duties such as visiting the sick.
Teaching and preparing students for the Bnai Mitzva is one of the main responsibilities of a cantor and has become one of the most rewarding aspects of the profession, according to Cantor DeBruin. In his 52 years as cantor of Temple Beth El of Greater Buffalo, he has prepared 1256 students along with some adults. DeBruin has even inspired a few of his students to pursue the religious profession as a rabbi or a cantor.
Another major accomplishment of Cantor DeBruin involves his congregation. Temple Beth El does not have a choir. Instead, Cantor DeBruin worked hard to develop the entire congregation into a singing choir.
On the high holy days, when you get 1600 members of the congregation singing, it is the most wonderful experience, he said, Just to hear these people in unison, even though some cant sing, theyre still trying.
Cantor DeBruins voice has earned him many honors and achievements over the years. He was chosen as the Outstanding Baritone in Western New York region in the Voices of Tomorrow contest sponsored by the Buffalo Evening News in 1950. He appeared as a soloist with the Buffalo Civic Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and has performed as a soloist for several local organizations and Masonic groups.
DeBruin has served on a national level as a convention management chairman for the Cantors Assembly of America, headquartered in New York City. Since retiring from his position with the temple, Cantor DeBruin has remained active in the community. He was recently awarded with an honorary Doctorate of Jewish Music in tribute to his many years of service and devotion to Temple Beth El of Greater Buffalo.
DeBruin and his wife, Belle, have been married for 55 years. Their oldest son, Larry, attained the rank of Major while serving 20 years in the United States Air Force. He became Executive Director of a Synagogue in Omaha, Nebraska following his Honorable Discharge from the service.
The cantors son Jeffrey serves as a civilian aeronautical engineer for the United States Navy in Maryland. Cheryl, his daughter, has been employed as Secretary at M. Wile in Buffalo for 27 years.
DeBruin loves talking about his family, especially his four grandchildren. His oldest grandson, Steve, graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Accounting and Business Administration. His granddaughter Melissa also attends the university. Cantor De Bruins other granddaughter, Rachel, currently attends Erie Community College. His youngest grandchild, Aaron, who is preparing for his bar mitzvah, lives in Maryland.
In his spare time, Cantor DeBruin enjoys learning about computers. Hes interested in sports as a spectator; he loves his jazz collection and has another favorite pastime, photography. He loves to travel to visit his grandchildren and vacations in Las Vegas as well.
Overall, DeBruin has had a very satisfying and successful career as cantor.
My profession as Cantor has been fulfilling and rewarding. I still look forward to serving the congregation when required and the Jewish community, he said.
When I was working, this job entailed 7 days a week. You were on call just like a doctor, he said, My work was full. But I enjoyed it. Ive loved every part of this work. A lot of people when they go to work hate their jobs. Not me. Ive made so many friends over the years.
Gerald DeBruins life work has touched the hearts of thousands of his students, members of his congregation, family members and friends. His dedication and love for singing has inspired. He truly exemplifies what it means to be forever young.
Erin Collins is a Staff Associate with Living Prime Time.
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