Trading opera stage for bimah, soloist sings for the deaf

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

A dramatic tenor who has performed in opera houses throughout the world brings an unusual skill to his cantorial duties at Fremont's Reform Temple Beth Torah.

Jerome Padorr spent four years as cantorial soloist at Bene Shalom Congregation for the Deaf in Skokie, Ill. His talents are particularly valuable in Fremont, which is home of the California School for the Deaf. Marissa Cohen, a student at the school, recently celebrated her bat mitzvah at the synagogue.

"We're one of the only congregations with services that are signed for the hearing impaired," said synagogue administrator Allen Minsky. "We were fortunate to hire Jerome Padorr. His operatic background and his experience with the deaf made him a wonderful choice.

`We looked for someone who was more than just a cantor. Singing with our congregation is like having two services at the same time. Everything also has to be signed for our hearing-impaired members. "

In preparing for Shabbat services, Padorr must go over his material with E.J. Cohen, who signs during the services.

"I have to sing in Hebrew, think in English, and be concerned with the signing all at the same time," said Padorr. Other responsibilities include instructing bar and bat mitzvah students, working with the congregational and High Holy Day choirs, and helping new emigres from the former Soviet Union.

His remaining time is devoted to studying tropes (melodic accents) for his final cantorial investiture through the Cantor's Assembly in Chicago.

"Preparing to be recognized by the Cantor's Assembly is like taking the bar exam," he says. "I'm going where my faith takes me. Sure, I could still do cantorial duties at Temple Beth Torah, but I don't like doing things halfway. I want the national recognition that comes with the investiture."

Padorr, who grew up in the Chicago area and received a bachelor of music degree from Northwestern, has sung with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and held center stage in such operas as "La Boheme," "Eugene Onegin" and "I Pagliacci," performing throughout Europe, Asia and North America.

Today, he says, he much prefers a cantorial role.

"Singing opera is very time-consuming," he said. "It's very hard to sing opera and do anything else. When you're an opera singer, that's all you are. There's no opportunity to make use of other aspects of your talents."

In addition, Padorr has other priorities. "To tell the truth, I'd like to [marry and] have a family," said Padorr. "Being married and an opera singer is very difficult. As an opera singer you just eat, sleep, travel and perform. The people are very warm and friendly in this congregation. I'm enjoying this very much."