web analytics
September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



The Man Whose Tunes Grace Shabbos Tables Worldwide: An Interview with Composer Ben Zion Shenker

Ben Zion Shenker (Photo courtesy of Milken Archive of Jewish Music)

Ben Zion Shenker (Photo courtesy of Milken Archive of Jewish Music)

You may not know his name, but if you sing “Eishes Chayil” on Friday night, you are familiar with his music.

Ben Zion Shenker, 88, has composed roughly 500 songs in his lifetime, including “Eishes Chayil” (completed in 1953), “Mizmor L’David, Hashem ro’i” (composed in 1946), and “Yasis Alayich” (composed in 1965). In addition, he has published several records of the music of Modzitz – a Polish Chassidus – including the very first chassidic record in the United States, “Modzitzer Melave Malke,” released in 1956.

Recently dubbed “the greatest living figure of chassidic music” by NPR, Shenker still composes several new pieces every year. He is currently recording an album of some of his Haggadah compositions, which he hopes will be out before Pesach.

The Jewish Press interviewed him at his home in Flatbush last week.

The Jewish Press: Where were you born?

Shenker: In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, 1925. My parents came to America in 1921. Both of them came from small towns not far from Lublin.

How did you first get involved in music?

Well, music is something you have to be born with. My early involvement didn’t come until I was about 12 years old when I joined a choir led by a fellow by the name of Joshua Weisser. He heard me singing one Shabbos…and he told my father he’d like me to join his choir. But my father said to him, “I don’t think the choir is for him. He’s a yeshiva boy.”

Choirs at that time weren’t known for their religiosity, and he thought I was too young to go away from home.

This was a choir that accompanied chazzanim in shul?

Yes, you don’t have too many of them now, but at one time all the big shuls had chazzanim and choirs. It was almost a given.

In any event, my father told him he didn’t think it was a good idea. But Weisser found out where I lived and went to speak to my mother. My mother told him the same thing. But [he was persistent] and promised that wherever we went he would put me up at the rabbi’s house or the finest ba’al habayis….

So I joined and became the alto soloist. He had special solos for me; he even wrote some new ones because I was able to do what they call a coloratura, which is like a shalsheles. Most kids couldn’t do it, but I had the aptitude because I used to listen to a lot of chazzanushe records when I was a kid.

In fact, when I was three or four years old, maybe even younger, we had a Victrola player in the house, and my mother would sit me down in front of it for hours with a pack of chazzanushe records. So I was pretty well advanced as far as my knowledge of chazzanus, and Weisser appreciated that.

Is it true you also had your own radio program at age 13?

I had a 15-minute feature on one of the Jewish radio station in downtown Brooklyn. When I started off, it was on a Sunday afternoon, around 12:00. So I had to get permission from the yeshiva to leave. My teacher was Rav Pam – it was his first year teaching in Mesivta Torah Vodaas – so I went over to him and told him I have a radio program and have to leave at 11. He said, “A radio program?” He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

He said, “I can’t give you permission. You have to go to the principal, Rabbi [Shraga Feivel] Mendlowitz. So I went to Rabbi Mendlowitz, and he also looked at me…and had a little hard time giving me permission. But he [eventually agreed]. He said, “Number one, you have to come back to the second seder. Secondly, I don’t want you to hang around there. Go there, do your job, and leave. Don’t make any friends with anybody.” Those were the terms.

About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and author of “Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape” (Brenn Books).


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Man Whose Tunes Grace Shabbos Tables Worldwide: An Interview with Composer Ben Zion Shenker

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
ISIS Released Map
The Ally No One Wants In War Against ISIS: The Jews
Latest Indepth Stories
ISIS Released Map

Israel would love to be in the coalition,but it’s never going to happen, because, in the end, most of America’s allies would walk away if Israel were on board officially.

IDF lone soldier and  David Menachem Gordon (z"l).

Why has his death been treated by some as an invitation for an emotional “autopsy”?

Starck-091914

SWOT analysis: Assessing resources, internal Strengths&Weaknesses; external Opportunities&Threats.

Kohn-091914

Strategy? For the longest time Obama couldn’t be bothered to have one against a sworn enemy.

Seventeen visual skills are needed for success in school, sports, and everyday life.

We started The Jewish Press. Arnie was an integral part of the paper.

Fear alone is substantial; without fusing it to beauty, fear doesn’t reach its highest potential.

Fortunate are we to have Rosh Hashanah for repentance, a shofar to awaken heavenly mercy.

Arab leaders who want the US to stop Islamic State are afraid of being dubbed traitors and US agents

National Lawyers Guild:Sworn enemy of Israel & the legal arm of Palestinian terrorism since the ’70s

A little less than 10 percent of eligible Democratic voters came out on primary day, which translates into Mr. Cuomo having received the support of 6.2 percent of registered Democrats.

The reality, though, is that the Israeli “war crimes” scenario will likely be played out among highly partisan UN agencies, NGOs, and perhaps even the International Criminal Court.

Peace or the lack of it between Israel and the Palestinians matters not one whit when it comes to the long-term agenda of ISIS and other Islamists, nor does it affect any of the long-running inter-Arab conflicts and wars.

Rather than serving as a deterrent against terrorist attacks, Israel’s military strength and capabilities are instead looked at as an unfair advantage in the asymmetrical war in which it finds itself.

More Articles from Elliot Resnick
Ben Cohen

If you remember, in 2006, a Jewish kid in Paris, Ilan Halimi, was abducted, beaten, and held hostage for three weeks… These are the kinds of people attending these Gaza solidarity rallies.

Rabbi Berel Wein

King Solomon said it long ago: “Cast your bread upon the waters” because you don’t know when you’ll hit something. Our job is to do.

Formerly an attorney at the prestigious law firm Proskauer Rose for 40 years – six of those years as its chairman – Fagin holds degrees from both Columbia and Harvard Universities. He retired in 2013 to devote more time to the Jewish community.

The message is that Zionism, which used to be great, is today very institutionalized and [consists of a] bunch of people who are just squabbling over titles and budgets.

For Steinsaltz, the Rebbe was no less than “the greatest man I have ever met,” as he writes in the preface to his book.

If a child is seldom required to yield his desires and needs to those of others, surely doing so as an adult will not come naturally to him.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/the-man-whose-tunes-grace-shabbos-tables-worldwide-an-interview-with-composer-ben-zion-shenker/2014/01/29/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: