web analytics
April 25, 2014 / 25 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



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)

Share Button

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.

Share Button

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.

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
Mock Eviction Notice shoved under the doors of students' rooms in predominantly Jewish NYU dorm by NYU SJP.
NYU Latest Site of Anti-Israel Mock Eviction Notices
Latest Indepth Stories
Students in Israel get computers to assist in their schoolwork.

Day schools can have boys and girls participate in the same online class but they don’t meet or interact in “real time.”

Richard Falk, FORMER  United Nations Human Rights Council’s Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories.

Jews so hostile to their own people they’ve spun out into the orbit of rabid anti-Israeli and pro-Islamic radicalism.

Breaking the Fw:Fw:Fw Chain

Rav Pam said we must realize that God has no pleasure from such negative speech.

NIF support for BDS groups, writes Black, also included acting as a “go between for other donors….

Brandeis, which had to have known about her record of criticism of Islam, pulled the honor after pressure from a Muslim advocacy group and a number of faculty members and students.

Wherever I was invited around the world, I always met with people and let them know that I wanted to hear great stories.

R. Hadaya strongly argues in favor of establishing a festive day in commemoration of the establishment of the state of Israel.

The Palestinian Authority has jailed more than 350 Arabs for “security” reasons in just 2014.

Since Torah is the great equalizer, the great reconciler of divergent but valid opinions, this is also the place where common ground is reached.

Some American Jews feel their community has been hijacked from within by groups waging war against Israel seemingly in the name of the Jewish people.

Jerusalem only seems important in the Islamic world when non-Muslims control or capture the city.

Jordan’s king is adding fuel to the fire on the Temple Mount, blaming Israel for violence by Muslim Arab rioters.

At Brandeis, much of what counts as Western civilization got cold feet and won’t stand with Hirsi Ali.

But the lesson from this meditation is that hidden behind the anti-semitic act is the greatest light.

More Articles from Elliot Resnick
Rabbi Paysach Krohn

Wherever I was invited around the world, I always met with people and let them know that I wanted to hear great stories.

Rabbi Zevulun Charlop

When the state was established, gedolim went to Ben-Gurion and asked him not to draft women and, later, yeshiva bachrim.

With the new baseball season underway, The Jewish Press chatted with Zalta in his Flatbush home about some of his other memories.

Rabbi Hammer recently spoke with The Jewish Press about his new book, Derash Yehonatan: Around the Year with Rav Yehonatan Eybeshitz (Koren), and his work in teaching Torah to secular Israelis.

Halpert doesn’t know why he was fired, and YU apparently won’t explain

There’s also the issue of accusing the Jews of being excessively materialistic and exploitative of non-Jews. You see a lot of that in far-left propaganda – that the Jews are overwhelmingly concentrated in the petty bourgeoisie, which in itself is an archaic class form, and thrives on tricking people and squeezing money out of them through illicit methods of trade.

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.

Schanzer, who holds a doctorate from King’s College London, is currently vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and has testified before Congress on Middle East affairs on several occasions.

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

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: