web analytics
July 25, 2014 / 27 Tammuz, 5774
Israel at War: Operation Protective Edge
 
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
IDC Advocacy Room IDC Fights War on Another Front

Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.



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)

How did your musical association with Modzitz start?

That happened when I was 15. The Modzitzer Rebbe came here in 1941 as a refugee from Poland. He was invited for a Shabbos in Bed-Stuy, and at the Shabbos meal – to which my father and I had been invited – there was a book on the sofa behind the Rebbe called LaChassidim Mizmor, with little biographies of all the rebbeim who were known as composers and singers. The book also had a biography of the Modzitzer Rebbe, and in it were some musical notations. I was studying music at the time and knew how to read, so I started singing to myself. The Rebbe overheard and said, “You can read notes?” So I said, “A little bit, yeah.” He said, “Let me hear, let me hear.”

So I started reading his own niggunim and he became very excited. Later, he asked me to sing Shir Hama’alos before bentching, so I sang one of his own niggunim that I had learned from a Lubavitcher friend who had studied in yeshiva in Otwok. The Modzitzer Rebbe was [based in Otwok after WWI] and my friend heard the Rebbe singing his niggunim at Shalosh Seudos. The Rebbe was so surprised, though, because the niggun was made in 1938, I think, and this was 1941. How did it ever get to America so quickly?….

[Anyways, to make a long story short, I soon] became his musical secretary. Any time he made a new niggun I was the one who notated it.

How many pieces did you notate?

About 100 probably, but he had many more. In fact, to the present day, they keep discovering compositions by him and his father which were never notated. In Israel they have a machon that devotes itself to collecting all of Modzitzer niggunim, starting from the first Rebbe.

How many Modzitzer niggunim do you know?

About 1,000 at least, including from the Rebbe’s father and son. The son was a very prolific composer also…. Some of his niggunim became very popular, like the one for “Lechah Dodi”: Dum di di dum dum, dum di di dum dum, lo seivoshi

Who wrote the Modzitzer “Ezkara” which famously takes almost a half hour to sing?

That was the Rebbe’s father, Reb Yisrael. He had a very bad case of diabetes, and he developed sores on his leg until it became gangrenous. So he went to the doctors in Warsaw, and they said, “Something has to be done because you might chalilah die.” So they advised him to go to Berlin where there was a surgeon who was very well known at that time.

When he was in Berlin, he looked at how beautiful the city was, and the words “Ezkara Elokim v’ehemaya bir’osi kol ir al tila benuyah… – I remember you, God, and I tremble when I see every city on its pedestal, but the city of God, Yerushalayim, is down in the depth” came to him. It’s a tefillah we say in Ne’ilah.

The story is told that he asked the doctor not to have anesthesia because at that time anesthesia was still in the early stages, and there was a rumor that it could have an effect on your mind. So he had the surgery without anesthesia, and [he is said to have composed this piece during the surgery].

Did you feel out of place at that first Shabbos meal with the Modzitzer Rebbe? After all, you weren’t a Modzitzer chassid.

My father was not a Modzitzer chassid, but we were all chassidim. My father was a Trisker chassid, which comes from Chernobyl Chassidus. Trisk and about seven other Chassidusin – Skver, Tolna, Rachmistrivka… – are all einiklach of Chernobyl.

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
cease fire!
Ceasefire Talks Again
Latest Indepth Stories
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett

Because let’s face it: Hamas obviously can’t defeat the IDF in the field, soldier against soldier

IDF soldier injured in Gaza is evacuated by helicopter to Soroka hospital.

The residents of Gaza were not occupied by the Hamas; they voted for the terror organization in democratic elections, by a huge majority, by virtue of its uncompromising struggle against Israel. For this reason, the separation between the armed Hamas terrorists and those ‘not involved’ or ‘innocents’ is false. The Gazans are now paying for […]

Shimon Peres meets with the family of fallen IDF soldier Max Steinberg.

As Peres retires, Israel fights sour legacy: Insistence on setting policy in line with hopes, rather than with reality.

Keeping-Jerusalem

Our capital was not arbitrarily chosen, as capitals of some other nations were.

UNHRC High Commissioner Navi Pillay accuses the IDF of possible war crimes in Gaza again, cutting slack to Hamas.

People test Israel every day to see how serious we really are in knowing when we are right.

Should Jews in Europe take more responsibility in self-defense of community and property?

Germany’s The Jewish Faith newspaper ominously noted, “We Jews are in for a war after the war.”

The truth is we seldom explore with kids what prayer is supposed to be about.

Almost as one, Jews around the world are acknowledging the day-to-day peril facing ordinary Jews in Israel and the extraordinary service of the IDF in protecting them.

So on the one hand Secretary Kerry makes no bones about who is at fault for the current hostilities: he clearly blames Hamas.

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.

The anti-Israel camp does not need to win America fully to its side. Merely to neutralize it would radically alter the balance of power and put Israel in great jeopardy.

We mourn the dead, wish a speedy recovery to the wounded, and pray that God guides the government.

More Articles from Elliot Resnick
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.

Allen Fagin

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.

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

    Latest Poll

    Do you think the FAA ban on US flights to Israel is political?






    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: