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Yeshiva College graduate Zachary Bienenfeld continues his studies at Belz. He will lead the High Holiday services at a Mount Vernon synagogue.

According to Cantor Beer, though, the cantor’s task has changed over the last century: “The responsibility now is also to inspire the people, to get them to sing along.”

He believes that trend began 40-50 years ago, when individual participation became more important to communities; before that, many shuls had choirs that sang along instead.

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Rabbi David Schwezoff, a native of Budapest, Hungary, takes the responsibility to move others with his davening especially seriously. “Even during my high school years I was asked to daven for the amud quite frequently, since not many people in my community knew how to do it,” he said. “But when I do something, I want to do it my best.”

Now a full-time cantor in one of the largest communities in Budapest, Schwezoff initially came to the United States to study at Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Rockland County, N.Y., but he was also searching for a place to learn nusach and real cantorial techniques to take back to his shul in Hungary.

When he discovered Belz, he was ecstatic: “At Belz, they impress upon you what it means to be a shaliach tzibbur, how someone in that role must feel and behave, understanding the meaning and background of the prayer, not just how to sing it.”

Schulman agreed: “Instead of just using the general nusach, I’m able to incorporate certain things from my Belz classes to make the davening meaningful.”

Cantor Joseph Malovany (left) provides instruction to Judge Martin Schulman. (Photo by David Khabinsky)
Cantor Joseph Malovany (left) provides instruction to Judge Martin Schulman. (Photo by David Khabinsky)

In his case, that meant adapting a special niggun passed on from Distinguished Professor of Liturgical Music Cantor Joseph Malovany’s own teacher, Shlomo Ravitch, to daven Shabbat Mussaf for his mother’s yahrzeit each year.

He also enjoys the diversity of his fellow classmates: “I may be a judge and 65 years old, but the camaraderie in the class, the mix of professionals like me and the college-age students who are there, really brings me back to my own college experience.”

At the end of the day, however, they’re all there for the same reason.

“When people walk into a synagogue they expect to hear a certain sound, and that sound is an aura that envelops them in a particular holiday, event or prayer,” said Cantor Sherwood Goffin, outreach coordinator at Belz.

“Our job here is to uphold the musical heritage of our synagogue and our people.”

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