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October 22, 2016 / 20 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘chassidic’

‘Pop Chassidic Melodies Are Neither Pop Nor Chassidic’: An Interview with Cantor Joseph Malovany

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Born in 1941, Cantor Joseph Malovany serves as rector of the Institute of Jewish Traditional Liturgical Music in Leipzig, Germany; dean of the Academy of Jewish Music in Moscow; professor of Jewish Music at Yeshiva University in New York; and cantor of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue.

He’s sung with such orchestras as the Israel Philharmonic, the London Classical, the New York Symphony, the Prague Symphony Orchestra, the Russian State Symphony, and the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra and has received numerous honors, including the Cross of Merit – Commander of the Legion of Honor, which is Poland’s equivalent of knighthood.

He recently spoke with The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press: Where did you grow up? What’s your early background?

Cantor Malovany: I was born and grew up in Tel Aviv where I went to the Bilu school. It was famous all over the world because of its shul, which had a choir of 40 boys led by Shlomo Ravitz, who was a famous chazzan. When I was eight-and-a-half years old, I was already davening Kabbalas Shabbos [for the amud] accompanied by the choir.

Excluding Barchu, I presume.

No, including Barchu. At the time, Rav Isser Yehuda Unterman was the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and he permitted it as a matter of chinuch. Later there were some halachic objections, so Rav Unterman said our teacher, Shlomo Ravitz, should sing Barchu and Kaddish together with the boy.

If you were already leading the davening at Bilu as an eight-year-old boy, you must have been quite musical.

When I was six years old, my mother sold her wedding ring so she could afford to buy a piano for me. That was the same year I started studying at the Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv.

When did you know you would become a chazzan by profession?

I actually originally wanted to become a conductor and studied classical piano and conducting at the Academy of Music of Tel Aviv.

But I found out that in order to get into the world of symphonic conducting, a very important component is entering international conducting competitions. I applied and was accepted to quite a few, but all of them required [conducting] on Shabbos, and I was not prepared to give up an inch in my frumkeit. As an einekel of Reb Avraham Michael Malovany and Reb Yosef Stein – who learned b’chavrusa with the Satmar Rebbe in Europe – it was out of the question.

So it was at that crucial moment that I decided to apply my knowledge of music to chazzanus and become a chazzan.

So you left the world of classical music behind?

No, I still practice every day for 30-45 minutes. I have a huge grand piano at home, and this morning, for example, I played Brahms’s sonata in F sharp minor and Bach’s chromatic fantasy.

In fact, when I have a concert with an orchestra where I am the only one performing, I insist on conducting one symphonic classical music piece for my own pleasure – “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini, for example, or Verde’s “The Force of Destiny.”

Who were your cantorial “heroes” growing up?

First was my teacher Shlomo Ravitz. Then there was Moshe Koussevitzky and his brother David Koussevitzky, whom I knew very well and loved very much. I knew Moshe too. In fact, I accompanied him on the piano when he gave an outdoor concert for 5,000 Israeli soldiers on a July day in the 1960s.

Of course I also liked Yossele Rosenblatt very much, and Mordechai Hershman too. Hershman was not a composer but he had such a beautiful voice and his interpretation was always so sublime that it got to me.

How do you view your job as a chazzan?

A chazzan first and foremost has to regard himself as a shaliach tzibbur. The prayer “Hineni” on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur says a shaliach tzibbur should have a beard, should have a nice voice, and should be “me’urav bedaas im habriyos,” involved in the life of his community. This is extremely important.

Number two, I always tell my students that before you ever try to be a chazzan, you have to be a baal tefillah. A baal tefillah is someone who is extremely well versed with the nusach, with the musical motifs of davening. Every tefillah – take Yishtabach or Ahavah Rabah for example – has a musical motif and that’s the way to sing it. If you sing a congregational melody, it should be built on this motif; if it isn’t, at least come back to it somehow. If you don’t, you are breaking a traditional chain that goes back a couple of thousand years.

Sometimes I hear a shaliach tzibbur sing a pop chassidic melody – which is not pop and not chassidic. It’s nothing. It has no quality. It comes from the nightclubs. There is nothing Jewish there. I would even venture to say it’s a chillul hakodesh. What right do people have to bring the banging of the disco into the synagogue?

In an interview several years ago, you criticized people who study Gemara during davening.

Yes, I’m very critical because, I think, they have no kavanah in their tefillah. They’re just saying the words to be yotzei and then they’re into the learning. What did Shlomo Hamelech say? There is a time for everything. So there is a time for tefillah and a time for learning. I learn the Daf Yomi every morning at 6:30 in my shul. I love learning, but tefillah is tefillah and learning is learning.

Who are some of the famous personalities you’ve met over the years?

Let’s start with Israel. I’ve been friendly with Israeli prime ministers beginning with Golda Meir, who was very musical. She liked chazzanus, and her son was a cellist.

The highlight among the prime ministers was of course Menachem Begin. I remember when he turned 65 I was invited to sing at his birthday and he told me what chazzanus pieces to sing. I was very close with him.

I was also friendly with Yitzhak Rabin, Yitzhak Shamir, and Arik Sharon. Arik loved chazzanus; he was not a big maven but he loved it.

How about other world leaders?

I’ve met Gorbachev several times. His English is not so great but whenever I see him, I tell him a couple of jokes about himself – which someone translates for him – and he’s on the floor.

I met Putin only once and that was for International Holocaust Day in 2005, 60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz. I was invited to do all the tefillos. I remember I asked the president of Poland, “Can you please introduce me to President Putin?” So he says “Volodya, come here. This is Joseph Malovany. He’s my cantor. He sang in my royal castle, and you have to invite him to sing in the Kremlin.” After that we went aside and chatted for about 5-7 minutes on all kinds of interesting things.

Until recently you used to travel often to Eastern Europe. Why?

When the Soviet Union began to crumble I felt that there was a need to do something for Soviet Jewry. I knew they were musical and I thought chazzanus would do a lot for them. So when I received an invitation to come to Moscow, I went and helped establish the Moscow Academy of Jewish Music and the Moscow Jewish Men’s Choir. Until today this choir travels all over the world. It’s my creation – all the music they sing, all the arrangements, everything.

What was it like traveling to the Soviet Union before the Cold War ended?

I had a run-in with the KGB because in a speech I referred to “St. Petersburg” when the city’s official name was still Leningrad. I remember two guys came Friday night to our hotel room and wanted to give me a hard time. I said to them, “If you arrest me for saying that, within an hour President Reagan is going to be on the phone with Gorbachev and you’ll be in trouble for creating an international crisis.”

So nothing [happened]. But as they were leaving the room, they noticed that my wife had lit Shabbos candles. One of the KGB officials looked and looked and then said, “I remember my grandmother lighting candles like this and she did something with the hands.” I looked at him – I had tears in my eyes – and said, “Was it your mother’s mother?” He said, “Yes.” I said to him, “I have news for you. You’re Jewish. What are you giving me a hard time for?” I gave him a hug and we drank vodka.

Have you had any interactions with famous rabbinic personalities? Chassidic rebbes, for example?

I had three chassidic rebbes. First was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, with whom I had an unbelievable relationship. The second was the Satmar Rebbe, whom I told you learned b’chavrusa with my grandfather in Europe. When I used to go into the Satmar Rebbe, he would stand up and say, “I’m standing up not for you; I’m standing up in honor of your grandfather.”

And the third was the old Bobover Rebbe, Reb Shlomo. He was very musical. I once met him in England, and he asked me for my haskama on a new melody he had composed. His meshorerim sang it for me, and I thought that, musically speaking – for a person who had no knowledge of music to be able to compose such a thing with modulations to different keys – it was genius. When they finished it, the Rebbe said to me, “Nu, what do you say?” I said to him, “A niggun like this can only be composed b’ruach hakodesh.”

He became [a bit startled] and said, “Yossele Rosenblatt once spent Shabbos in Bobov and a similar story happened. My father, Rav Bentzion, asked Reb Yossele for his opinion on a niggun he composed and he said the very same words. ‘Only b’ruach hakodesh.’”

Elliot Resnick

Preserved Polish Synagogue to Become Jewish Museum

Monday, December 29th, 2014

The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland plans to open a new Jewish museum in a preserved baroque synagogue built in the 17th century in eastern Poland.

Great Synagogue in Leczna, in Lublin province, was mostly destroyed during and after World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s it was reconstructed, retaining the most important architectural elements of the former synagogue, including its wooden ceilings, the bimah and the Torah ark.

Since 1966, the synagogue has housed a regional museum, which has in its collection some valuable Judaica.

In 2013, the synagogue was transferred to Jewish community and was placed under the responsibility of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland.

The Foundation has proposed re-opening the museum in the building with a focus on the Jewish community of the town and plans to open the revamped museum in 2016.

It could become part of the Chassidic Route – the project implemented by the Foundation which traces the Jewish communities of southeastern Poland. The project has been joined by 28 communities.



NYPD Cop Arrested for Anti-Semitic Grafitti in Boro Park

Monday, May 5th, 2014

A former New York City police officer allegedly suffering from “mental illness” was arrested over the weekend for spray painting anti-Semitic graffiti in numerous locations throughout Brooklyn’s Chassidic neighborhood of Boro Park.

Michael Setiawan left the force in 2007 after two years of service, allegedly due to depression, according to a police source quoted by the New York Daily News. His younger brother, also a police officer, later committed suicide (in 2011), police added. Neighbors living near the family home told the newspaper that Setiawan “has got problems” but said “he’s a good guy.”

Currently age 36, the suspect is accused of having spray-painted 15 cars, three buildings, and a girls’ school with hate-filled words and epithets aimed at Jews.

The words “F — you Jew” and “Jew cheap s—-“ were sprayed on to the walls of the Bnos Zion Bobov School on 14th Avenue. Those phrases along with other words and swastikas were also sprayed elsewhere in the neighborhood.

The vandalism created havoc in Boro Park. Residents were terrorized; many are elderly Holocaust survivors with memories of how their nightmares in eastern Europe started — those nightmares began with similar epithets and words scrawled by the Nazis on the buildings around their homes decades ago.

Surveillance cameras caught sight of a bald man wielding a spray paint can on Saturday night in the graffiti attack who appeared to be Setiawan, according to a report published by the newspaper. He was arrested Sunday after detectives reviewed the footage and checked the registration of the car seen in the tape, a source said.

The former police officer was charged with 19 counts each of criminal mischief as a hate crime, and aggravated harassment as a hate crime in connection with the vandalism.

Local Jewish community leaders expressed shock that the perpetrator was a former police officer, but praised detectives for the quick arrest.

Hana Levi Julian

Seeing the Shifting Face of American Judaism at Hershey Park

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Most years on the first weekday of Chol HaMoed Sukkot, my wife and I take our four children to Hershey Park. The park, located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania., is closed to everyone but frum Jews on that day.

Lancaster is not known as a center of frumkeit – it is most decidedly “out of town – but on that day Hershey not only makes accommodations for the visitors but actually reconfigures the whole park to be frum friendly. The food stands, including the kettle corn that draws some of the longest lines, are all kosher. Placards advertise the times for minyanim, and hundreds of men converge to daven at prearranged times or, if they miss the large gatherings, come together in small minyanim abutting food stands or roller coasters.

In addition, the park has sukkot to enable visitors to fulfill the obligation of eating in the sukkah.

Hershey is not the only amusement park to accommodate frum Jews for Sukkot, but it may make the most effort. The two Disney parks, in Florida and California, also typically host Orthodox Jews on this day, though not exclusively, as in Hershey. Disney Orlando allows the local Chabad rabbi to build a sukkah on the premises, outside the ticket taking area. (At Hershey there are two sukkot on the inside of the park.)

Hershey on Chol HaMoed – aka #jewday on Twitter – is also popular because it is in the heart of the Northeast corridor that houses the bulk of the country’s Orthodox Jews. It is a manageable drive from Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, and more specifically from Orthodox enclaves in Silver Spring, Potomac, and Reisterstown, Md.; Cherry Hill, Englewood, Teaneck, and Lakewood, N.J.; and of course, Brooklyn, the Five Towns, and Queens in N.Y.

The crowd, though nearly all frum, is nonetheless quite a diverse mix of the entire range of frumkeit, including haredi, chassidic, Modern, and barely. I delight in seeing chassidishe families, notable for their boys sporting long curly peyot and speaking rapid-fire Yiddish, standing on line next to modern jeans-clad teenagers hanging out in “coed clumps.” Though much is written about the divisions within the Modern and non-Orthodox camps, it seems as if Hershey Park, and similar parks around the country that sponsor or encourage special days for Orthodox Jews, have found the magic formula that will unite these oft-times contentious communities – namely, rides.

At Hershey Park, where strangers happily exchange the Yiddish greeting “a gut moed,” we see that despite differences in prayer books (ArtScroll vs Koren), pronunciation (taf vs. saf) and Zionism (silent vs pro), Orthodox Jews are just like everyone else. They are looking for a place they can enjoy a fun day with their families, where their restrictions – kosher food, the need for a minyan and to eat in a sukkah – do not prevent them from sharing in that enjoyment. You can almost sense the excitement kosher-keeping Jews feel at not having to bring their own food to a family fun outing.

Hershey Park helps tell another tale as well. Fifty years ago, American Orthodoxy was being demographically dismissed as a relevant force in American Jewish life; over the last two decades, however, Orthodoxy has grown from its nadir of about 5 percent of the nation’s Jewish population to somewhere between 10 and 15 percent, and the numbers are rising.

About 27 percent of Jews under 18 are Orthodox, in large part because Orthodox Jews tend to marry earlier, have more children and intermarry far less frequently than Conservative and Reform Jews. In addition, Orthodox parents are far more likely to send their children to Jewish day schools or yeshivot, which are key predictors of generational Jewish continuity.

This growing community is in the process of shifting the face of Judaism in America from a cultural, economic and political perspective. The crowd that gathers every year in Hershey is providing a preview of what that changed Jewish community could look like.

Next year, out-of-towners and in-towners alike should consider a visit to Hershey on Chol HaMoed to get a glimpse of the emerging future of American Orthodoxy. And then, when the eight days of chag are over, they can breathe a sigh of relief and get back to work.

Tevi Troy

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/seeing-the-shifting-face-of-american-judaism-at-hershey-park/2013/10/03/

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