Cantors for the High Holidays
Virtually no practicing chazzanim were left in the Soviet Union by then. Yet some Jews with a flair for Jewish music were familiar with the traditional nusach tunes of the holiday prayer services and served as chazzanim during the month of Tishrei. As employees of the government, they were entitled to one month’s vacation a year. Accordingly, they scheduled their vacation for the month of Tishrei. They generally wouldn’t remain in their home towns but travelled to other cities seeking an appointment to lead the holiday prayers in a shul.
Expressed in these chazzanim‘s prayers was their full year of pent-up, deep-seated feelings.
They were paid well for this but “under the table.” Officially they received only a minimal payment in order to avoid paying the legally required taxes.
Two such chazzanim came from Moscow to Yekatrinoslav for the High Holidays and Sukkos. One was an opera singer, one of the theater’s best performers. He dressed and looked like a typical stage performer.
Accompanying him was another man who was more like a traditional shliach tzibbur. A bookkeeper at a government concern, he was a talented singer, and was also Torah-literate. He descended from the Rav of Slavuta.
The performer, if I remember correctly, was a descendant of Rabbi Avraham “the malach,” who is buried in Fastov, near Kiev. His surname was Lieber, which he said was also his grandfather’s surname.
As a performer, his face was cosmetically made up and didn’t sport even a mustache. But he would tell stories he heard from his grandfather and Chasidic stories in general, with the “broken heart” of a veteran Chasid.
Both chazzanim related that they had wanted to spend this month, which is filled with prayers, and its attendant inspiring atmosphere, in a traditional Jewish environment. While in Moscow, they heard of Schneerson’s comportment in face of that era’s difficulties, and they decided to travel to Yekatrinoslav for that month.
Upon arriving, they visited my husband to seek his advice on how to secure paid positions as chazzanim while at the same time using their talents to arouse and reinforce Jewish feelings—which the regime was trying to extinguish. “That,” they explained, “is why we have come to you, the Rav.”
Indeed, they were hired to lead the prayers of the High Holidays and Sukkot in the shul where my husband prayed.
My writing abilities are far insufficient to describe our shul’s inspiring atmosphere and the outpouring of the soul expressed there on those holy days under the influence of the Rav and these two chazzanim.
For the full diary entry please visit: http://www.chabad.org/1829462