Not Dead Yet: The Remarkable Renaissance of Cantorial Music

  • Jewish Ideas Daily

Standing at the foot of the crowded, steep staircase outside the old Eldridge Street shul (now the “Museum at Eldridge Street”) on a Sunday afternoon earlier this month, I heard someone call out, “Nu, Professor Nadler?”  Looking up, I recognized the familiar grimace of an ancient, ardently secular sage, one of the few such surviving consumers of Yiddishkeit in all its iterations, whom I had last seen 20 years before in the grand old Reading Room of the YIVO Institute, then located in the Vanderbilt Mansion on East 86th Street.  I responded in strict adherence to the one-upmanship that regulates Yiddish conversation: “Nu, nu!”  The old man cautiously made his way down one more step, firmly gripping his walker, then pronounced, “Nu? Loy almen hazones!”

Hazzanut is no widower.  His aphorism was a Yiddish adaptation of the words of comfort issued by the prophet Jeremiah 2500 years ago to the exiles in Babylonia: “Lo alman Yisrael,” Israel has not been widowed by God.  It was perfect for the occasion: the magnificent cantorial concert we had both just experienced, in which other comforting prophecies of Jeremiah (“If I forget thee, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither . . .”) were artfully chanted by Cantor Netanel Hershtik, accompanied by the choir from his shul, the Hampton Synagogue, along with the superb Amernet String Quartet and the gifted cantorial pianist Alan Mason.

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