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15. Cantors

[Col. 239]

R'Yisrael, son of R'Yedidiah Yafe, known as Yisrolke Suvalker, was the town cantor in Suwalk for almost 30 years (1832-1860) a few years after the rabbinate of Rabbi Yehiel Heler.[1]

[Col. 240]

R'Yehiel was himself a great singer and when R'Yisrael was once late for services, R'Yehiel showed his talent as a cantor. After he left Suwalk, R'Yisrael was the cantor in Kalish for many years. His pedigree goes back to the Shl'H.

[Col. 241]

According to a letter from his father, it seems that R'Shneur Zalman of Lydia, author of the Tanya, was his great-uncle but the author of R'Shneur Zalman's family tree says that the matter needs further elucidation.[2]

R'Yisrael Yafe was the author of “Ishe Yisrael” – a commentary on the “Torat Haoleh” of RM”A – to which 23 rabbis of Russian Poland sent approbations. (Koenigsberg 1854, three parts). He published serious articles on Torah in “Hamagid” (1859) and in other periodicals.

R'Yisrael studied Kabbalah and also philosophy. He published a third, revised edition, of “Shaar Hashamayim” by Avraham Kohen Iriri (Warsaw 1864), where he wrote a long introduction on Kabbalah, discussing the theories of Aristotle, Plato, Leibniz, Kant and others.

R'Yisrael Yafe was also cantor in New York where he died in 1888.[3]

Arnold Markson, who studied singing with the famous Sulzer in Vienna, and who was a cantor in Berlin for over 25 years, was born in Suwalk in 1839. He was a chorister with the above-mentioned R'Yisrolke Suvalker. Markson died in 1900.

R'Hayim, son of R'Barukh Vaynshel, who was born in Suwalk in 1838, also sang with R'Yisrael Yafe. In his last years, he was cantor of the New York synagogue: “Tiferet Yisrael” of “Anshe Mayshtat-Shirvint”. He was brought to America by men from Suwalk to pray in their synagogue. J.D. Eisenstein calls him “the praiseworthy cantor” in his memoirs and the writer Jacob Zausmer, considers him in his memoirs as one among the “leading lights” of cantors. Vaynshel was also cantor in Minsk, Kovne and London. He died in New York in 1901.[4-5]

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Hayim Vaynshel wrote a book of songs “Nite Naamanim” (New York 1891) with an introduction by his mentor from Suwalk, R'Yisrael Yafo (Yafe). One song was dedicated to him. Some of the sons the composer writes were sent to the well-known Yosef Rozntal of Suwalk. The literary value of the songs is not very great.

One of the best known cantors in Russia, long ago, was David Mordekhay Kheynovski, born in Suwalk in 1859. He studied singing with Cantor Gritshendler in Warsaw and later with Sulzer in Vienna. In 1883, he became a cantor in Kertsh, in 1885 in Kharkov and in 1887 in the famous Poliakov synagogue in Moscow. When the Jews were expelled from Moscow in 1891, Kheynovski went to Militpol where he served as cantor until his death in 1920. Kheynovski had a heroic tenor voice and was admired by leading opera singers. He educated a generation of students.[6]

R'Yehudah Leyb Hasid was a cantor in Suwalk for about 30 years, at the end of the previous century and the beginning of the present one. He had a large choir. He and his choir were beloved by the Jews of Suwalk.

Avraham Duber Xharlap (Berele Kharlap) studied with R'Hirshl Maytsheter in Suwalk. He was the cantor in a Boro Park synagogue in Brooklyn.[7]

Asher Rubinshteyn was known in Suwalk for his sweet voice as his three sons, each of whom sang better than the other. Asher Rubinshteyn used to volunteer his services for various communal functions. He also sang in neighbouring towns for worthy causes.[8]

Jews from Suwalk in New York longed for the sound of a familiar voice, so they invited Asher Rubinshteyn in 1910 to come for the High Holidays. R'Asher fulfilled this request and his compatriots once more experienced the sweetness of a Suwalk cantor's voice.

Hanokh Zundl Zakheym, born 1846 in Yanov, was a cantor in Ratzk for a certain period.[9]

Binyamin Zorah Levit sang in Suwalk for a short time. He later was cantor in America.[10]

[Col. 243]

The cantor Avraham Blekharovitsh from Aran came to Suwalk as a child with his family. There, he studied in the local Hebrew gymnasium and also cantorial arts. At 21 years of age, he became the premier soloist in the Riga Royal Opera. At present, he is head cantor in Buenos Aires.[10*]

One of the well-known cantors in Russia and Poland was Yisrael Mikhalovski, born in Suwalk. He was cantor in Praga for many years and chief cantor in Bet Hamidrash Hagadol in New York for ten years. Mikhalovski died in 1911 at the age of 80.[11]

[Col. 244]

At the end of the nineties, there was an eight year old child from Lazdey (province of Suwalk) who became famous in Saini. His name was Yosef Aharon and he had unusual musical talent.[12] When he was only four, he studied music with the composer Mikhalovits. His concerts in Suwalk, Kovne, Minsk, Warsaw, etc., were very successful. The Russian newspapers praised him to high heaven, as did the “Suvalski Gubernski Viedamosti”.[13]This is the same Aharon {Joseph Achron 1886-1943, EJ} who became one of the greatest Jewish composers of our time.


    1. In the introduction to his “Ishe Yisrael”, part 2, which was published in 1854, R'Yisrael wrote: “The city of Suwalk which has filled my lacks to support me these twenty-two years since I have become prayer leader here”. This does not jibe with the dates in Zaludkovski's cantors' book.
    2. “Bet Rabi”. Hayim Meir Haylman, Berditshov. 1906 p.56 thanks are due to R'Hayim Liberman, the librarian of the Lyubavitsh library in New York and one of the most expert librarians of our generation for this reference.
    3. “Kultur-treger fun der Yidisher Liturgie”, Eliyahu Zaludkovski. Detroit 1930 p.215; ”Yahadut Latvia”. Tel-Aviv 713{1952-1953] p.265; ”Sefer Zikaron fun 'Heasif'”. Warsaw 649{188-1889] p.51; Jewish Encyclopedia v.7 pp.53,56; ”Lebensbilder-Beruhmter-Katoren”band III Aron Friedmann. Berlin 1927 p.135.
    4-5. ”Beikve Hador”. Jacob Zausmer. (New York) 1957 p.71; ”Kultur-treger..” p.137.
    6. Ibid. p.217.
    7. Ibid. p.298.
    8. “H tsefirah”. 1883 n°10; “Hamagid” 1872 n°43.
    9. “Kultur-treger…” p.226.
    10. Ibid p.307.
    10* ”Sefer Hahazanim”. Y.L. Hidekel. Buenos Aires 1957 p.162.
    11. “Dorot Haaharonim”. B.Z. Eisenstadt. p 232.
    12. Usually his name was misspelled as Ekhran, Archin, etc.
    13. “Hamelits” 1896 n°149; “Hatsevi” Jerusalem n°43.


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