David Giora: Passowski the Cantor

I knew the synagogue as a very young child, when Mr. Fasobski was the cantor. Since that moment, every Sabbath and every holyday had been dedicated to prayer in this synagogue.

I do not know how much time I had to get to know Mr. Fasobski. I was just a little boy but I remember his superior figure very well.

After Dad decided to abandon the Minsk Hasidic shtibl and go to pray at the Great Synagogue, my soul didn’t know greater joy. How was it possible to compare a small shtibl with a prayer by many in the Great Synagogue? Only those who experienced it knew the difference. Cantor Fasobski prayed in the cell before the Ark and his mighty voice was audible outside the synagogue.

What attracted me especially in his prayer was not prayer itself only, but rather the wine. What wine am I talking about? The Kiddush wine, of course. For this should be known: the prayer of Kabbalat Shabbat and Arvit were not the end of the story. After prayer, the caretaker, Avrahaml’e, came up with a bottle of wine and a large silver cup, poured a full glass of wine, and the Cantor said the consecration of Saturday with splendor.

We, the small kids were standing around the rail separating the Cantor from the general public, with the caretaker still next to him, and anticipate that moment, when the Cantor say “Mekadesh Ha’Shabat”, drink slightly from the cup, hand it over to the caretaker who will turn around the rail and let each child have a sweet drop of wine. Father always urged me to go closer, so as not to miss the mitzvah of drinking wine even once. At home, of course, we did not have wine for Kiddush Shabbat, for Father sanctified only the challahs. Wine was an expensive commodity and we only tasted it during Passover.

The cantor and his family immigrated to Eretz-Israel, eventaly, and there they changed their surname to Ben-Yosef. I haven’t met the Cantor Fasobski – Ben Yosef anymore, but his son continued to manage the affairs of the remnants of our city from Israel.

I remember very well the parting at the railway station in our town, Siedlce, when the cantor stood hunched beside the carriage and waved at each accompanying him on his way to the desired Land of Israel. I too was among the escorts.

After Cantor Fasobski immigrated to Israel a campaign began for selecting a new cantor. These days or more precisely – the Sabbaths – became one big celebration, for on those Sabbaths one after the other appeared, each time another cantor. This operation has been named “Cantor Concours”. Who am I to count the number and names of the cantors who appeared before us? Each with his own prayer, and each with his own voice, tried to influence and prove to the city’s leaders that he was the most suitable to take the job.

It should be mentioned that the cantor of the city had a special status, so that his attribution and place of previous prayer also played a role when it was decided to accept him for the position. The cantor’s prayer days were twice a month, and especially on the Sabbath when they recited the new month. The holidays were an inescapable law, of course.

Hebrew version written by David Giora.
Translated from Hebrew by Mr. Yuval Romano.