An Emotional Shabbat Hagadol Service at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Shabbat Haggadol ("The Great Sabbath") before Passover was celebrated at the Murstein Synagogue of the HUC-JIR School in Jerusalem in an unusual and emotional service. Rabbi David Wilfond and Cantor Dr. Eliyahu Schleifer led the service together with the Leipzig Choir for Synagogue Music Leipziger Synagogalchor under the directorship of Kammersaenger Helmut Klotz. The service was a highlight of a week-long Israel tour of the choir and it evoked deep emotions both in the choir and in the congregation. Indeed, tears were seen in the eyes of the choir members as well as in those of some congregants – an unusual sight in our services. The choir of about 20 male and female singers, all of whom are non-Jews, has been active for over 47 years now in Leipzig, Germany. It began in 1962 under the Communist regime of East Germany. Its founder, Cantor Werner Sander, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps and the only Hazzan of the small Jewish communities of Dresden and Leipzig, dedicated the choir to saving and preserving the Jewish musical tradition as it had existed in Germany before the Shoah. After Sander's death, in 1972, KS Helmut Klotz, a non-Jewish tenor singer, took over the choir and enriched its repertoire.

The choir appears regularly in various towns throughout Germany and it has also given concerts in various European countries, the USA, South America and South Africa. In 1993 it made its first concert tour to Israel, at which tour the choir sang for the first time in a HUC-JIR Shabbat service that was led then by Rabbi Dr. Shaul Feinberg and Cantor Schleifer. The choir participates regularly in memorial services and ceremonies in for the Jews who were murdered in the Shoah. It has played a central role in the yearly ceremonies in commemoration of the Pogrom Nigh (Krystal-Nacht) at the central church of Leipzig, the church of Bach.  The choir's repertoire is made of 19th century synagogue compositions (which the choir sings in the old German-Ashkenazi pronunciation that was customary in Central European synagogues) and fresh arrangements of Yiddish and Hebrew folk songs.

During the Shabbat Haggadol service at HUC-JIR Jerusalem, the choir sang music by Samuel Lampel, the last choir director of the Great Synagogue of Leipzig before the Shoa who was murdered in Auschwitz, as well as compositions by famous Jewish composers, such as Louis Lewandowski, Samuel Naumbourg and Abraham Dunajewski.

In honor of the occasion, Cantor Schleifer chanted various parts of the service and read the Torah according the traditional German synagogue chants. Rabbi David Wilfond invited the soloists of the choir to read the Vision of Isaiah (Is. 2) and the Pilgrimage Psalm (Ps. 122) in German. The Dean, Rabbi Naamah Kelman, welcomed the choir on behalf of the College-Institute and Mrs. Avital Ben-Chorin (widow of the late Prof. Shalom Ben-Chorin) delivered the sermon, in which she addressed the choir in German and blessed it for its many years of activities on behalf of Jewish music and as a service to the Jewish people. After the service, an old lady approached the conductor Helmut Klotz saying: "I am grateful to you for this service. I have hoped all along to hear the music of my youth synagogue once again before I die…"


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu