Mr. Reifman was an “alter Europa’esha Yid,” who had learned to lein in his hometown shtetl in Europe
Looking back — way back, more than four decades — I can still vividly recall sitting with Mr. Max Reifman z”l in his house in Queens, New York. We sat at his dining room table, and he had faded, green, felt-covered furniture. His wife always put a plate of plain, golden brown cookies on the table. And then my Bar Mitzvah lesson would begin.
Mr. Reifman was an “alter Europa’esha Yid,” who had learned to lein in his hometown shtetl in Europe. I don’t know where he grew up nor when he came to these shores, but his voice was sweeter than honey, his smile as warm as the spring sun, and when he pinched my cheek and told me, “Uri, that was beautiful,” I felt my shoulders straighten and my confidence grow. He was a master teacher, and I learned that the trop came from Hashem, just the same as the actual words of the Torah did, and that it was important to get the incantations just right. Twelve months of hard work paid off: with the strong foundation that Mr. Reifman set for me, I went on to lein in my yeshivah high school, beis medrash, and on.
My first students were my sons — they were my “korbanos.” I taught them the same way Mr. Reifman had taught me. There’s one particular trop that Mr. Reifman did like no one else — the Zakeif Gadol. I honor Mr. Reifman by making sure that my students all chant the Zakeif Gadol just as he taught me. My rav tells me that he can tell an “Uri baal korei” just from the way they sing the Zakeif Gadol. I call it the Reifman Zakeif Gadol.
When I begin teaching a new student, I make sure to tell him, “I was taught by someone who brought his way of leining with him from Europe, and now I’m giving that over to you. He learned this way of leining from his Bar Mitzvah rebbi, all the way back to when Hashem taught Moshe Rabbeinu the trop at Har Sinai, and you are the next in line. Cherish the fact that you are one in the chain of this mesorah, going all the way back to Matan Torah.”
I’m now starting with my 50th student — 50 boys have learned and have leined their parshiyos from me — all thanks to an unassuming alter Europa’esha Yid who gave over his mesorah to me.
Uri Benjamin manages the New York City office of Veritext, the largest court reporting firm in the country. He learned in Mesivta of Long Beach, Mir Yerushalayim, and RJJ in Edison. He lives with his wife in Edison, New Jersey.
(Originally featured in A Gift Passed Along, Special Supplement: Pesach 5780)
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