Around the Yamim Noraim, it’s easy to pick out the chazzanim — they’re the ones with the scarves draped around their necks, even though it’s pushing 90 degrees outside. And if you pay attention, they’re constantly giving these small coughs, which I guess is their way of checking that their vocal cords are still in working order. The truth is, we owe these baalei tefillah a great debt of gratitude, for they are the ones responsible for setting the tone for our prayers. They inspire us, bring us to tears, and make us feel connected, knowing our tefillos have a channel.
Here We Talk to Hashem
Mordechai Ben David has never davened before the amud professionally, but he does daven in his own shul, Beis Tefilla L’Dovid, named after his father, Reb Dovid Werdyger. MBD infuses the traditional nusach with classic niggunim to create a perfect blended mix. Those who are privileged to daven there have told me that his davening, along with harmonies by his son Yeedle and neighbor Yossi Green, can penetrate the hard shell that often surrounds us just when we need to connect most. The minyan is also known for its strict “no talking” policy: From the moment you enter until the moment you leave, you’re only allowed to talk to the Ribbono shel Olam. MBD — Minyan B’li Dibbur.
Davening with Dylan
Benny Friedman recently told me that many years ago, he would daven on Yom Kippur with a Chabad minyan in California. One time, after Ne’ilah, someone came over to him and said, “Do you know who came over to hear you daven?” Who was that mystery guest? None other than Bob Dylan. He must have enjoyed it because he returned for the following three years.
Singing for the Tzaddik
Avraham Fried told me he’s never davened before the amud on Yamim Noraim — no matter how much money he’s been offered, he’s always refused. On the other hand, he did tell me that his grandfather was the baal tefillah for the holy Bluzhever Rebbe, Rav Tzvi Elimelech Spira, known as the Tzvi Latzaddik.
Ten More Minutes
When Yehudah Green first started davening on Rosh Hashanah, it was in a shul in Canada. Before Mussaf, the gabbai came over to him and said, “No matter what happens, you must be done by 1:00 p.m.” Yehudah ended up finishing at 1:20. The next day of Yom Tov, as he was preparing to daven Mussaf, the gabbai approached him. Yehudah immediately said, “I know, I know, 1:00 p.m.!” The gabbai looked at him and said, “No. The shul enjoyed it so much, you have until 1:30 today.”
Still as Sweet
Reb Bentzion Shenker a”h, who was known as the voice of Modzhitz, was still davening Ne’ilah for the tzibbur while fasting when he was 91 years old. The people in the Modzhitzer shul on Coney Island Avenue said that the davening was as powerful and sweet at 91 as it was the day he began as a young bochur.
My father a”h had a dear friend named Lou (Eliezer)Weinreb, whom we all called Uncle Lou. He had the sweetest voice, a rich baritone that went straight to your soul. Right after the war, he was offered a job in Worcester, Massachusetts, for Rosh Hashanah. In middle of davening the first day of Yom Tov, a woman walked into shul and sat down in the men’s section. Lou looked up and saw her and motioned to the rabbi quietly, “What’s going on here?” The rabbi looked at the president of the shul, and the president walked up to the bimah where Lou was standing. He whispered in his ear that for 15 years, this lady has been doing this and the shul came to a decision to allow it. Lou said to the president, “I cannot continue davening when a lady is sitting among men.” The president said there was nothing they could do. So Lou shut his siddur and started to head toward the door. The president approached him and said, “You realize that by leaving, you’re forfeiting your pay, don’t you? And,” he added, “We would be shaming the woman if we asked her to move.” Without missing a beat, Lou replied, “And you’re not afraid to shame Hashem?” He proceeded to walk out, and as he headed out the door, the woman, who had never budged before, came running and told him she respected his principles and that she agreed to move to the women’s section. Lou’s kavod for Hashem proved to be even greater than his voice.
May all our tefillos be answered with rachamei Shamayim and may we all have a gut gebencht yahr.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 780)
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