Last Sunday Cantor Haim Levy of Fresh Meadows set off for the trip of a lifetime.
Levy, 64, joined about 70 cantors from throughout the world for a nine-day concert tour of Poland, once the epicenter for Jewish cantorial music before millions of Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
On July 2, the cantors were scheduled to lead a memorial service at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp, where more than 1 million Jews died during the Holocaust. The trip will also bring Levy and the cantors from the United States, Israel, Canada and Europe to performances at the National Opera House in Warsaw, the Krakow Jewish Cultural Festival in Szeroka Square and the Krakow Philharmonic Hall.
“This is really something very special,” said Levy, who has been the cantor at the Israel Center of Conservative Judaism in Fresh Meadows since 1990. “I have never been to Poland, and it will mean a lot to go there. This is something you must do once in your life.”
Nathan Lam, cantor at the Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles and president of the Cantors Assembly Foundation, is leading the tour and said the trip will connect cantors with the strong history of Jewish music in Poland.
“Poland in 1939 was the center of the cantorial world,” Lam said. “Creativity and artistry of the cantorial music form was at its height. We are returning out of homage and respect to this tradition to which we have dedicated our professional lives.”
Tad Taube, chairman of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, which is sponsoring the tour, said the trip is also meant to highlight a revival of Jewish life and culture in Poland.
Poland was once home to the largest Jewish population in Europe of around 3.5 million people. More than 3 million Polish Jews died in the Holocaust and many more were forced out after the war. But Polish officials have begun ramping up efforts to attract Jews and Jewish culture back to the country, such as holding the Jewish cultural festival the cantors will attend.
“This trip gives American cantors a unique opportunity to return to where our cantorial musical heritage flourished and to connect with the re-emergence of Jewish life that the new Poland now offers,” Taube said.
Levy, a social studies teacher in Israel before moving to the United States, said his love of music inspired him to begin a second career as a cantor.
“I was born in 1944 and nobody had a piano in their homes,” Levy said. “My home was the first one who bought a piano. I love music.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson
©2009 Community News Group
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