Jewish Journal

A Cantor’s Reflection

by Julie G Fax

Posted on Sep. 13, 2001 at 8:00 pm

When Binyamin Glickman looks around Los Angeles today, he sees his students. And, he is glad to say, they are doing well.

From 1962 to 1982 Glickman was cantor at Beth Jacob Congregation, a large Orthodox synagogue in Beverly Hills, and the music instructor at Hillel Hebrew Academy down the block.

As cantor, he trained countless students in his choir to lead services, and many of his students continue to do so today.

But Glickman, who is back in town as the new cantor at Mogen David on Pico, has some fears about the future, since only a handful of Orthodox synagogues in the country employ cantors.

"The level of knowledge has risen among members of the Orthodox community, and due to the fact that we've had a lot of break-offs from major congregation to smaller congregation, everyone thinks he's a cantor," Glickman says.

While some lay baaeli tefila -- prayer leaders -- are well-educated and able to sing nusach and traditional melodies properly, others are cavalier with their application of popular tunes to traditional texts. Glickman is a proponent of participatory music composed for specific texts, but he cringes at the application of Israeli love songs or pioneer ballads, for instance, to the Kedusha service. "Everyone adapts melodies from anything to anything. It's like latkes on Rosh Hashana," he says.

Glickman's misgivings are not universally felt, as many Orthodox synagogues have increased the energy level and participation in services by adapting such popular tunes.

Even more than Israeli songs and popular Jewish music, the current strongest influence seems to be the music of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Mainstream congregations are adopting Carlebach's tunes in Friday night services and some for Shabbat morning.

Glickman worries the Carlebach tunes themselves are being applied and often distorted in ways that are counter to the composer's intention.

In Los Angeles, at the Shtibl Minyan, the Neshama Minyan at Beth Am and the Happy Minyan at Beth Jacob, Carlebach's nusach, the recurring tune for the lines at the beginning and end of a paragraph, has replaced all traditional nusach.

Sam Glaser, a Los Angeles composer and performer who often leads services at the Happy Minyan, enjoys the spirit of the davening, but has some hesitancies.

"While it's a breath of fresh air in the Orthodox community to have people singing and dancing for four hours straight ... one of the things we are responsible for is not only keeping alive our tradition but also keeping alive our musical heritage; it's happening less and less," Glaser says.

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