Twenty nine years ago today in a beautiful shul in Johannesburg South Africa, I was called up to the Torah for the first time, I had just turned 13 years old. It was Shabbos Morning Parshat Shmot and, towards the end of Torah reading I heard my name being called. I couldn’t escape it. Yes! The Gabbai was right. He had my full correct name and that of my Fathers. I walked over sheepishly to the Bima and in a voice barely audible I recited the Brachot for the Maftir. I recall as if it were just yesterday how I felt. My heart was pounding and racing a mile a minute. I was afraid that in a moment my heart would escape my body. In my young imagination I thought every member of the congregation could hear the thumping of my heart beat. I was so embarrassed.
I read the Haftorah in record speed and could not get off the Bima fast enough. You see the tune of the Torah and Haftorah never spoke to me. I felt I HAD to do this as my dad was the Rabbi of the prestigious congregation and I needed to make him proud. Well sure enough my salvation came in the form of the last words of the Haftorah and I darted back to my seat looking down all the way as I walked. I lifted my eyes unto heaven as I reached my seat thanking GD this part of my life’s journey had been completed.
Just as I sat myself down in my seat and started to relax I felt a warm but strong hand on my shoulder. I heard the unmistakable voice of the legendary Gabai of the Shul Mr. Yosef Klagsbald. He said: “Benny, Please go up and daven Musaph’ I looked at him much like a deer looks into headlights. You want me to Daven? Are you serious? Why me? I’m just a kid why can’t you find someone else I thought. I soon realized Yosef was not as much asking me he was commanding me. To be clear, Yosef was a Gabbai like no one you may ever meet. He didn’t simply fulfill the duties of running a shul, he WAS the shul. His heart and soul were etched into the walls of the Shul. I used to love going to Shul as a young kid.
I would wake up early Shabbos morning and walk to shul hand in hand with my father who served as the Rabbi. I felt so proud in fact at times I would walk purposely slow so it would take an extra few minutes, so as to spend that special time with my father. I was a short little fella but in those precious moments I was ten feet tall.
Once we arrived at Shul I was “handed off’ to Yosef the Gabbai. My father would go sit in his Rabbinic seat and I would sit next to Yosef. In time, I learned the Yosef was a Holocaust survivor who had lived in Lithuania before the war with his wife and five Children. Sadly every member of his family had perished and he was the sole survivor. I never saw him shed a tear but the one time I hid under the table during Yizkor and saw him overcome with emotion .He loved me and I loved him. We had a very special bond. He would sit with me and teach me the different parts of Davening and reward me when I behaved and especially when I sang along. He would always tell me that I had such a nice voice and I was blessed with a gift from Hashem.
And now Yosef with his piercing blue eyes was standing over me towering as giant and motioning to me to go to Daven. I didn’t have the confidence and for the life of me I don’t know how I did it, but I stood up and walked to the Amud. I remember staring Musaf as my voice trembled and then slowly calming down as the minutes passed. I will never forget as long as I live that Shabbos. As Musaf ended people rushed over to me, adults and children everyone was complementing me . I couldn’t believe what I had done. And then I recall someone pinching my cheek so very hard that I thought the right side of my mouth would fall off. It was Yosef. He looked down at me and said in Yiddish “Du est Zeyn a Chazzan”( you will be a Chazzan)
Twenty nine years have passed and “Yosef’s dream” came true. I have been privileged to serve in so many special synagogues the world over. I have sung at concerts, preformed at life cycle events and led Daveing so many thousands of time, yet every time I get up to sing it is the words of Yosef that I recall. Sadly, Yosef passed away a few years ago but his voice remains in my heart forever.
I don’t know if Facebook works in Heaven but today on the anniversary of this special day in my life, I want to give thanks to a man who believed in me and set me on the path of my life’s dream and passion.
About Cantor Benny
Cantor Benny Rogosnitzky serves as Cantor of the prestigious Park East Synagogue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Cantor Benny has lectured widely on Cantorial music and its application to prayer. He has taught and guided many of today's well-known cantors. He is involved at the leadership level in many charitable organizations with a unique flair for organization and implementation of community projects. Cantor Benny is one of the founders of FrumDivorce, a community-support organization, dedicated to supporting members of the religious community, who are going through the divorce process, with a specific focus on parenting and guidance on how to deal with the emotional fallout of separation and divorce.
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