Memory Lane: Chazzan Yaakov Rappaport, z”l

Memory Lane: Chazzan Yaakov Rappaport, z”l

As we head into the Days of Awe, and the eve of selichos, we turn our attention to Chazzan Rappaport.

In 1916 Chazzan Yaakov Rappaport came to Congregation Beth El, back when it was located in on 12th Avenue and 41st Street.

His father was Rav Yisroel Rappaport who was later Rav in Chortkow. His father hailed from a line of Rabbanim, and was descended from the Baal Shem Tov and the Me’or Eynayim. He was the official Rav of the Chortkower Court, and his father’s brother was the gabbai of the first and second Czortkower Rebbes.

The young Yaakov internalized the old niggunim, and with his great talent his transcribed them onto sheet music for posterity. He would later incorporate many of them into his repertoire. He also began to sing in cantorial choirs—beginning the town of Stanislav, where he was learning in yeshiva. He also traveled with the famed Chazzan Zeidel Rovner, who was also a mentor to the cantor.

A Position in Boro Park

He arrived in America in 1910, a young lad of twenty, but in possession of phenomenal talent and drive. His first job was as the director of Chazzan Shaya Meisels’ choir. In 1916, he became the cantor at Beth El, and from there his fame spread. As we note below, from there he went to a much bigger position in Connecticut. Through his work on behalf of Chazzanus, he became the president of the “Chazzanus Farband,” the organization body of Chazzanim in New York—and in the accompanying poster for a 1924 benefit concert for relief for Russia’s Jews following WWI, the chazzan is seen in the center.

Speaking of benefit concerts, the Yiddishes Taggenblatt tells us that in January of 1917, a concert to benefit Gan Yeladim and Day Nursery on Montgomery Street, took place at the Sfardishe Shul. “Chazzan Blum from this shul with his enormous choir, and Chazzan Rapaport from Beth El Congregation with his enormous choir under the direction of Mr. Machtenberg…. Will present a rich program.” And for the Bar Mitzvah of the son of the “great Boro Park askan” Mr. David Becker, Chazzan Rapaport was brought back, and honored the Jews of Boro Park of yore with one more davening at Temple Beth El, on Shabbos December 10th, participating in the bar mitzvah simcha that followed at the Boro Park YMHA.

Farewell to Beth El

In the summer of 1920, the Chazzan was offered a position elsewhere, and in the pages of The Morgen Zhournal, on August 19, 1920, there says: “Chazzan Rapaport thanks Cong. Beth El. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all the officers and congregants of Congregation Beth El, 12th Avenue and 41st Street, Borough Park, where I was the chazzan these last four years, and to whom I now say ‘good-bye’ because I have now accepted the very prominent position at the Adas Yisroel Shul in Hartford, Conn.

“I want to particularly point the trust and the friendship that was given to me by every member of the Shul—something that I will remember forever. I wish this congregation that they find a worthy shliach tzibbur to take my place, and I wish myself that my first year at my new amud should be no worse than my last year at the Beth El Shul. I also wish them, and all Boro Parker’s, a wonderful new year, and a heartfelt farewell.”

An Enduring Legacy

Rapaport’s expertise was in the composing pieces to the words of Mishnah and Gemara—in addition to pieces outstanding compositions to the davening of Yamim Tovim and Yamim Nora’im.

Relates one chazzanus Aficionado: “He had a fine voice, and he created a number of records for a company called Emerson. But he is remembered for his compositions. He understood chazzanus really well, and more importantly, you do not need to be the greatest master chazzan, with superhuman ability and range to be able sing it. This is why I think his pieces are so prevalent to this day.”

It is unclear precisely which year it took place, but one article points out: “the only Rapaport to possess a phenomenal voices, as well as for his musically artistic ability—composing songs that are sung by other chazzanim—is cantor Rapaport, the son of the Czortkower Rov, Rav Yisroel Rapaport who was so beloved by the people of Boro Park in the years that he served at Temple Beth El. The chazzan has now resettled in Boro Par, and anyone who wants to meet him will find him at his new home, 1444 43rd Street.

The chazzan passed away in 1943 at the young age of 63, and is interred in Washington Cemetery, leaving behind a legacy of music and inspiration in Boro Park of yesteryear.

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