Memory Lane: Chazzan Yaakov Rappaport, z”l
As Klal Yisroel heads into Shuls for the first night of Slichos, and the beginning of the season of praise and prayer, we profile a chazzan whose voice once reverberated on the days of awe in old Boro Park
Chazzan Rappaport hailed from an illustrious Rabbinic Home. His father was Rav Yisroel Rappaport who was later Rav in Chortkow. He was born in the year 1890 in Telenesht, Bessarabia, where his father was then serving as a Rav, but as a child the family moved to Chortokow, Galicia. Here he became drawn to the Rebbe, and was exposed to a unique genre of song, one that would strongly influence his music.
His father hailed from a line of Rabbanim, and was descended from the Baal Shem Tov and the Me’or Eynayim of Chernobyl. 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 these 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.