Memory Lane: Chazzan Yossele Rosenblatt, z”l
Chazzan Yossele Rosenblatt’s years in America were distinguished by his heroism, his clarity of thought, and the company that he kept—not compromising one iota on his deeply held values, and never forgetting for a moment that he was a shaliach tzibbur in praising Hashem, thus increasing kvod Shamayim. The way in which he withstood his nisyonos remain a source of wonder and amazement to this day.
Boro Parker who grew up here in the 1920’s retain the vivid memory of the throngs of people crowding the intersection of Fourteenth Avenue and Forty-fifth street in an effort to hear that magical, legendary voice emanating from the open windows of the sfardishe shul, warming their hearts and souls.
It is something that was a great point of pride to those Boro Parkers of yore… and something that is talked about to this day by the leadership of the shul, which still retains an original copy of their contract with the chazzan for the Yamim Nora’im of the year 1932—the second to last that his voice would inspire Jewish hearts on this earth.
Born into Regality
Yossele was born in the year 1882 to his father, Refoel Sholom who was a chossid of the Sadigerer Rebbes, a branch of the Ruzhiner dynasty. From the youngest age, Yossele was a natural…gravitating to his place alongside his father at the amud—a place that he would soon surpass, rising to worldwide fame.
In a conversation with Heint—conducted at his sprawling suite at Krakow’s Europejski hotel while on a tour in Europe in 1928—Yossele recalled his earliest days, and the journey of his career to date: “I was the tenth child, a son, born after nine daughters… my father was a very poor man, who served as the chazzan in a very small shul in our town of Bella-Tsarkow, in the Kiev region of Ukraine.
“The great chazzanim, Yeruchom Hakatan and Nissan Belzer were my mother’s cousins, and all her brothers were phenomenal baalei menagnim. So I inherited music from both sides of the family. As a young boy, I internalized all of the niggunim that my father would rehearse with his choir… and at the age of 4, I joined them. When I was seven years old, my family was exiled from Russia, since my father had been there on a Turkish visa. We landed in Sadiger, in Galicia…where we starved. The chazzan, Reb Srulche discovered me, and brought me to daven by the Rebbe.
A Steady Ascent
“When my father came to the Rebbe that he has no parnassah, the Rebbe advised him to take me along and become a wandering chazzan. First we came to Chernovitz, where we earned 10 gold coins per Shabbos—a fortune by our standards. After ten weeks, we continued on. I began to sing my own compositions. They brought us down to Lember, and to Krakow—where they entered the story of my appearance in the kehillah ledgers. In Vienna, I davened in the famous “Shiff Shul” for 100 gulden!
In Vienna, Oberkantor Dan Fuchs wanted to place me into conservatory… but, I didn’t want to become a goy… so I declined, denying myself a world career.
“At the age of 18, I married the daughter of Reb Yidel Kaufman, a Bobover chossid, who was the shochet in a town near Krakow. My wife’s brothers are all menagnim as well. I spent a few years as a chazzan in Pressburg, where my choir consisted of talmidim of the Pressburger yeshivah.”
When the pressure from America did not let up, Yossele took the advice of his rebbeim and made his way to American shores to begin a new golden era of chazzanus.
Immediately upon arriving in America, he was treated like royalty… unlike other chazzanim who immigrated, and needed to make a name for themselves.
It was here, that his replicated abilities would receive a true worldwide audience. The voice and the range that have never been heard since were only matched by his heart… which gave us such timely classics that are perpetuated for eternity, sung in every corner of the earth.
In the coming installment of this profile on the life a legendary talent—whose yiras Shamayim always came first—we will explore his time in America, as well as his years in Boro Park of yesteryear.
To be continued…