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By Cantor Benjamin Z. Maissner.

The Cantors Assembly Mission to Germany with over seventy Cantors and three hundred congregants surpassed all expectations.

Full of emotional highs and lows, tears of sadness, mourning and memories accompanied horrific stories mingled with healthy, vigorous sounds of music radiating from a glorious past. These are some of the feelings that escorted us throughout our mission in the three vibrant cities – Hannover, Berlin and Munich.

Our experience in Hannover before the mission started was for me, personally, as well as for all our participants, most moving. Hannover is the city of my Father’s childhood years and my family’s connection to the memory of my Uncle “Oberkantor”, the Chief Cantor Israel Alter 1925 – 1935 whose name is still revered and remembered with awe and respect in the city of Hannover.

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When the Cantors Assembly announced our mission to Germany I felt the importance of our visit to Hannover. I was hoping from the beginning stages of planning this mission that the city of Hannover would be included. Its old perished Jewish community, one of the largest since the middle-ages, and its musical tradition would be valued and recognized. The Cantors Assembly had a close and warm relationship with Hazzan Cantor Israel Alter who has become one of the major figures in the modern Cantorate, and the roots of his glorious career started in the city of Hannover.

I am eternally grateful to the Cantors Assembly, its president Hazzan Jack Chomsky, Hazzan Nate Lam and all the other members of the committee for allowing me to organize the pre-mission portion of the tour. Nowadays, the city of Hannover is hosting the “European Centre for Jewish Music” led by its distinguished President, Professor Andor Izsak. The Centre is located in the most extravagant “Villa Seligman” with some forty-eight incredibly furnished rooms. The Centre holds and preserves old original manuscripts of German Jewish composers from the early nineteenth century. It has produced endless recordings from original treasured recordings found after WWII.

Here is where my personal story begins. It is a story I am so very proud of as it has been my dream to memorialize my Uncle Israel Alter’s name. Oberkantor Israel Alter recorded with his stentorian tenor voice, a distinguished series of liturgical and secular compositions in 1925 with the Hannover Opera Chorus. The recordings were lost during the war. In 1948 Israel Alter returned to Hannover as the story goes and found these recordings in a basement, undamaged without any scratches. The Parlophone Record Company reproduced these recordings. Over the next few decades other recording companies published these recordings on LPs and cassettes.

These recordings travelled from Germany to South Africa where Cantor Alter served as Chief Cantor in Johannesburg until 1960. When he became instructor of Cantorial Arts at the Hebrew Union College he brought along the recordings to the USA. After his death in 1979, his daughter and family moved to Israel with the records. In later years as a generation came and went, I inherited these treasured recordings. I left them in Israel at a friends home until I brought them to Canada. It was then that Professor Andor Izsak promised to publish, clean and reproduce these recordings with the best modern techniques available in Germany.

We now have three incredibly clean and newly produced CDs of Israel Alter for sale and available for purchasing .Vol. I: Liturgical Master Pieces; Vol II: Hebraic and Yiddish and Vol III: Secular Opera Lieder and Oratorio.

It was then that I decided to donate and bring the recordings and Alter’s original scrapbook to finally rest and find its home where they were created. The celebration was conducted with pomp and ceremony, attended by the official representatives of the Cantors Assembly with its president and many of my beloved colleagues. We honoured Professor Izsak with the Assembly’s highest “Juval Award”, in recognition of his contribution to the preservation of Jewish music in Europe.

I was so honoured to have so many of my colleagues come to Hannover a day earlier and be part of this monumental event. I want to recognize all of them and personally thank each and every one.

Cantors Assembly Hannover Participants:
Cantor Rick Berlin (Pittsburg, PA)
Aaron Bigeleisen
Cantor Ira Bigeleisen (Valley Village, CA)
Cantor Gaston Bogomolni (Needham, MA)
Cantor Fran Burgess (Berkeley, CA)
Cantor Jack Chomsky (Columbus, OH)
Cantor Judith Greenfeld (Encino, CA)
Cantor Nathan Lam (Los Angeles, CA)
Cantor Fredda Mendelson (Larchmont, NY)
Cantor Jacob Mendelson (White Plains, NY)
Cantor David Perper (Mahwah, NJ)
Cantor Juval Porat (Los Angeles, CA)
Cantor David Propis (Houston, TX)
Cantor Marina Shemesh (New York, NY)
Cantor Robert Scherr (Williamstown, MA)
Cantor Faith Steinsnyder (New York, NY)
Cantor Marcia Tilchin (Tustin, CA)

We stood in awe, as we recited the memorial prayers and sang with reverence some of Israel Alter’s compositions. We shed tears in front of the place where in 1938 on Kristahlnacht the great Synagogue was burnt to ashes, the Synagogue, which was the largest house of worship in Lower Saxony before the war.

Accompanying us were my dear German friends, Katrin and Corinne, who would not leave us for a moment throughout our stay in Hannover and made us all feel so warm and welcome. We were met with warmth and respect by the Mayor and dignitaries of the City of Hannover. We visited the “Ahlem House”, a place which was a vocational school for Jewish women and later became a deportation point for the Jewish community of Hannover. After the war it was a “Hachsharah”, a preparation center for kibbutz life in Israel. Today it is run by a Christian charitable foundation named “Neues Land”, continuing the motto and hope for a better future of rehabilitation and work opportunities. It has a Café Jerusalem where we were hosted and welcomed.

The most memorable event was the evening Gala Concert which I had the privilege to produce, at the Villa Seligman, where our Cantors sang in the first-half with the magnificent local “Synagogual Choir” from the rich repertoire of German tradition. The second-half was our own contribution from our North American renaissance of Jewish music. You can imagine the most exciting moment of the evening was when both Cantors and choir sang the famous HAL’LUYAH by Louis Lewandowski with pathos.

I was fortunate to have with us our Holy Blossom group, over twenty-five amazing congregants and friends who enjoyed and were overwhelmed with each event and musical episode. I am so grateful to them for joining me on this important mission. The accompanying short video and slide show reflects only the bare minimum of the highlights of the Hannover experience.

I hope to have other opportunities in the near future to share more details of this incredible mission “Healing Through Music”.

Beny and Hope Maissner

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