On the occasion of the bestowal of the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany on Benjamin Zeev Maissner, Cantor at Holy Blossom Temple, Toronto.
Toronto, November 23, 2014
As a German and a representative of the German government I am honored and grateful to be your guest at Holy Blossom Temple together with my wife Jutta. We are very much aware of the history and fate of Jews in Germany and I bow my head in respect to those among you who suffered themselves or whose relatives suffered in the Holocaust.
From Dr. Jörg Mielke, Parliamentary Secretary in the office of the Premier of the Province of Niedersachsen
Dear Mr. Maissner,
With great joy I have learned that Federal President Gauck awarded you the Federal Order of Merit on October 10, 2014. Please accept my heartfelt congratulations.
Over a long period of time you have been continuously engaged on behalf of the preservation of the Jewish musical heritage in Germany, and you have made a substantial contribution to German-Jewish cooperation.
As the nephew of Israel Alter, the last Senior Cantor of the Hannover synagogue before his emigration in 1935, you have a special connection to Hannover. For many years you have been working with the European Centre for Jewish Music.
In the framework of this cooperation, for example, the silenced sounds of the high artistry of the German synagogal tradition are brought back to life, in the Cupula Hall of the Hannover Congress Centre, or in the Grand Concert Hall of the North German Radio. Two years ago you gave special keepsakes from your private collection to the Villa Seligmann for safekeeping: historical gramophone records and written documents, valuable testimonials of Jewish life in Hannover.
For your decades-long engagement, which has now also been recognized by this honour, I thank you most you sincerely, also on behalf of the Premier of Niedersachsen.
Dr. Jörg Mielke, Parliamentary Secretary in the office of the Premier of the Province of Niedersachsen
From Stefan Schostok, Mayor of the city of Hannover
Dear Mr. Maissner:
To my great joy I have learned that the Federal President has awarded you the Federal Order of Merit.
On this occasion I also convey my heartfelt congratulations in the name of the Hannover, State Capital [of Lower Saxony]. I am pleased that your contributions to our community have met with such outstanding recognition through this honour.
Along with my congratulations I combine good wishes for your successful activities on behalf of German-Jewish relations and for your personal well-being, but naturally also for a peaceful, happy New Year 2015 for which I wish you all the best. I would be very happy if you would visit our city again in future and continue to feel a special attachment to the European Centre for Jewish Music in Hannover.
From Rick Jacobs, President Union for Reform Judaism
What a tremendous honor it is that the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany recently was bestowed upon you. I’m delighted to add my own mazel tov and yasher koach – both personally and on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism — to the many others I know you have received on this wonderful and exceedingly well-deserved occasion.
The Jewish world is lucky to have you, and our Reform family is especially proud of you, your music, and your leadership at this moment. May you continue to go from strength to strength. Yasher koach.
Union for Reform Judaism
Cantor Beny Maissner’s Acceptance Speech
Mit einem Gefuehl der Ueberraschung und Freude stehe ich hier vor Ihnen, Herr Generalkonsul Walter Stechel, und kann kaum Worte finden, um mich bei Ihnen, dem Herrn Bundespraesidenten und der Deutschen regierung fuer diese grosse ehre zu bedanken.
I am profoundly humbled beyond words by this incredible dignified ceremony for the “Cross of the Order of Merit” award. I stand here before you, your Honour Consul General of the German Republic Her Walter Stechel and in the presence of this Holy congregation, our leadership both immediate and incoming presidents, officers, the Board of Directors, my dear Rabbinic team headed by our new Senior Rabbi Yael Splansky and our senior staff, congregants, colleagues Rabbis and Cantors, friends across the spectrum, my dear family, my sweet wife, Hope, my children, but most importantly my angels – my six grandchildren.
Since my early childhood, my vision and guiding light has always been the passion for music and in particular the music of our people, both the secular Zionist sound and a taste of Eretz Israel, as well as the haunting sacred sounds of the synagogue. This influence began as a child growing up in Tel Aviv standing next to my Uncle David Brener and listening to a Master of T’filah (of Prayer) as he was chanting our prayers passionately with his sweet voice.
I was lucky to have numerous giants in the field of the Cantorial art, distinguished role models who shaped my dreams of becoming the kind of Hazzan that I wanted to be.
Oberkantor of Hannover Germany, The Lion In The Pack, as he was called, Israel Alter, my uncle, and the renowned Hazzan Leib Glantz, are greatly responsible for my aspiration to live and teach the values of Judaism through the art of music.
Growing up in Israel in a moderate religious Zionist home, I learned about the Holocaust in bits and pieces mostly through the trauma of my suffering parents who lost their dear ones, my grandparents, in the death camps near Minsk and somewhere in occupied Poland. Even though my parents were lucky and made it to Palestine in 1936 my father always spoke of his youth in the beautiful city of Hannover. My father went back several times to Hannover to seek reparations and reconnected with some of his friends from youth.
In the early years of our marriage, Hope and I avoided any entry into Germany at all costs, due to the memories of my mother’s trauma and fear. Every person roaming the street in Germany could have been a Nazi in her tormented mind.
It was not until the 90s that I began my intense visits to Hannover, the city of my father and Uncle Oberkantor Alter. Professor Andor Izsak, now the president of the European Center for Jewish Music, invited me back to Hannover for concerts marking the 50th anniversary liberation of Bergen Belsen, and several times since to mark several memorial anniversaries of Kristahllnacht.
In 2008, Lachan, my Chamber choir, was invited to participate in a Jewish music festival in Hannover and vicinity as part of the 70th anniversary of Kristahllnacht.
With each visit and encounter people showed us sympathy and acknowledgment of the wrong doing of this tragedy, the Holocaust. The pain and memories naturally did not subside or ease, but turned into a mission, a yearning for moving onwards in building new trust of mutual understanding.
Forgiving is not the answer, but acknowledgement is a true attempt to rebuild, to re-assemble the broken glass of November 1938. Mayors, politicians, religious leaders, Bishops, Catholic and Lutheran, all keep speaking with a broken heart and recognizing the need to rebuild bridges again.
In 2012, the Cantors Assembly went on a mission “A Musical Journey Home” where we brought back to Germany our rich musical heritage whose roots are of German origin. We sang in major concert halls and in the Dome in Berlin. When I stood and intoned the prayer for the dead, Totensgebaet, El Mali, in front of the monument for the Israeli Olympic athletes who were massacred, it was an emotional moment for Jews and non-Jews alike.
Indeed the highlight of my experience in Germany, however, was the placing of the Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) on the pavement in front of the residences of my mother and father. To hear German high school youth describing and reading diaries from the night of the broken glass gave me hope in the younger generation. I recall saying publicly in front of a crowd:
You must fight any form of dictatorship, fascism and anti-Semitism. With the most recent rise of European anti- Semitism and anti-Zionism this sentiment is needed to be remembered more than ever…and building these musical bridges is just one way we can help combat the new frightening climate.
Back here in Canada in the midst of this sacred congregation I always believed in the value of interfaith activities. Dialogue amongst religions brought me to be involved with Christians and Muslim organizations. Only recently we experienced “Peace Day” an event involving traditional music of Jews, Christians and a Sufi Muslim choir.
All of these activities and the wide variety of my musical journey was and is made possible because of the values and understanding and support of this HBT Congregation.
I have experienced with amazement the treasure in which our Rabbis and lay leaders have always held the value and place that music plays in our lives.
I appreciate with affection the support and help of this congregation and the trust you have put in me as your Shalich Tzibur, the emissary of people as I try with V’chol k’ravai et shem kodsho, with all my inner being to praise G-d’s name.
It is you dear congregants and worshipers who deserve to receive this emblem.
I shall wear it with pride and profound gratitude.
I thank you for coming and sharing this Simcah milestone with me.
Shalom and God Bless