Then Moses sang this Song”..  (Exodus, The Song of The Sea)

The main Jewish cultural and religious event in Europe this weekend was Shabbat Shirah at St Johns Wood, a special synagogue service commemorating the crossing of the Red Sea. Hazzan (cantor) and choir conductor flew in specially from Israel. The service was outstanding.

Moshe (Moses) led the Children of Israel in Song on that occasion.  So St Johns Wood Synagogue (SJW) asked another Moshe to do the same for this special shabbat. Moshe Haschel, Israel’s outstanding hazzan, (pictured below) flew here for the event, accompanied by conductor Marc Temerlies. Together, some years ago they founded Britain’s leading synagogue choir, the Ne’imah Singers, also at SJW, when Moshe was the full-time hazzan there.

Cantor Moshe Haschel 2

The shabbaton was both religiously uplifiting and a smorgasbord of superb spiritual melodies. The quality of the singing was so good all-round that everybody with an ear, would have enjoyed it.

The hazzan and choir taught us a lively hassidic melody from Kozienice, and treated us to the popular Shlomo Carlebach niggun (tune) Pischu Li, and Yossele Rosenblatt’s “Shira hadasha” with its rousing triumphant march, depicting the  exultant Exodus from Egypt. They sweetly sang two much-loved Lewandowski classics, which many of you know (even if you think you don’t.) In the ever-green “Tsadik kaTamar”, the Righteous individual blooms as a Date-bearing Tree, before your very ears. In “Uvnucho Yomar,”  Moshe Haschel’s Hashiveinu Adoshem Eleykha (Restore us O Lord, unto You) with its sublime soft melody, so inspired a number of us, that we could be heard humming the niggun (tune) for the rest of the day.

Moshe Haschel with Ne'imah

Moshe Haschel with Ne’imah (in a previous rehearsal)

The traditional Sefardi melody for Shirat HaYam was used to accompany Dayan Binstock during his impeccable lehning (recitation) of The Song of the Sea. Dayan Binstock’s voice was a little hoarse during the Reading, evoking Pharoah’s cavalry at the Reed Sea. Our Dayan, however, described it differently – “I’m afflicted by the plague of frog in the throat.”

There was something for everybody, young and old, Ashkenazi and Sefardi, and it was all performed with passion and sensitivity, better than Britain has Talent!

My only criticism of the shabbaton is the shockingly poor attendance – the synagogue brought to London a world-class hazzan and choir-master, both from Israel, and gathered impressive choristers singing  music for all tastes from young to old. Where was London Jewry?

Andrew M Rosemarine is an international commercial lawyer and litigator, and a former scholar of The National Academy of Cantorial Art.

copyright Rosemarine 2014