A Faith in Song

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

One of the largest synagogues in the world is the Portuguese Synagogue located at Mr. Visserplein 3, Amsterdam, Netherlands, a magnificent edifice built in 1675 by Elias Bouwman and Danield Stalpaert. A revered Sephardic place of worship, it has been known as Esnoga, the Portugees-Israƫlietische Synagoge, or just the Portuguese Synagogue.

It survived World War II intact and worshippers and visitors alike can enjoy the beautiful renovated interior. Most remarkable are the brass chandeliers containing the light of 1,000
candles which cast a magnificent glow during the services. Also, notable are the twelve stone columns in the women’s gallery which remind the worshippers of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

A fine covering of sand on the floor is reminiscent of the Caribbean Sephardic synagogues such as Mikve Israel in Curacao; Shaare Shalom Synagogue in Kingston, Jamaica; St. Thomas Synagogue, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; and Tzedek v
eShalom, in Suriname. Meant, some say, to represent the time the Israelites spent in the desert with Moses or, more commonly, a means of muffling the sound of feet and as a cover for the floors during the times of the Inquisition.

In later years, the synagogue has served for many community functions which have included musical concerts. The rich tapestry of the Sephardic heritage and music, both liturgical and of the everyday, provides a welcome match of threads co
nnecting many cultures.

One of the best known of these concerts was held in 2003 and entitled “Cantors, A Faith in Song and featured three of the world’s most famous cantors: Benzion Miller, Naftali Herstik and Alberto Mizrahi.

Due to the Internet, one can now research and hear these three cantors who each have their own web site and whose cantorial music can be found in places such as the FAU Judaica Archives and the Miliken Archives.

One can learn about American-born Cantor Benzion Miller, who lives in New York, and listen to him online by clicking here.Cantor Benzion Miller

In regard to Israeli Cantor Naftali Herstik who was born in Salgotarjan, Hungary, one can hear him by clicking here.

Cantor Naftali Herstik

And the third, is Greek-born Cantor Alberto Mizrahi who lives in Chicago, IL, can be heard here.,

Cantor Alberto Mizrahi

Other musical interludes, in the Portuguese Synagogue are a wonderful concert of baroque Jewish music as well as an excerpt from the repertoire of the Santo Servico choir of the Portuguese Synagogue who sing Baruch Habba.

It is well-worth researching these links and others to further exploration of Sephardic synagogues, music and culture and also links to cantorial connections in your family.

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