Lionel turns shul singing into a family affair

World-renowned cantor Chazan Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld was joined by close family as he led congregants at Woodside Park Synagogue over Yom Kippur


Bands consisting of family members have long been a source of fascination — as well as brilliant music. Think Jackson Five, the Carpenters and, in more recent times, the notorious Gallagher brothers.

Now Anglo-Jewry can boast its own (far more harmonious) family singing group, consisting not only of siblings but members of three generations.

Chazan Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld (inset) regularly sings with his family, and this Yom Kippur, the world-renowned cantor was joined by his two sons, two sons-in-law and three grandsons as he led congregants at Woodside Park Synagogue in north-west London.

Reflecting on the inter-generational group, who were accompanied by several other choristers, Rabbi Rosenfeld said: “It’s an incredible experience emotionally and so satisfying to know that [singing chazanut] has been passed down to my grandchildren.

“All my children love to sing and have wonderful voices, including my daughters.”

It was the second year running that Rabbi Rosenfeld, 81, who served as chazan and later the rabbi of Western Marble Arch Synagogue for more than 25 years before moving to Israel, had flown over to lead the Yom Kippur overflow service with his family, having been invited by his nephew, chazan David Behrman, who led the main service.

Speaking to the JC, synagogue chairman Andrew Harris said: “[Chazan Rosenfeld and his choir] created a wonderful atmosphere, encouraging everyone to participate in what was an inspiring and uplifting experience.

“Both chazans worked together seamlessly and [...] provided a fabulous variety of services.”

While all his children and grandchildren have grown up immersed in liturgical Jewish music, Rabbi Rosenfeld said that the gift of singing was “totally genetic”.

His grandfather, Notte Rosenfeld, was a well-known chazan, who had lived in Jerusalem’s Old City.

His father, the late Rabbi Abraham Rosenfeld, who was the chazan at Finchley United Synagogue, “taught me everything I know”, he said, adding: “I inherited my father’s voice and interpretations, which are all about explaining the meaning of words through music.”

Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld has long been credited with revolutionising Jewish cantorial music after composing new tunes for the Selichot service with Stephen Glass, greatly encouraged by the former’s long-time friend, the late chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks.

“Rabbi Sacks said: ‘We have to energise the service and give it momentum. Go and write a waltz for Selichot,’” said Rabbi Rosenfeld.

“In Judaism, we don’t say prayer, we chant it.

“Rabbi Sacks defined Jewish prayer as words that come from the heart and music which comes from the soul.”

With a huge following already in the UK, Rabbi Rosenfeld is now making a name for himself in Israel. A few days before Yom Kippur, he took to the stage in Jerusalem at Beit Tovei Ha’ir retirement community with his son Gidon, 50, and grandson Ori, 21.

Ra’anan Hirsch, director of sales and marketing at the residence and Rabbi Rosenfeld’s son-in-law, told the JC: “I had the idea that three generations giving a concert would be really beautiful for the residents. It really reflected the values that we as a family cherish — family, community and singing.”

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