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SJCF: A Cantor’s Tale (film & discussion)

A Cantor’s Tale

Saratoga Jewish Cultural Festival, with a generous grant from the Jewish Federation of Northeastern NY and sponsorship of Temple Sinai, present the film A Cantor’s Tale on July 16, followed by a panel discussion of the film. The film will be shown at Temple Sinai on July 16 at 6 PM. Following the showing there will be a brief intermission with the discussion to begin at 7:45. The discussion will be available live and by zoom.

This feature length documentary, produced and directed by Eric Greenberg Anjou, takes us on a musical voyage that spans the Atlantic from Borough Park, reaches all the way to Jerusalem, and provides a nostalgic journey through family, neighborhood, and tradition. It was a time of Jewish radio stations (WEVD), theaters, movies, and cantors who were as big as Sinatra within their sphere. “Think of how music fans got passionate about the merits of The Beatles vs. Rolling Stones, Norah Jones vs. Madonna,” says Phyllis Wang, Coordinator of SJCF. “Once upon a time, in 20th century American cities, Jews became that fanatical about cantors.”

The documentary explores this “golden age” of Chazzanut (Jewish liturgical music) and its star performers in the Brooklyn of yesteryear, while also profiling one of the form’s most significant latter-day advocates, Jacob (Jackie) Mendelson.

While autobiographical of Mendelson, it evokes primarily the Brooklyn of the 1940s and 1950s. Mendelson wanders around his old neighborhood pointing out sights and locations, engaging older passersby and merchants in impromptu chassanut sing-alongs. Celebrities such as Alan Dershowitz and Jackie Mason are among those who share their memories on-camera. One of the biggest surprises, however, is the clips from old Yiddish language films of legendary cantors, both local and European, and many of whom died in the Holocaust. Their soulful, distinctive styles and operatic voices reflected the truly “popular” Jewish music for several 20th century decades. The Cantor’s Tale will be shown on July 16 at 6:00 PM, followed by a panel discussion at 7:45 PM. Registration is required at sjca.sjcf@gmail.com for both onsite film and panel discussion or zoom. A $5 donation is requested.