In our time and place, the humility of atonement and the calling to account have a deep imperative. Just open a newspaper or any news website. How fine a mass atonement and a dawning self-awareness would be.
This all brings to mind Cantor Yosele Rosenblatt. A recent Times piece about an intrepid audio amateur in Crown Heights who is meticulously restoring Rosenblatt’s old records said this about the cantor:
“Mr. Rosenblatt was born in Russia in 1882 and toured Eastern Europe as a child prodigy. In 1912 he immigrated to the United States and became the cantor at Ohab Zedek, an Orthodox synagogue then on 116th Street in Harlem. Blessed with a penetrating bell-like tenor with a range of two and a half octaves, and a gift for coloratura and falsetto, Mr. Rosenblatt had the ability to squeeze the pathos or elation out of every prayer.”
He was a celeb in his time and became most famous, perhaps, for singing in the first full-length “talkie” film, The Jazz Singer. Here, playing himself, he reminds Al Jolson of his father and of the huge tank-car of guilt he should be feeling. (Jolson can’t quite get Bill Demarest into the concert. I’m sure Preston Sturges could do it, but that’s another movie.) The cantor would not perform “Kol Nidre” in the movie, because he felt that it was a prayer and not appropriate for popular performance. In any case, you can see and hear this man called the “Jewish Caruso.”
I have included Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidre” below, performed by the incomparable Jacqueline Du Pré. Peace.