1907 - 1958
By Rabbi Geoffrey Shisler
Some of the most 'entertaining' Chazanut every recorded, must surely
be that executed by the late Moishe Oysher. His "Ki Hinei Kachomer"
from Kol Nidrei, or "Dayeinu" from the Seder service, for example, with
their orchestra and large choir accompaniment, have a popular appeal
that belie their artistry.
And it's hardly surprising that Oysher attempted unashamedly to appeal
to the masses, when you realise that he became as famous on the stage
and in the movies, as he ever was at the Amud!
Moishe Oysher (and that was indeed his real name), was born in Lipkon,
Bessarabia in 1907. Even though there were Chazanim in his family,
reputedly going back for six generations, he seems to have been drawn more
to the stage than following in his predecessor's footsteps, and whenever
travelling players visited his village, much to the disapproval of his
father, he would try to get a part in their production as a child player.
In 1921, he was taken to Canada and joined a travelling Yiddish theatrical
company, with whom he appeared on the Yiddish stage in New York. In 1932
he led his own company in South America.
In 1934, after he returned from a trip to Buenos Aires, he was unable
to get a part in the New York shows since they had all been cast.
Needing work, and with the encouragement of his friends, since it was
coming up to the High Holyday season he applied to conduct services at
the Rumanian Synagogue. He obtained the position and was a sensation!
Moishe now had two careers running. He starred in Yiddish films, The
Cantor's Son, Yankel the Blacksmith, and Der Vilna Balebesel, and it
was not long before he became something of a 'Kosher heart throb.' He
also made numerous recordings, and continued to sing at the Amud.
Although he received many offers to appear on Broadway, Moishe always
refused, since he would not desecrate Shabbat.
His extensive acting experience clearly gave him a great advantage at
the Amud. Listening to his recordings, one can hear the great artistry
in his superb, rich voice. He was a Chazan who knew how to manipulate
the emotions of his congregation (or audience) and was clearly a great
Moishe Oysher's style of Chazanut truly reflects the 'old time' Chazan.
He was a 'zogger,' praying every word with great emotion and fervency, and
his Chassidic background is clearly discernable in many of his renderings.
His style would probably not be acceptable in Shul today, but it is
wonderful to listen to his recordings and hear 'pure' Chazanut as our
grandparents would have done.
Amongst his recordings are a complete Kol Nidrei service service, and
Seder with choir (!), both with introduction and explanations. For sheer
bubbling enthusiasm and showmanship, the version of Chad Gadya which he
sings as the final item on his Seder recording, would be hard to beat.
© Copyright Rabbi G. Shisler
Keywords: Moishe Oysher, Moshe Oysher, biography.