1877 - 1943
By Rabbi Geoffrey Shisler
Not without good reason was Gershon Sirota spoken of as the 'Jewish
Caruso.' Even with the poor quality recordings that we have of him today,
it's quite clear that he had a most extraordinary voice and since he was
a contemporary of Caruso (1873 - 1938), the comparison was bound to be
made. An apocryphal story has it that Caruso would come to hear Sirota
sing or conduct a service whenever, they were in the same town at the
Although at the head of this article it says that he was born in 1877,
this is by no means certain, as details of his early life are not well
It would appear that Sirota started his career in Chazanut in Odessa,
after which he was Cantor for eight years at the Shtotshul in Vilna. The
choirmaster there was the renowned Leo Lowe with whom Sirota built up
a fine working relationship.
In 1902 he performed in a concert accompanied by an enlarged choir under
Lowe's direction and the following year he sang at an historic reception
that was held in honour of a visit by Dr Theodor Herzl.
Five years later, Sirota was invited to occupy the position of Obercantor
in the most prestigious position in the cantorial world at the Tlomazke
Street Synagogue in Warsaw and it was not long after that Leo Lowe
joined him there.
In 1912, Sirota and Lowe visited America to give concerts, and it's
said, that at his first appearance at Carnegie Hall, on February 14th,
every single seat was taken.
He travelled on concert tours all around America and Europe, and was a
great 'hit' wherever he went, whether he gave a concert, or conducted
a service at the Amud.
Although Sirota undoubtedly improvised whilst conducting services,
as is common with most Chazanim, he did not compose his own original
pieces. 'Sirota's Retsei' is, of course, not Sirota's at all. Although
he undoubtedly contributed towards making it famous, it was actually
composed by Schlossberg.
It's said that when he Davened at the Amud, he would get so carried away
in his 'conversations' with the Almighty, that for him, it was as if the
congregation wasn't present. Chazan Joshua Weider described Sirota's
appearance after he'd sung 'Ata Nigleita' one Neila as 'a burning thorn.'
Sirota was reputed to have had a generous disposition, and it was not
uncommon for him to officiate at the wedding of a poor family for no
remuneration. Even so, he did not allow people to take advantage of him
and after a dispute with his congregation over his appearances outside
the Synagogue, he parted company with them.
It was unfortunate for Sirota that he happened to be in Warsaw at the
outbreak of the war. Although he could easily have left, he remained
there to be with his family.
Living in the Warsaw Ghetto at 6, Volinski Street, they all died together
in the uprising in 1943.
© Copyright Rabbi G. Shisler
Keywords: Gershon Sirota, biography.