When I interviewed Cantor Glenn Sherman of Delray Beach, I found it fascinating how intertwined his journey through New York and Florida was with mine. When he travels to Europe this fall, the Cantor will fulfill a mission, an unspoken promise made to those ancestors who never had the opportunity to put down roots in a free nation.
83 years ago, most of his family members died in Nazi concentration camps. In honor of his family who perished, and just two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, Cantor Sherman will lead services at Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw, Poland on September 9-10, 2022.
“When I open my mouth to sing, will something come out?” Cantor Sherman responded when I asked him what it would mean to officiate at the Nozyk Synagogue. “I have no idea how I can pull this off. I’m an emotional person, I cry at all Simhas, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and weddings, I pass out at Breezes…”
“And then the real question, will my American style be foreign to the faithful of the Nozyk synagogue? I have no idea, but I graduated from Central Queens Yeshiva (founded by my great uncle, on my mother’s side, Henry Rothman, may his memory be a blessing) and trained in a shul Orthodox, Bachurei Chemed in Long Beach, New York, where I became its president at the age of 17. I think Orthodox is Orthodox… Shul is Shul, Davening is Davening… we’ll find out in September… So it’s another continent, Europe, it should be fine, I pray.”
“However,” Cantor Sherman continued, “Some (very few) Orthodox Synagogues count the number of words in each service. The Nozyk Orthodox Synagogue subscribes to this, they count the number of words the cantor sings in a service. as some synagogues do) that there is something mystical about the finite number of words in the service.
“What that means to a cantor is NO REPEAT OF WORDS…OUCH…For example, we all know that when we pull out the Torah and sing Bay Bay Ana-Rachitz…it’s NOT GOOD in those synagogues! You repeated the word Bay!… But, the Cantor always repeats words… it’s going to be hard for me, marking my Siddur, with a highlighter, changing the way I sing the prayers. I will do my best.
“You’d think the more words you sing the better, but not in those ‘no rehearsal’ synagogues.”
Cantor Sherman was asked if his family had a connection to the synagogue?
“My great uncle Pinchas Sherman was the cantor of the Tlomackie Synagogue in Warsaw for 25 years (the largest synagogue in the world) from the age of 20 to 45. Can you imagine, 25 years old, singing in front of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Warsaw There were hundreds of synagogues in Warsaw… It is time for me, as an emissary of my family of cantors, to sing again in Warsaw, Poland.
“The Nozyk Synagogue was another synagogue in Warsaw, the Jewish people have many synagogues in cities with large Jewish populations. 350,000 Jews lived in Warsaw then, now there are only a few, the Nozyk is now the one still standing. I’m still standing…”
There is a particular reason why Cantor Sherman chose September 9 and 10 to conduct services in Warsaw:
“There are two reasons I chose these dates,” Cantor Sherman said.
“The month of Elul is a special month in the Jewish calendar… Acronym for ‘Anee L’Dodo v’L’Dodi Li…’ I am for my beloved, my beloved is for me… The Beloved is Gd. It’s time to get ready for the big holidays. We blow the shofar every day during the month of Elul… Such a special time.
“The second reason,” added the Cantor, “American Airlines frequent flyer miles! never asked me to contribute.
“That being said, on September 8, 2022, American Airlines had the most reasonable frequent flyer miles to fly to Poland and back from South Florida. For me to get there I have to leave Fort Lauderdale and return to Miami, thanks GD for Tri-Rail.
I asked Cantor Sherman why his family’s cantorial chain is so important to him?
“I am the third generation of Cantor Shermans, the sixth Cantor in the Sherman family, all were born in Poland. I am the only Cantor Sherman born in the United States (Forest Hills, Queens NYC),” the Cantor replied. “It was at the Hollis Hills Jewish Center at the age of 7, I was the kid of Anim Z’Mirot, on the Bima…singing complex Hebrew prayer songs at the end of the service. Then he became president of Bachurei Chemed in Long Beach, New York at the age of 17, teaching Daven all the services of this Orthodox synagogue. My older brother Michael Sherman was president and vice president of Bachurei Chemed from 1968 to 1969, a big older brother, whose footsteps I followed. If it wasn’t in my blood, someone put it there.
Reflecting on his family’s Cantorial lineage, Cantor Sherman spoke fondly of those who came before him.
“All were great men. Of all the cantors in the family, Pinchas Sherman in Warsaw was the one I didn’t know, he perished in the Holocaust 9 years before I was born. My great-uncle Pinchas is the subject of this story,” Cantor Sherman said.
“My grandfather, Uber Cantor Abraham Isaac Sherman (written in the Encyclopedia Judaica) traveled by train singing through Europe, London, Paris, Wales and many cities in Poland. It was his foresight in 1922 to leave all his children (10) wife, brother and family on a farm, take a steamer to Toronto and become cantor of Toronto’s largest synagogue, B’nai Jacob, The Polisha Shul. From Toronto, United States (his goal) Detroit, Chicago, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
“He then brought his family to the new world, which is why I am here. This world famous cantor brought the Sherman family to North America, many years before the Holocaust, like Nostradamus,” Cantor continued. Sherman.
“My father, Cantor Louis Sherman Cantor served the Park Synagogue in Cleveland in the early 1950s. He trained me in Chazanut and listened to and critiqued Shul as I sang.
“My uncle, cantor Alex Sherman, was cantor at the Pelham Parkway Jewish Center and the Williamsbridge Jewish Center in the Bronx. Another uncle, cantor Philip Sherman, served the young Israel of Astor Gardens in the Bronx.
“My older brother, Rabbi Alan R. Sherman was Rabbi of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County for 30 years. He helped me a lot when I moved to Florida. His stellar reputation has opened so many doors for me here, for which I am eternally grateful. It was Rabbi Sherman who introduced me to the celebration of Hanukkah and Passover on cruise ships and at the Boca West Country Club, where I have officiated a Seder dinner for 1,300 people over the past 22 years.
Cantor Sherman has been quoted as saying “It’s time to change the ending of the story.”
“The story of Cantor Sherman in Warsaw ended with the Warsaw Ghetto, the murder of my great uncle Cantor Pinchas Sherman and the dynamite demolition of the Tlomackie Synagogue, the largest synagogue in the world. End of the history….WAIT!…EXCUSE ME EUROPE There will be a Cantor Sherman who will return to sing in Warsaw in 2022. It’s a tiny asterisk, but it’s an asterisk!
I was curious about the role Cantor Sherman’s family played in the history of Poland’s Jewish community.
“Cantor Pinchas Sherman saw the decline in the status of cantors in Poland (their wages and miserable living conditions), and so he organized the Union of Cantors in Poland. He fought like a lion for the welfare of singers all over Poland.
Recalling the golden age of cantors, Cantor Sherman said, “By the end of the 19th century, they had great cantors in what they called choir synagogues in Europe. These cantors were absolute stars when they began to concert outside their synagogues. When the recordings became popular, Jews around the world could hear them and they became household names.
“Moshe Koussivetsky, Moshe Oysher, Yosselle Rosenblatt, Gershon Sirota, Abraham Isaac Sherman, these singers traveled through Europe and North America. Rosenblatt was in the original Jazz Singer with Al Jolson, and he toured the Vaudeville circuit, that golden age, lasted about 1900 to 1960.”
“The Sherman family sang on Jewish Radio in New York,” Cantor Sherman continued.
“My aunts – Miriam Sherman Zeliger and Florence Sherman Goldstein had beautiful voices. Along with singers Abraham, Alex, Phil and Louis Sherman, they all sang on WEVD-FM, NYC during that golden age.
Towards the end of the interview, I asked Cantor Sherman who he was inspired by?
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“I was surrounded by a large family of cantors, but I must mention my Bar Mitzvah teacher at Temple Beth Sholom, a conservative synagogue in Long Beach, New York, Cantor Solomon (Sol) Mendelson.”
“Cantor Mendelson, whose personable demeanor and teaching methods, was a role model for my over 500 Bar Mitzvah students. He was cool and funny, drove a T-Bird convertible, lived on the beach, and became so well, a Mensch. He pinched a mean cheek that wouldn’t be tolerated today.
“It was really my move from New York to Florida in 1990 that the Cantorate began to formulate for me,” added Cantor Sherman. I fell in love with Temple Emanu-El in Palm Beach and was drawn to its world class Hazzan David Feuer. My daughter Traci was Bat Mitzvahed there in 1993, so special. At Temple Emanu-El Palm Beach, we have done great things in this Shul. I was so lucky to be under the tutelage of Hazzan Feuer. He will always be a hero of mine, now Hazzan Emeritus. How lucky have I been!”
“I was also fortunate to be the rabbinical assistant to Rabbi Leonid Feldman, a well-known conservative rabbi from Moldova, a Refusenik. Listening to his sermons for 10 years was better than going to rabbinical school and cooler. I considered him a friend and a mentor,” Cantor Sherman continued.
“With the blessing of Rabbi Feldman, in 1997, 1998 and 1999, I created Birthright, Israel, before Birthright Israel! We called it “FREQUENT DAVENERS”. I have personally brought 18 children to Israel for free for 3 consecutive years. All these kids had to do was come to synagogue regularly after their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Thanks to my benefactor Harold Bernstein, may his memory be a blessing.
“And then, in 2002, Ann Schwartz, Ritual President of Temple Beth David, Palm Beach Gardens, called for interim cantor help. And the rest is history. BESHERT! I became acting cantor of the Temple Beth David My daughter Hannah was a Bat Mitzvah there in 2006. Such a special moment for me and Hannah, a moment I will never forget.
Cantor Sherman can be reached at [email protected].