Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 19, 2009

Rosh Hashanah

Filed under: Jewish question,music — louisproyect @ 10:16 pm

Today is the Jewish New Year, a holiday that I last celebrated in 1958 when I was still a somewhat observant Jew. The clip above features Moishe Oysher, a legendary cantor who sang downstairs at the Kentucky Club, a cabaret in my home town in the Catskills, when I was very young. The Kentucky Club’s greeter was none other than Barney Ross, the great Jewish boxer who I used to chat with late at night when I was about 10 years old. Here’s the Youtube write-up on the movie, which sounds very much like “The Jazz Singer”.

From the 1939 Yiddish film “Overture To Glory” (Der Vilner Shtot Khazn “The Vilnius City Cantor”).

Questionably described by Hal Erikson in his “All Movie Guide” as “one of the last Yiddish-language films produced in the United States” (and the first American film of German director Max Nosseck) Overture to Glory stars the great musical performer and Cantor, Moishe Oysher. Starring Helen Beverly and Florence Weiss (Oysher’s wife), with a musical score by Alexander Oshanetsky, Oysher is the “Vilner Balabesl”, a cantor in Vilnius, with a renowned voice. Two men come from the Warsaw Opera to hear him sing in the Rosh Hashanah service and are so impressed that they introduce him to European classical music and to reading sheet music; they convince him, against the wishes of much of his family (and especially his father-in-law) to become an opera singer in Warsaw.

He leaves his job as the Vilnius cantor, and seems at first to be on the path to fame and fortune as an opera star in Warsaw, when the news arrives that his son has died. Grief-stricken, he stumbles over the aria he is supposed to sing, starting instead into a lullaby he used to sing to his son. In disgrace, he also loses his voice; he tries to return to his life in Vilna; finally, his voice comes briefly back to him on Yom Kippur. He sings the first few lines of the “Kol Nidre”, then dies of a heart attack.


  1. Very moving plot.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — September 20, 2009 @ 6:11 am

  2. The old line I remember is, “The movie was terrible. I only used up four handkerchiefs!”

    Comment by Grumpy Old Man — September 20, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

  3. Beautiful, thanks Louis. My dad (whose family was anglican) had learned a rough but functional yiddish from doing the books for a couple of oldtimers back in the 60s. Would have liked to have learned it from him.

    Comment by hollowentry — September 21, 2009 @ 7:09 pm

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