This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on February 21st, 2016 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at 35 South Roosevelt, Columbus, Ohio.  My name is Flo Gurwin and I am interviewing Cantor Baruch Shifman.

INTERVIEWER:  Cantor, what is your full name?

SHIFMAN:  Actually, I’ve got two names but I use only one name.  You know, the Jews, when I was born, was given with two names but in all of my documents I record only one name, Baruch Shifman.  When I get aliyah to the Torah they call me Baruch Mendel Haben HaRav Pesach, my son, from a rabbi, you know, so, usually, most Jewish people in my generation used to get two names.  Some of us have three names, but they never use the two names. Use only one.  So, everybody know me by Baruch and they call me Baruch. Matter of fact, when I become American citizen, judge come out and say to me, “Why you call yourself Baruch ben…all kind of name?” I say, “I cannot change my name. I am Jewish and you have to know we carry the name when we are born to all the end of our days because the name is very important in Judaism. So, the same thing I did also with my kids.  My older one called Mordechai.  He was called after a grandfather who actually died before the Holocaust, the only one that got a grave in Lodz, the only one.  The rest of the family of the son of Mordechai, my wife’s grandfather that perished in the Holocaust and from my father’s side going back to ninety-nine people that perished, ninety- nine from both sides.

INTERVIEWER:  Oh my g-d.

SHIFMAN:  So, this was in Lodz, you know.  So, and I called him Mordechai because there was nobody else to be called, you know, after, after, and my older son called after.  Then my other son we called Aaron, and Aaron is also Aaron hakoheyn the high priest, and also my grandfather on my father’s side was called Aaron.  It was custom after the grandparents we give the name.  The only one what was not called after nobody but she called after the Bible name, Yael, is my daughter.  She was blessed from all women, you know the story what she did?  So, she called Yael. We never changed the names to English, my wife, Minna, you know, because we saw the name, Hebrew name you have to continue. Doesn’t matter when really, ‘cause is a way of doing thing, also, now always mention coming out of Egypt and what came the Jewish people Jews in Egypt, do you think? They never changed their name, they never changed their language and they never changed their clothes, the Jewish clothes easy could recognize the Jewish people in Poland in their special clothes, you know…little one used to come in to do that, you know…, so, this is actually a story about names, you know, and  we continue.

INTERVIEWER:  Who are you named after?

SHIFMAN:  I was named after my grand, great grand, grandfather when he passed away, in Austria in Vienna.   It’s a long story.  My grandmother on my mother’s side, she was born in Vienna.  We have family from Vienna. The other part of the family was born in Hungary ‘cause these days, this time all these three places used to call one country, Austria, Vienna, and Galicia, you know Galicia, Hungarian you know, so, and he was born there.  Unfortunately, he passed away when he was forty-four years old, and I asked my father why they changed the name from him to me. His name was Mendel Baruch and me they called Baruch Mende.  He say, “It’s a good question ‘cause we believe in tradition.  If somebody died young you don’t give the name of somebody who died when he is young so, they twist it.  Instead they call me Mendel Baruch what was the name my great-grandfather.  They change it to Baruch Mendel instead Mendel Baruch. They give me the name what came, you know. My brother, also I’ve got three brothers. Everybody was called after family, got a brother Yaacov Yehoshua.  He was called after his father.  Saba – you see the picture there.  Yaacov Yehoshua.  The other one was called after my great-grandfather, Yitzchak Zeev – two names, Yitzhak Zeev. The first brother was called Yaacov Yehoshua.  The second one Yitzhak Zeev.  The third one is me, is Baruch Mendel and I got a brother Yehuda Menachim you remember who died, he was, I can’t tell you and my sister was called Tova Chaya, the only sister – four boys, one girl. This is our family. One second I show you two names was going tradition in our family.

INTERVIEWER:  How far back can you trace your family?

SHIFMAN:  How far back we going?

INTERVIEWER:  How far back, how far back…your grand, your great, great, great, how far back?

SHIFMAN:  Ok, you’re talking Israel or Europe?

INTERVIEWER:  Either way or both.  How many generations can you trace?

SHIFMAN:  From Israel, we have five generations on my father’s side.  My father was born in Jerusalem.  My grandmother was born in Jerusalem, you know, and I was born in Petah Tikvah. My parents left from Jerusalem to Rehovot.  It’s a long story short.  My mother could not have me in Rehovot because the place was packed, you know, and they have to move me to Petach Tikvah [?] and there I was born.  The rest of my family, my older brother, my brother above me and my brother below me and my sister were born in Rehovot, but they are always going back to Jerusalem and we studied there, too.  My father make sure we studied Tel Aviv and Rehovot because to get a better education they believed, because he was a very learned person, a very educated person, even spoke English, you know.  Even he was a religious man, he used to sing songs for us in English, you know.  My Sunshine, you know in American, I cannot forget it, you know.  He used to sing it because sense also a little bit from British army, too my father.  He believed you have to be person religious at home and religious outside, you not to play game with religious. He always used to say to us, “Don’t play game. Wherever you go remember you’re Jewish, [?] you well?  Remember above you is g-d.”  He always used to tell us when we used to be small. “[?] you well? G-d is above you. Remember He’s watching.”  So, I learned a lot from my father and my mother, you know.  They both used to have good, beautiful voices, you know. They push me, my family going back cantor, rabbis, rabbis, cantors, teachers, educators, you know, shoftim is all kind of thing in my family, ‘til our days, educator, you know, everybody, teachers, you know, is going back already generations of generations, my wife, too.

INTERVIEWER:  So, you can go back five generations and see that they were rabbis or cantors on both sides of the family.

SHIFMAN:  Both sides, particularly from one side, my side of the family was cantors, you know, my brother Yehuda was a cantor, my nephew Ofi was a cantor. They are not cantors now but they used to be, but that was for thirty-eight years.  Ofi was also ten years. He left it, is now working kosher bakery, special courses [?] is at a [?] store in Miami, but [?]  My father wished us to do it from very small age, “You go to the Omed,” I say, “I don’t want to.”  “You go to the  Omed and you daven,” and I used to take teachers.   My mother sent me to opera singer to study voice and I learned [?] and I learned two years piano, you know, and I’m not concerned, can be a pianist, I’m not a professional but to what I need I can do it, you know, I can know the keys and everything, you know, because I learned for two years and I want the same thing I did with my kids.  I got a son a chazan, excellent chazan in Cleveland.  He’s at B’nai Jeshuran-Temple on the Heights.  They got maybe 900 families or more ‘cause two synagogues merge in the last ten years.


SHIFMAN:  So, their synagogue’s today maybe one of the biggest Conservative synagogue in Ohio, bigger than even than Tifereth.

INTERVIEWER:  You told me stories about your family, about their pushing you into music and to sing and all that.  Do you have any legends or any stories particular from your family from the past that your family’s retold over and over again?

SHIFMAN:  For example, what can you…?

INTERVIEWER:   Well, there are, sometimes there are stories they tell you about something that happened in the past and they were telling you about it and it’s a story that you remember.

SHIFMAN:  Yes, I can tell you a story.  My mother told me this. Was a cantor in Vienna, he was a cousin.  He was murdered by the German Nazis.  He’s the only one what was a good cantor she told me.  My mother by herself used to have a beautiful voice. She used to sing cantorial, [? neshtatim] unbelievable.  [?] in all this. My father and my mother used to go always to listen to a good cantor if came the cantor came to visit in Rehovot because Rehovot was actually the key of people, cantors came there to play.   One of them was Moshe Shtern, Reznick, Yacobovich. Many, many cantors, Mongolians, from many background, from Hungarian background, from Russian background, Polish background, but if came a cantor to the city my father never missed it and he took me to concert, you know, to hear the greatest cantors of world, and one story I can tell you got when I was seventeen years old was Cantor Moshe Koussevitzky, one of the top cantors in the world [?].  My father want to hear and there was a child, also my brother, they called him Wonder Child ‘cause they used to [?catch] Greek…

INTERVIEWER:  A wonder child.

SHIFMAN:  …because I love, he used to have a nice soprano voice, later the voice change second, to baritone and he say to me, “I want you should come with me to the Sheraton Hotel to Tel Aviv and I want you to hear and to see the concert of Moshe Koussevitzky and I want him to listen to you, how you sing his cantorial part and one of the songs was Esai Einai El Heharim, you know, and I came and knocked on the door.  He opened the door and he said, “Who are you?” So my father told him.  He spoke Yiddish.  He say, “I am So-and-So and this is my son.  He is preparing himself to the cantorial life to be a cantor,” and he loved very much the way I performed and you know one of the singing, one of the songs, Esai Einai El Heharim, – you have two eyes, you know – so he said, “Sing,” so I was singing.  After I finished he tapped me on the back.  He say, “You can be a great cantor but one thing you have to remember. What more you will go to the    Omed. You will daven more.  You will be a better cantor. Don’t reject, don’t look for money. Go into it and he was right. I always tried, you know, because I said it, the same thing to my son.  Experience is more than money and I was a chazan many, many places.  I davened when I was fifteen/sixteen years in a hospital in Israel, Hasafa [? Oved] they called it [?]


SHIFMAN:   They call it Hasafa [?Oved]  This is between Ramle and [? Betagon]. They still exist, hospital, supposed to hospital for soldiers and for civilians and I used to daven for them [?] my father is in there too and he pushed my brother Yehuda, too. He say, “Come and daven.  Used to be this choir four of us you know but he keep us to take part in it, in his service and I can say it because of my father and mother I become cantor because they really push us to this and so we love it.  I know when I was six years old I’m going to be a cantor because I loved it.  My father always, you know, pushed us.  It used to be Shabbos Friday night, they’re not religious people, they used to sit outside to listen to the concert, the zmirot, but my father and my mother together with their children singing zmirot with harmony not just, you know, they blend very nice the voices, all of my brothers. I’ve got a brother in Jerusalem, my older one too what passed away but first I said the older one, he composed a number of songs Ka Ribbon Olam what is known in the world, people sing it. I use it [?] Adom and my other brother Yitzhak – this was Yaacov that I mention – Yitzhak composed a lot of songs.  He mainly made cds, you know, only for the family.  I made also cds.  I made cassettes.  You come upstairs I’ll show you later in my room, mine office and wherever I am a good cantor – I don’t care from what part they always from what part the great cantors – Alberto Mizrachi, [?], Moshe Shtern, Dovid Bagli, all of them I did concert,  more also in Cleveland or in Florida, you know, in Miami, or North Miami, Boca Raton or Miami.  These are the areas where my family used to be cantors so, people know them so they used to come, you know.  New York, I didn’t have much to do with them, but more also and yes, I davened also in Europe.  In Antwerp got a student but he’s still a cantor.

INTERVIEWER:  In Antwerp, in Belgium?

SHIFMAN:  In Antwerp.  His name is Benyamin Mueller Hacoheyn.  He’s a chazan [Machzik Kandas?].  We call the shul Machzik[kandas?].

INTERVIEWER:  Machzik Kandat?

SHIFMAN:  Machzik[kandat?].


SHIFMAN: You really got me, Machzik[Kandat?] mean to hold the religion, you know. Machzik, to hold, to hold the religion if you translate it, machzik[kandat?].  You got also shomer[dat?], to watch it but it’s Machzik[?Kandat] and I davened there also. And I tell you a little story.  When I come to daven he learned from me a lot.  I recorded all the nusach what I knew.  I learned Chasidic, Sephardic, Ashkenzic, all the nusaot ‘cause my father say, “You have to have a passport to anyplace in the world. So, you need to know it.  It’s like a doctor. This is important for you,” and I really focused not on songs, cantorial and the davening.  You know what I’m saying?


SHIFMAN:  These were the most thing. So I come there to daven, came there to daven musaph in the shul, beautiful choir, but before I daven they give me maftir haftarah.  That is to say our custom here if you do maftir and haftarah you have to daven musaph, too. It was a [?]. They heard me, they say, “Delay your flight.  You are going to stay, but the chuppah is Sunday.” So I did a daven the Sheva Brachot.  I did the last brachot and I did all of them, you know what I mean? I daven also in Romania, I daven in German, in Munich in the big synagogue there, you know.  I did in many shuls in Europe but not as been invited.  I come there to visit and I say to them “Zeh chazan.”  People already up, “Zeh  chazan [?]” you know and I don’t mind to do it, you know, because I know the job and I can do it. Lubovich way, Chassidic way, Ashkenazic way, you know whatever they wanted, you know, and I study for this, my brother, too, Yehuda.  He’s a great chazan.

INTERVIEWER:  Do you have a favorite place that you’ve davened?

SHIFMAN:  To tell you the truth favorite every place I was.  You know Agudas Achim was a great place.  This was in a time for me and Rabbi Ciner particularly. This was great time for the shul.  They used to have four to five hundred people on the Shabbos, every Shabbos a Bar mitzvah.  This time is gone already and I used to have a choir. Rabbi Rubenstein was also, but he was also not so kind, G-d forgive me, you know but he was unkind about the choir.  I was one time in the choir and I love a choir, you know.  I think a choir in a shul is a great asset for the chazan.  It’s like fifty percent success for the chazzan and it was so beautiful thing book [?Lamenatzeach] Conductor for Cantor and Choir.  My friend wrote it, you know and I know it all by heart.  I studied this. It’s like everybody study. A doctor study six years or seven years to become a doctor, six year and the seven year [?you’re started],  so cantorial is also if you are a chazan, you always a chazan.  You really not giving it up, like this Shabbos for example, I davened Ahavos Sholom, was memorial for my grandmother but they give me to daven they be very happy, ‘cause I know the tradition way and I always did it tradition way and never change. It come Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I’m not coming to new thing.  Kol Nidre is Kol Nidre you know. Unetane Tokef is Unetane Tokef .  It have to be the right way.  Your husband, late husband liked my davening and he told me.  He helped me many time but I can say a lot of chazanim changing the davening, or the nusach differently.  They say we living in a different generation.  We not living in a different generation.  The Torah never change.  The Torah is the same Torah what was giving us thousands of years ago.  The same thing with the nusach tfila.. Can we change Kol Nidre? No.  Can we change certain things in the davening on Rosh Hashanah?  Unetane Tokef? No.  There are certain nigunim [?] certain thing but everything else need to be particular related to the people.  I always did it. I would combine cantorial and singing together so people who don’t know Hebrew in the time they learn it because they learn the song and they learn the Hebrew.

INTERVIEWER:  That’s right.

SHIFMAN:  In a way I was a teacher to them, too.


SHIFMAN:..and I did it.  I give you a little story. Maybe you will like to hear it.


SHIFMAN:  In South Africa used to be twenty-four tradition shul.  It was not O – U or Conservative or Reformers.  No, tradition shul, twenty-four shul with balconies. I was one of them. To be a chazan in South Africa was not a easy job because if people come there to hear and people know what is cantorial is, you know, but before I go there I tell you how I got the job there. They put me in a committee for five people. “Sing the Kol Nidre. Sing the Hineni Mars. Sing Untene Tokef, [Bechol?], the Kaddish [Shomri Li], the Kaddish from Shalosh Regalim, the Kaddish for Rosh Hashana, and I was there to do it on the spot and so I got the job. This how I got the job.  You don’t have to give much. Just little bit from everything and this side actually testing a person if he know.  You take the major thing of the davening if it is the mazal, you take a mazal. I [?].  I davened this year in Chicago, yes?  Is three years that I daven at mine age seventy-four.  I say, they want me still? Maybe I still good. I don’t know, but they took me. Now the problem is with this synagogue got problems, ‘cause the synagogue want to go more to the left, left, left, left. This was right, right wing.  You know what I’m saying? I mean, like it used to be Conservative right but they wanted tradition, you know.  Now the whole committee left and members left. So, my job is in jeopardy.  I don’t care.  I did it already but people really like it still. Why I bring it up?   People don’t want to go away from the old tradition, chazanut.

INTERVIEWER:  You’re right.

SHIFMAN:  People want it, so going back to South Africa I was twenty-four tradition shuls and used to have every month Rosh Chodesh – cantor and choir maestro association a meeting, a lunch meeting, and goes the Rabbi chazan, chazan rabbi and they used to ask us everyone, “Bring us something new.”  They give you a month, Lecha Dodi.  What do you think about major, minor, how to do it?  So, everyone used to prepare something.  They always used to start the meeting with a little song. We used to have all the chazanim, twenty-four synagogues, twenty-four choirs, every shul used to have a choir, a conductor you know, professional, and I tell you I learned a lot beside being already established a chazzan.  I was four years a chazan in Netanya.  You come upstairs I’ll show you the picture, but what I want to bring, I was, I become very close to Shlomo Carlebach, very close. The day when I was in the yeshivas he used to come with a guitar and he used to play for the bohkerim and he used to teach them songs ‘til the late, late night – Esai Einai El Heharim, Asher Melech, all the songs what is, Al Tirah, all the songs and later I met him when I was at the army.  He sing for three thousand men and women soldiers in the army [?] and he recognize me.  [?Aili Kevoch ] he used to call me. He hug me and kiss me, you know. So, I say, one day I say to him, “One day we will sing together.”  He say, “Yes, I am looking forward,” and I was a chazan in South Africa with my wife.  One of the big movie places called the Bioscope in African [?] big movie place.  He was giving a concert and he was going between and he saw me, “[?Aili Kevoch/kevod Li!] he hug me an kiss me, you know. He start to dance with me. He give the guitar somebody, so I really loved Shlomo Carlebach and I tell you what I did, why I bring Shlomo Carlebach to this story because Friday night in South Africa ‘til our days is the main service.  People come with their children and when I came to my synagogue was roughly a minyan I could not even a minyan Friday night.  Me and the rabbi used to stop people to come.  I built it up to eight hundred people on a Friday night.


SHIFMAN:  They still sing my songs.  I was there for a visit in Two Thousand… five years ago, I was there with my wife.  What I want to tell you this story, so, one of the chazanim, what he was G-dfather for my second son, he called me on the side, he say to me, “Chazan Shifman, you making a tear from the cantorial. What you sing ‘la la la, ba ba ba Carlebach song?” So I say to him, “You want the people to learn Hebrew? Bring music to the synagogue and to their heart because not everybody know to learn Hebrew.  Beside it, how many people you got Friday night, how many people I got?” Really, I put it straight away because I was annoyed.  People know I put Veshameru et Hashabat from Carlebach.  My synagogue was the first to sing it – (singing) Veshameru Vnei Yisrael – you know the song?


SHIFMAN:   I brought it to Columbus, I mean to Johannesburg and then they sing other songs – Lecha Dodi – (singing) Lecha dodi, likrat kala, pnei Shabbat nekabla, and the whole shul used to sing it with a choir.  I used to do cantorial, too.  I never put it on the side, used to do Magen Avod, Haskiveinu, Ahavat Olam, Al Tirah, many, many composition what we used do in these days, but I mention Carlebach because I think he was the key.  After he died become even more popular what he was at life but many shuls in the world, doesn’t matter Conservative, Orthodox, they sing his songs because people can relate that this is very catchy and they can get into this.  You know what I mean?


SHIFMAN:  And I brought him and he came here to Columbus, Ohio.  He came once to Beth Jacob.  I say “When you come to Agudas Achim?”  He came.  Unfortunately, two months later he passed away but he come.  He was sixty-nine year old only.  He came and I went with him and he met very good people like my mother.  He say, “Can I come to you?” She say, “Can you come? [? from me you planning to come? [?]” Eight pieces he was eating.  Someone say, “Maybe you killed him?” I say, ‘No, no, he like it,” but I tell you I used to have the chazanim concert was also Moshe Schuloff, a great chazan.  He passed away from concert, was a year ago, a very young man.  He was not so old, sixty-two, sixty-four.  Then I got him to sing.  In one evening I got Moshe Schuloff, Alberto Mizrachi, Yacov Motzen, my son, and I think another, another cantor was there I’m not so sure. There was another one too.  I don’t, can’t recall it but my son was there, too, and also people after the concert, after they came here they enjoy it.  I always was friendly with the chazanim because I felt lot can learn from them.  You can learn from a child also. It is what I say to Cantor, I will not say his name, but he was mad at me because I was bringing Chasidic song you know from Carlebach to this one.  He knows a singer today.  I left already thirty-four years.  I still recognize, I still got connection with one of the rabbis, Rabbi Levine.  He told me to never a word in aleph in the davening Rosh Hashana.  I tell you a story. It’s interesting.

INTERVIEWER: Let me ask you something before you do that.


INTERVIEWER:  You were born in Israel…


INTERVIEWER:  …and then from there you went to South Africa.

SHIFMAN:  I was a chazan in Netanya.

INTERVIEWER:  Okay, in Netanya.

SHIFMAN:  In Netanya.  I was a chazzan for a couple of years.


SHIFMAN:  Then a chairman from the synagogue in Johannesburg heard me.  They called the shul Ponavich’s Shul.


SHIFMAN:  Ponavich, this was a city, a little city in Lithuania someplace.

INTERVIEWER:  In Lithuania. Okay.

SHIFMAN:  This guy was the chairman and I was single then.  You want to know the biography I give you the [necessities].

INTERVIEWER:  That’s okay.

SHIFMAN: So, I used to go to a hotel, hotel used to go in Netanya, not only it’s a hotel it’s, unfortunately, this one hotel was going [?].  So, this guy come there and always the owner from the hotel used to say to make kiddish, sing zmirot. I say, ‘Alright, why not?” I used to do it.  He came over to me, “You willing to come to South Africa to be chazan there?” I was a chazan in Netanya.


SHIFMAN:  I say to him, “I don’t know, I will see.”  “If you want, here’s my numbers,” He give me quick quote and the price and everything, money everything was okay they pay me in [? sterling] not in the [?] accounts, in rent what was there, so, meantime, my father and my mother said, “How can you, you’re single, how can you go?  You have to get married. How can you go there to South Africa and just married to a girl?” So, I wrote him a letter, you know, to my friend. He was not good in Yiddish.  He wrote in Yiddish and I met also the guy from the other temple in [?] and I was…

INTERVIEWER:  In South Africa.

SHIFMAN:  Yes. Shomer Levine, of blessed memory. It was also Levy Shalit.  These two used to run the magazine, The Yiddish African [?].  So, he said to me, so I wrote him, “Listen, my father and my mother, you have to honor them. They want me to marry a girl here and not…”  so you can find a girl there he wanted…” I said to him, “Listen, I’ve got a proposition to put in a way, “If you really want me, a year later, but this in time if I find a girl, if I am married, the price will be the same price.  I am not changing the price.”  He like the way what I put it. In meantime I’m married.  I met a girl, this was Minna, and after, you know, nine months, my baby boy was born, you know, he was, and then already got, so I came to South Africa already was married.

INTERVIEWER:  How did you meet Minna?

SHIFMAN:   I met through good friend, cantors you know used to come, you know, friend by friend, but she studied in a religious school there, she finished, she’s qualified, a good teacher, you know.

INTERVIEWER:  That’s what I understand.

SHIFMAN:  She’s excellent.  She’s got also languages, she’s very good, like my son, all our children are very good, catchy like this, so when I come there, to South Africa I was already married and the baby was three months. Then come a story. People come to listen to me from different synagogues – from Johannesburg, Germiston, even East London.  It’s far away    I don’t know, hundreds of miles from Johannesburg, and Huffington – all kind of places. So I got to, young boy came over to me say to me, “Cantor Shifman, how cantors already old?”  I was only twenty four years old.  I was [?] but the experience I got.  “You like to come to be a chazan for us?” My first question, was, “First, Son, so, you got a chazan? Forget about it. They not coming. They are not taking the bread.”  The same thing happened in another shul.  This was in Parkview, Greenside, the shul called Parkview. The other one was called Cyrildene.

INTERVIEWER:  These are both in South Arica?

SHIFMAN:  Both in Johannesburg.  The other cantor was called Yonkle Levy. He become the vocal to the chairman of the Ponavich’s Shul. “You brought a chazan to take away my bread, you’re…blah blah blah,” you know? He says, “Victor,” I say to him, “is to some of the committee talk to me and mine answer was, ‘No, ‘cause I will not go and I give you my guarantee I will not go after you, your synagogue.’”  Finished.  Then came another synagogue.  This was the Waverly shul
This in the Northern suburbs and like I told you earlier, they brought a committee and they start to test me – Kol Nidre,  Hineni Mars, [Bechol Yeminim?] the [?] kaddish, Rosh Hashanah kaddish, this kaddish [?], Shabbos, all kind of thing. “You passed the test. We want you to be the chazan.”  This I got a joke. From coming to Ponavich’s shul, we did agreement for three years. From three years was almost sixteen years.  And how I came from South Africa and from South Africa to America?

INTERVIEWER:  That’s what I want to know next.

SHIFMAN:  This is a story.


SHIFMAN:  My brother Yehuda was a chazzan before me, Yehuda.  Before him was a Cantor Leikovsky and before Leikovsky was I think Gellman, the cantor.

INTERVIEWER:  Cantor Gellman was at Tifereth Israel.

SHIFMAN:  No, here he was at Agudas Achim.


SHIFMAN:  Cantor Gellman.

INTERVIEWER:  Oh, yeah, you’re right.

SHIFMAN:  Cantor Gellman.  He was a shochet, you know.


SHIFMAN:  So, my brother Yehuda say to me, “Listen, you’re the first one to know I am leaving Agudas Achim. I know South Africa politically is a problem there and I don’t want my brother to be there.”  I was still in the Apartheid, it was an Apartheid country, not to say now is better.  Now is unrest.  I’ll talk to you later about it.  So, he told me, he called me he say to me, “I give my resignation, is already two cantors that want to come to this shul.”  Who are the two cantors?  Dudu Fisher and also Yossi Malovany.  They already send tapes and I don’t know.  Of blessed memory, Leo Goldfarb told me this story, when I come to visit.  So, I say to him, “What kind of a chance I got…is already…?” Listen, you came already to visit me, you remember? Jerome Schottenstein heard you and he like you and he say to you that I hope you will [?be here forever]  so I say, [?] ‘Think about my brother.  He’s a better chazan what I am,’ is what you did say to him.”  So, I came to daven, I daven here, before I’m talking when I came to visit with my son.  This was his birthday, the bar mitzvah.  He say to me, “Daddy, the money I got from the bar mitzvah, I’d like to visit America.  So, you come with me.”  So I come here for a Shabbos. I daven here, you know.  With my brother, together we did a concert for Shabbos.  [Merom] Mendel of blessed memory took a [?], he put it on mine head.  He said, “I got present for you.”  He was a nice man, He got a heart like this.   He got problems, you know, all kind, you know it, but as a person, he was a good man.  You ask him a favor he will do it for you. Ask from G-d. I remember his father and mother.  His father told me this too, but then when I daven here, this was in the beginning when I come for a visit.  Now Jerome say to my brother when he heard already Yehuda is leaving and also Dudu Fisher and Malovany was in Fifth Avenue in New York, Dudu Fisher.   I made a ticket to come.  This was ten days before Passover.  What must I tell my people in Johannesburg? Was a difficult situation but from the other end I was giving a promise to my mother-in-law.  She was Holocaust survivor together with my father-in-law.  “I don’t want, I want you to go out.”  She used to listen to the broadcast in Yiddish in Israel and she heard all the time the Black people taking tires from the streets and putting it on fire and riots here and there. I said to her, “If I get the job, I’ll give you my word I will leave.”  Okay, when I came from South Africa for a visit, they already heard me already.  They know my quality and everything.  So, ten days, he pay me the ten days the second time.  First one I came on mine own.

INTERVIEWER:  With your son.

SHIFMAN:  So Jerome…this was the first time with my son.  The second time, Jerome paid it from his own money and he say to me, “Chazan, I paid it. Can you come?” So, I say to my [?], “I come for a concert.” I don’t want to start if this business doesn’t go correctly, I don’t have enemies there, you know?, ‘Cause I came again for a trial.  I was giving him a good davening and this was already after this the president, I think, Bunny Ruben of blessed memory, I got a picture from it, too.  He was the president then and he say to me, “Chazan, this is your shul,” and I said, “Oh don’t, don’t rush me.  This is Shabbos and I need also to talk to my wife.  We have to know, is a lot of issues what I have to know to fix it, ‘cause schooling for the children.  They go to religious school. I have to find out. Is already been eight grades, they have to go to high school, but I’m not saying to you, ‘No.’ I have to talk to her first.” This was Saturday night. I called Minna.  I say to her, “Minna, this is the situation. They want me.  You are teacher. You will get a job as a teacher, too, because you’re a qualified teacher.  She say to me, “You’re sure you want it? This is ours, America, the kids, there and there, with schooling?”  I say, “If the schooling is a problem we’ll have to send them out of Columbus.  They study in the high school in Baltimore, you know in [?].  I didn’t want them to go to [Pelz?] where is too Black, you know. So, I got the job.  Here I am. I was there for twenty-five years.  I did the concerts, I did all kind of things.  Not only a chazzan, I used to organize the minyanim, I teach bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, did everything, whatever they ask me.  If the rabbonim is there problems, I did a job from rabbonim, too. This one was sick, the other didn’t do his job, you know it and I filled, and I never took one day a week, like other shuls, they give you a Wednesdays off.  Day after day, morning, evening, I was at shul.   I used to have a class each year[?] everything ‘til not long ago.  I believe if you take a job to work with community, you have to be honest and sincere and don’t say ‘I like this one, I don’t like this one.’ You come for a job, pretend you love everybody, pretend and this is the diplomacy of being success of fifty-three years.

INTERVIEWER:  It’s a good story.  What year were you married? Do you remember?

SHIFMAN:  I have to tell you exactly?

INTERVIEWER:  Minna would be mad if you don’t remember.

SHIFMAN:  She will get mad at me.


SHIFMAN:  You’re right. So, we married fifty years ago.  What year was fifty years ago?

INTERVIEWER:  It would be Nineteen…sixty-six.

SHIFMAN:  1964?

INTERVIEWER:  Sixty-six.

SHIFMAN:  Yeah, 1966.

INTERVIEWER:  Moving ahead here…

SHIFMAN:  I can tell you a lot of stories, what is really interesting.

INTERVIEWER:  Okay.  Here’s something. You were in the army in Israel?


INTERVIEWER:  Tell me some of the experiences you had in the Israeli army.

SHIFMAN:  Firstly, I came from the army from the Yeshiva but I studied, I got all my studies, my parents make sure I get all my studies through the Yeshiva and I used to take lessons outside the Yeshiva preparing myself for the chazanut. I study with Zalman Rivlin, Reb Zalman Rivlin, I studied nusach tfila and voice in Jerusalem but I study earlier in Rehovot.  I used to go to Tel Aviv [?] like I mention earlier to study voice and in choir being all the time and, but this grew from Zalman Rivlin. They called it Shirat Yisrael.

INTERVIEWER:  ShiratYisrael

SHIFMAN:  Shirat Yisrael, the Songs of Israel. This guy took out a lot of chazanim.  Many chazanim came out to his place.  We used to come Friday night.  Every Friday night somebody else used to daven.

INTERVIEWER:  This was when you were in the Army?

SHIFMAN:  No, when I was in the Yeshiva.


SHIFMAN:  But I used to do it in a quiet way, ‘cause my mashgiach know it, that I prepare myself for the future. I’m not going to be in the choir in later on.  I prepare myself for my life.  See, but don’t tell it to my father.  His father was the [?] but used to be [?] you know. It’s true story and I got even a letter from him, you know, a beautiful letter. I have to show it to you, upstairs, I think,so,  but anyway, so, I prepare myself everything.  I was a chazan already like a told you, age of sixteen.  I know, I became all about it.  My father prepared us, the voice and the [?] and the other thing we study with professional people but I know.  My father he say, “Always is ways how to learn,” and he was right ‘cause there’s many ways how to sing Adon Olam, Yigdal, Kedusha, you know, all this kind of thing, and I always used to bring chidushim, something new but according to the nusach, according to the [neshtativ].  You don’t go away from this.  To do la, la, la, ba, ba, ba, is not enough. Nusach – people have to understand nusach tfila.  People don’t know nusach tflila, they can have the best voice in the world, it don’t serve the purpose from a shaliach tzibor. Ma chazah? You follow?


SHIFMAN:  So, this is actually what I did and I was a chazan.  I got a job after the army, in the army,

INTERVIEWER:  Let me stop you…

SHIFMAN:  …but one thing I want to, what I forgot.  I want to mention something else.


SHIFMAN:   In the army, a good friend of me was married and they called me to sing in the wedding and they give me the last bracha.  They call it the bracha  [achizor]. In Dissendorf in [Yad?]  I was giving the bracha. Came to me the chief rabbi of the Air Force from Israel, [?Arav Piron] and he say to me, “What is your name?”  I say to him, “Baruch.”  “Baruch, I want you to be my chazan on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur.”  I say, “But I’m a soldier.”  “I don’t care you’re a soldier, not a soldier.  Not only this, you’ll get four hundred lira. Four hundred lira, two people could live on this these days for month and a half, maybe two months.  So, I become a chazan in a place what called Tzahala.


SHIFMAN: Tzahala.  It’s just outside Tel Aviv.  It’s a very, a place for the people, for the department in force, what they call it, signing for five years, ten years, you know?

INTERVIEWER:  Enlisted for…?

SHIFMAN: Enlisted for more years and I got the honor to be with the chief of the army [?] and all the generals.  It’s interesting. So, when I davened there, come to me another general and he say to me, “My father is a [?] in Netanya.” I was a soldier, listen, how one [?] to the other.  “My father-in-law is a [?] in Geva in Netanya, see close to the main station, close to Sderot Hayim, Sderot Weizman, the center, call the place a village in Netanya, Geva.


SHIFMAN:  Yeah. “You will like to go there for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur?” he ask me. “Why not? If you can take me, why not?” Because he heard me in Tzahala. So, this is the way I come there [?] for Shabbos and I got it and then I got me Netanya the job and from Netanya South Africa and from South Africa to here.


SHIFMAN:  You know? And in South Africa I learn also by one of the greatest conductors – Himmelstein – how to conduct a choir.  I can bring you twenty, fifteen children I can make a choir in three, four months and I took children what didn’t know from A to Z, nothing.  I taught them Alef Bes everything and the vowels and everything.  I did it and I tell you in South Africa I learned more about the cantorial particularly about conducting and to know how to sing the chazan and the choir together.  I wrote even a video.  If you want it one day I will have to find it to show you what I did here at Agudas Achim.  Slichot, you know, not with a professional choir but I conduct them and I was a choir boy, too, with them together.  I did it.

INTERVIEWER:  And this all came about because of your experience in the army.

SHIFMAN:  This came from the, no, I was a chazan before.

INTERVIEWER:  Yeah, but I mean you got the job in Netanya.

SHIFMAN:  Netanya I got it because of Tzahala.  This is a place outside Tel Aviv how people what they married, they’ve got children but they are still in the army.

INTERVIEWER:  I’ve got it.

SHIFMAN:  What you call it?

INTERVIEWER:  Married…married…

SHIFMAN:  They call it Shikun Tzvakeva.

INTERVIEWER:  Shikun Tzvakeva

SHIFMAN: Shikun TzvakevaTzahala.  So, through them, one general, the chief rabbi from the Air Force heard me at a wedding and then I come to daven Rosh Hashana and then I got Netanya and this how it’s going one to the other, but I’d done before at a different shul.

INTERVIEWER:  How long were you in the army?

SHIFMAN:  Two and a half years.

INTERVIEWER:  So, after the two and a half years is when you went to Netanya or you got the job in Netanya while you were still in the army?

SHIFMAN:  In the army.  I did it on Shabbatot.  I made them a deal, you know, that they allow me to do it once a month…


SHIFMAN:  …because the Israeli can daven once a month or twice a month.  They give you free to go also so I did work it out with them, but I tell you they’ve been very nice to me and this helped me a lot, and you know…

INTERVIEWER:  I have to ask you something though that’s puzzled me.  In Israel, I know if you’re Orthodox you don’t have to serve in the army.

SHIFMAN:  It’s not true.

INTERVIEWER:  It isn’t true.

SHIFMAN:  It’s not true and I want to tell you.   In my family we Orthodox.  My father is Orthodox.  You see the picture. My mother’s brother was in a special unit in the tanks.  Later he came over to the air force. Mine other brother was with the cannon.  I was also in the army in the [Helaglimz?] they call it, the regular soldiers.

INTERVIEWER: The regular army.

SHIFMAN:  …My mother was in the Sayeret [? Pichud Daron]– they call it the jeeps where the Druze they used to work.  So, all of my family, my father insist us to go.  He say, “You go to Yeshiva for four years, you study, you can do all, together with the Yeshiva you can combine it and do it,” and he told us and my mother even pushed me also.  “You go out of your way.  You study Torah.  It’s important but you have also to now to put bread on the table.  It’s very important.  My family…

INTERVIEWER: So they all had you, all your brothers, everybody was in the army because they felt an obligation to?

SHIFMAN:  Some of them, yeah, they felt obligation.

INTERVIEWER:  But they didn’t have to.

SHIFMAN:  My father was in the army too.  My father was in the Haganah and mine uncle was killed in Jerusalem, in one of the synagogues, he was a sniper.  He say “Not to leave Jerusalem,” he say, before 1948.  He was in the Irgun in Herzl and my father got a cousin, also a captain in the Palmach.  All in all, my family been in the army in Israel in many, many places, but they’ve been religious.  Is nothing to, not to play games you know.  My father always used to say, “The way how you put to bed, this way how you go to sleep. Remember from where you coming.”

INTERVIEWER:  So, that’s why everyone was in the army because he felt an obligation to Israel to do it.

SHIFMAN:  Yes, and also because, I saw it myself. I will not sit on my life in the Yeshiva, you know.  I was from kindergarten I was brought up.  By age of three I could already read.  My father taught me to read, the vowels, kometz alef o, kometz bes bo, alef bes and by age five already I read completely.  Dad and I used to take the words together then we study chumash and Russian, Mishnaiz, Talmud with my father, you know. I learned a lot from my father.

INTERVIEWER:  What was your father’s name?

SHIFMAN:  Pesach.  He was born Pesach, you know, Pesach.

INTERVIEWER:   Okay, and what was your mother’s name?

SHIFMAN:  Shoshana.  Actually they called her, they called her Rosie, Rose but you know when you interpret it to Hebrew Rosie – Shoshana so, people called her in the Hebrew Shoshana.  You know, you can interpret a name in Hebrew.  Many, many wanted to change my name Shifman to Ben Sira, son of a boat, you know, but I’m not changing it.  Some of my family changed it but here’s the name what you get. Keep it, you know, this what I believe.  So, what I’m saying now, so, this story’s going back, I use always singing as, I used to be in a group of singing in the army too, always fun and from very small age like I say again my father and my mother used to have all kind of instrument.  My mother played the violin.  I played the accordion. Mother, father played [?] and he got a melodica, you know he made a lot of effort of us from very small age to get it in and he push it through. Out of my four brothers, two of use become professional chazanim.  The other two is also chazanim but they’ve been going to a different direction. My son, mine two son in my choir used to be in South Africa.  I was sure both of them would be cantors, so, one of them is a rabbi and one of them is a cantor.  So, in the family was, we got cantors and rabbis and all this but education was very important for my parents.  Doesn’t matter, you have to know how to study, to learn, to know the laws, shulchan aruch, you know, the four books, to know it, Shabbat, kashrut, you know all these thing was very important for them.

INTERVIEWER:  And you passed that on to your children.

SHIFMAN:  Of course.

INTERVIEWER:  And are they married? Are your children married.

SHIFMAN:  Yes. Only one daughter unfortunately is divorced but she live in New York.  She got a son Gavriel.  He was with us for twelve and a half years and he studied Torah Academy.  Today, thank G-d, he’s in college, in Brooklyn College.  One more year he’s finished in economic and he’s six’ three, almost six’ four, good looking boy. I’ll take you downstairs I’ll show you the bar mitzvah.


SHIFMAN:  You’ll come. I’ve got pictures.

INTERVIEWER:  What are the names of your other children’s children.  Your other children do have children and spouses?

SHIFMAN:  I’ve got only two boys and a girl and I’ve got grandkids and great-grand-kids.

INTERVIEWER:  Right. What are your sons, you have sons and a daughter, right?

SHIFMAN:  My first son, my daughter -in-law got seven kids.


SHIFMAN:  What are their names? Okay. The first one is Pesach after my father.  He married a girl what is the name Devorah.


SHIFMAN: Devorah, Debbie. They got a daughter and a son what are already our great grandkids.  They made us grand-grand kids.  So they are married. Then is another daughter Shoshana after my mother, but she was Rose interpret in the Hebrew, Shoshana.  Then they’ve got another, a daughter Miria Leah.  She was born before candles of Hanuka.  They called her Miria Leah.  Then they’ve got another daughter Odelia Malka.


SHIFMAN:  Odeleah Malka.  Ode Leah – thank G-d -Malka.  Then they’ve got another daughter, grand-daughter the name is Tova Kyla.


SHIFMAN:  Tova Kyla from after the mother the other side.  Then they’ve got a baby, the yanuka what they call it the baby, what he was born.  He’s five years old.  His name is Malkiel Avraham.


SHIFMAN:  Makiel Avraham.  He was born on Rosh Hashanah.  Malkiel Avraham.  Why is he called Malkiel Avram? Because actually we when we pray to G-d, Rosh Hashanah he prayed for him, he’s the king of king, Melech Malchei, Melech kol ha-aretz, Malki-el – Malki El  – He’s my G-d. Avraham is after my father-in-law.


SHIFMAN:  He didn’t have children so they called him, he got two names.  They’ve got of every child except Pesach got one name.  Malkiel Avraham. Every one of them got two names.  My father didn’t have two names.  This is one son.  The other son what live in Cleveland, what is the cantor in B’nai Jeshuran, they call it the Temple on the Heights, Shaker Heights or something like this, he got two daughters, twins.  One is called Shana Malka and the other one called… nu, came out of my [?]…I’ll have to remember the name. How can I forgot it? So many names. Avi. Avi we call it in English.  Avigail Maital.


SHIFMAN:  Avigail


SHIFMAN:  Maital.


SHIFMAN:  Avigail Maital. It’s a Hebrew name and also Avigail was the wife, one of the wives of King David. They did it all from the Tanach, you know.  And then I’ve got my daughter Yael like I told you already. She named after the Bible, the Tanach, Yael Devorah, anashim Yael. and her son is called Eliezar Gavriel.  I call him Gavriel. Gabriel. Gabi. This is my grandkids. And my great-grandkids, one is called Leah.




SHIFMAN:  Mother Leah, you know?


SHIFMAN:  And the other one called, a boy, David.


SHIFMAN:  David.  And mine daughter-in-laws called Devorah also. I’ve got Devorah in marriage and Devorah Chana.

INTERVIEWER:  Devorah married to whom?

SHIFMAN:  To Mordechai, to my first one. Her name is Devorah Chana and one is called only Devorah.


SHIFMAN:  And mine other daughter-in-law from Cleveland being called Sabrina. Sabrina Rose, Sabrina Shoshana, Rose. Again, Rose Shoshana.  Sabrina Rose Shoshana. Rose is Shoshana.  And my daughter [?] is Yael.

INTERVIEWER:  And her husband is…

SHIFMAN:  She divorced.


SHIFMAN:  She divorced but her husband was David, another David. [?] They decides to call him David, my grandchildren, because he was born Sukkos. Ufros alienu sukat david, harachaman[?].  It happened to be Sukkos was [?]

INTERVIEWER:  So, you got David. Okay.  How often do you see your children and grandchildren?

SHIFMAN:  Often I can, you know, often I can, you know.  We take mileage. We go to Israel. We fly also. We got now a flight.  One of us can fly for free.  One of them pay, you know? And one of them can take company, you know we taking, my wife is collecting the mileage.  We go to New York.  We go to Los Angeles. To Cleveland we don’t have to fly.  I take the car but we doing it in graduations, bat mitzvahs when I could not be before when I was in office, and all the brit milah.  Some of them I was.  Some of them I couldn’t be there because I was in office.


SHIFMAN:  But now I making more effort to go to see them as I can.

INTERVIEWER:  Are you involved in any community things?

SHIFMAN:  I’m involved, in a way yes, I always come, I don’t do it often but I come to Heritage House.  I play for them piano.  I sing for them.  I used to do it since I come, twice a week.  Matter of fact I was this Friday I was there…

INTERVIEWER:  That’s nice.

SHIFMAN:  …and I play for them songs [?]

INTERVIEWER:  [?Probably asleep.]

SHIFMAN: …and I come if somebody else is not there and I know people from Agudas Achim and I know people from the community so, I think is time to pay off, I did it also when I was in office.  I did it voluntarily when I go to see hospitals if I know somebody, if I don’t know, but by being in hospital I go to see the other also, the Jewish people also, I don’t care who and what.  One rabbi he wants a fight. I don’t want to say the name.  He’s not here with us anymore. He says, “Cantor, how can you go to members of my shul?”  I say to him, “Rabbi, to visit the sick is a matter of the members of the Jewish faith?”  and I’ll tell you a little story how it is important to be to go visit people in hospital.  You can never know what can happen, and this rabbi I put him in place and I say Rabbi it’s not right of you to say this to me because I do it because its obligation of every Jew and Jewess to go to see hospitals, mitzvah from bikur cholim.  I don’t’ want to say the name because he’s still living in Columbus but I tell you a true story.  Want to hear some story?


SHIFMAN:  Okay. I visit in the Grant Hospital many years ago.  As I visit in the hospital was in the ninth floor.  I think the people there what got cancer.  People there were very, very sick and somebody call me “Chazan, Chazan Cantor Shifman.”  I look in the door. If I tell you, don’t, I will have to record it. I will not say the name.  Anyway, “Can you come over here? I know you. You don’t know me.”  “So, I don’t know you but your name is family.  I know your son.”  He say, “I know you know my son.” So, what he told me?  He told me the doctor was giving him to live another three months.  He say, “I was [?] with my son, me and my family since he was born.  We did a terrible thing.  He was the black sheep of the family for no reason, you know, because he was born sick or something like this.  I don’t know what. I didn’t go into details, but if people tell you he’s going to die and he put me to be a messenger to do it I say I’ll do it. I want to make it happen. “Can you talk to him? Do me a favor. Promise me you’re doing it.” [?] Many time I got [?] by doing thing. My wife used to say to me “Why you’re interfering? It’s not your business.  Why you [?] You’re a man of the community. You spoke about community.”  I came to this guy’s home and I told him “I visit hospital. Somebody want from Agudas Achim but the other one is not but he told me you’re his son and he want to make it up with you and he’s sorry what he did all the years what he did to you.”  I thought he will tell me ‘Mind your own business, what you interfere?’ and he say this to me, “If he will die I will not even say kaddish for him. I will not say kaddish for him.”  I say to him, “Sonny, how can you say this?  Biologically this is your father. You know to honor your father even he take away his own money, everything what he got, you are religious man or you believe in religious, you believe in our faith.  He’s going to die and he want to make it up.  People have to forgive if G-d is forgiving us. We human we have to forgive.”  Anyway, is a happy ending.  The mother didn’t talk also to him and the brother and the sister also not.  It’s a long story and I’m not going into details.  I know the whole story but what happened came Hanuka, he never even saw the grandkids, already thirteen, fifteen years old, the kids, used to go Torah Academy.  I told some of the children used to be in my choir put it this way.  So he came with a big present Hanuka and they kissed each other and they made it up and here and there and a while later he passed away and the son say kaddish all why I’m saying it, is always important to go to hospitals.  If I was not there for this moment even for one Jew, I’m glad I did it.

INTERVIEWER:  And I’m sure he was too.

SHIFMAN:  And I tell you another story, too. This was with a non-Jew.


SHIFMAN:  I saved two non-Jews’ life.  Two lives, one in South Africa, one here. I’d like to tell you what happened here.  Maybe g-d will forgive me because I save life.  If you have to save life, doesn’t matter.  We were created in the image of g-d, correct?


SHIFMAN:  Used to be a garage you remember [?bank] on the corner Roosevelt and Main.


SHIFMAN:  What is the name of it? Chase Bank.


SHIFMAN:  Used to be a garage there. You remember the garage, Shell Garage?


SHIFMAN:  I always used to fill up because I leave on Sunday morning after shul. Nobody was there and I see this guy, on the place like this, forgive me to show you how he.  I thought he’s dead.  I start to push him.  Nothing. Because I go to hospitals, because I know all about it, he was diabetic. I didn’t ask question.  It took from their place something sweet, you know and I put him, and I pushed it, you know, Coca-Cola was it and also chocolate.  In two seconds he was back to life.  He say to me, “Cantor, you saved my life.”  If I come ten or fifteen minutes later, finished.  He was really, he got an attack of, you know what they call it?

INTERVIEWER:  His blood sugar fell.

SHIFMAN:  Yeah. I save a couple of time, I save a couple of life before, too, but because I go to hospitals, because I know the problems, you don’t have to be a doctor.  You ask the patient what’s ailing him and you intelligent enough to know.  My mother-in-law was with me for five years, so I know what is diabetic. She used to get insulin and I used to give her it morning and I used to give  her it in the evening. We took a grapefruit and Doctor [?] say “Push it there.” Who have to pay money for analysis for doctors and I learned to take the blood and everything but, in South Africa too I save a life of a black guy.  Another black guy want to kill him.  I separated them.  He say “I will kill you one day,” but I tell you one thing, I save his life. Meanwhile I tell you the story.  I am not going in to details, ‘cause I was in the army.  I learned people have to be nice to people.  They have to be when sometime you have to be a man to help people and this is all about if we love each other properly, we can love G-d.  If we not love each other, we cannot love G-d. Correct?


SHIFMAN:  V’ahavta, lereacha, kamocha.

INTERVIEWER:  That’s right.

SHIFMAN:  This is only a few stories but I can tell you from Agudas Achim. I don’t want to give name about the worst of peoples, about how I brought them together, some of them I got stones, you know.

INTERVIEWER:  Do you have any hobbies?

SHIFMAN:  Yes.  I used to play tennis…


SHIFMAN:  …but I left the tennis but today I play more table tennis. You see me there.

INTERVIEWER:  I see you.

SHIFMAN:  …but tennis I used to be, play doubles, very good once.  I used to belong to a club in South Africa.  When I come here, I couldn’t belong to a club, but I used to play [?] sometimes with dear friend, Dr. Schlonsky’s wife. [ ?]  You remember her?  She was a beautiful woman.

INTERVIEWER:  I do, I played tennis with her.

SHIFMAN:  You played with her, too.  So, they took me to play when I came here for a visit, but in South Africa, I used to play twice a week and flashlight, used to play in the night also. The weather was very good there and I was quite good in this, and table tennis I started to play maybe twenty years ago because second to tennis you have to play you have to dedicate yourself to play regular.


SHIFMAN:  I tell you a little story, again.  I told at guy’s bar mitzvah.  All these people spoke about it in Agudas Achim. He was a champion from Bexley School in tennis and he said to me, “Cantor I heard you play tennis.  You like to have a game with me? But I am going to beat you, badly.” I say, “How let you know you going to beat me badly if you don’t know how I’m playing? I don’t play for beating but if it is the case I’ll play with you.”  I beat him in three sets. 6 -2, 6- 3, 6 – 1. He could not look at me anymore, you know, and this is a certain what I told him.  He was a champion in Bexley.  You know, this was in the beginning and I came here in ’81, ’82. He must be already married but this was one case.  Another case was, you must know the people, what is the name Saul, Saul, Saul, what is the name…Saul, nu?  He’s the president or vice president from Agudas Achim.  Anyway, I don’t say name.  His son play table tennis, say, “Cantor…” the same story, there was a bar mitzvah, “I heard you play tennis, table tennis. You’re not a match with me.” I say, “How you know?”  “You play with me?”  I beat him also badly and I beat his friend also. They see for a man the age, then I was seventy, sixty-nine, if I could do it so, I say,  “You play,” I say to him, “You play sport, you don’t play sport to win.  Of course, you want to be in the win side but you play more for your exercise. This is the most important,” and I got lucky.  I play always with good players, South Africa too.  I used to love to play soccer.   I used to love to play, you know, you know, basketball, this in the army day, you know, but constantly I start tennis in 1966.  I took lessons in South Africa and I start to play and people used to look forward to play with me.  Sunday afternoon, you do barbecue, you know they call it brunch, braai they call it in South Africa.

INTERVIEWER: What do they call it?

SHIFMAN:  Braai.


SHIFMAN:  Braai. It was a barbecue.


SHIFMAN:  I tell you a little joke.  This is interesting to know. When I came to South Africa to here I got a phone call and the phone was what you call it, busy, you know?  In South Africa you don’t say busy, you say engaged.


SHIFMAN:  So, my son picked up the phone once to a guy say, “My father [tried to read] but always was engaged.” He say, “Engaged to whom?” So, they don’t know in South Africa.  They don’t say busy, they say engaged or they say, lights.  They say robot.  Here they say lights. In South Africa they say robot. Robot is lights.


SHIFMAN:  The light, when you turn right, the light.

INTERVIEWER:   Oh, the traffic light.

SHIFMAN:  The traffic light.  So, in South Africa they call it robot.


SHIFMAN:  Robot, a robot, you know what you call…


SHIFMAN:  Robot.


SHIFMAN:  Robot.


SHIFMAN:  I have to think in three languages.  I speak Yiddish, Hebrew and English.  In English, by the way, I taught myself.  Nobody taught me.

INTERVIEWER:  You did all right.

SHIFMAN:  I could do better. You know my children they speaking at home. They speak also two to three languages.


SHIFMAN:  You know, they used to speak, in South African Zulu, Hutu…Now I tell you another joke in South Africa they say, but this is not for the recording.

INTERVIEWER:  This is all going to be transcribed.  Somebody is going to take what this recording is and transcribe it…

SHIFMAN:  I see.

INTERVIEWER:  …and it’s going to be put online so that anyone goes on the website…

SHIFMAN:  I see.

INTERVIEWER:  …they can read this whole interview. Okay?

SHIFMAN:  I see.  So, what else can I, you want me to tell you?

INTERVIEWER:  I will tell you.

SHIFMAN:  This is a picture from the Agudas Achim Shul and I [?] with Rabbi Rubenstein.

INTERVIEWER:  What was your favorite holiday? What holiday is your favorite?

SHIFMAN:  Truth of the matter, all the holidays are a favorite, as a chazan or as a family man?

INTERVIEWER:  As a family man.

SHIFMAN:  Pesach.




SHIFMAN:  Because the gathering of the whole family together, number one.  Number two, you see the different kinds of food what we don’t eat all year long, and also to tell the stories when the family’s all together when they used to be small how the ladies come together, weddings, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, you know, all kind of occasions because when you are together particularly Pesach, because Rosh Hashanah not everybody’s together but there’s also a great yontif, not to say not, but Passover is more a family, family holiday, family to do the Haggadah together, to sing together, to hear the question form the little one, the big one, particularly song what we don’t sing through the year. In the Haggadah different songs, you know, and to see how the little one are growing from very small age, how they can say the Mah Nishtana for example? Cause you looking forward as grandparents.  The grandparents looking to year to see it and this is the beauty about Pesach.

INTERVIEWER:  Who would you say had the greatest influence on you when you were young?

SHIFMAN:  I can say that both parents but with my mom I could be more open and she understood.  She understood me very well ‘cause I could come to her with anything and everything and she know how to forgive it and carry on.   Not what to say my father didn’t forgive us.  He understood.  My father was more quiet and not only this, she was so intelligent.  Her four daughter-in-laws, never called her the mother-in-law.  They called her mother.  I give you a little example what she say to them when she get married.  “Listen to old woman and you do what you want to do.”  “Listen to old woman,” you see the message? “And you will do what you want to do.” In other words, is a message here.  I am giving you instruction and you do what you want to do but actually do the opposite. Listen to what I am saying but the message is not to attacking them.  Listen to what you want to do.  They called her always “Mother.”  She actually always was a great cook.  I will never forget.  Come Thursday night she used to make Shabbos.  From nothing she makes something.  Always the refrigerator was packed with food.  Wherever I come my father was always to bring, schlepp somebody from shul – he [?], he doesn’t have place to stay, a rabbi lost his wife – they used to come to us and Thursday night she used to make Shabbos. She used to take the children around her and I around her.  My sister was not born yet. “Watch what I’m doing,” as a little one. My brother was a great cook because of my mother. I cook also very well.  I make chicken soup like she made it, the olden way, meatballs.  She used to make gefilte fish, used to do it with the old way you know with the special [?]…


SHIFMAN:  …you know, fried fish, gefilte fish. She used to make anything you want to match we spoke about it before, but how she used to make kishke.   She used to [?], to clean it with lemon, to sew on sides, to fill up with raisin, and the ground beef and all the flavors and to put it in the cholent.  To make a cholent she used to put packets of rice, packets of this, packets of this, was a mechaye, what the bones you know.  These days they eat everything and this way maybe the children give more attached to the mother cause she was close to us. She used to sing for us while my father used to work.  Only Shabbat he got a free time, to teach us to hear about Torah at the table but I think, all in all I think my father and mother were great parents and great, great teachers to us, can be the first school and every child if you got good parents, this will give you to go through everything.  Actually, this is true because I learn everything, to read I learned from my father.  To sing…

INTERVIEWER:  Your father was a cantor, right?

SHIFMAN:  And a rabbi but not a pulpit rabbi. He didn’t want to…

INTERVIEWER:  He was a teaching rabbi.

SHIFMAN:  No, he was working but he worked different kind of work.  He worked in a factory.  He never want to be a rabbi.  I give you an example. Was Passover we spoke before.  My mother once called to the chief rabbi of Rehovot.  Before Passover there’s questions you know. In the olden days used to bring the chicken to the rabbi, to [?] the needle [?]here and there so the chief rabbi say to her, “Why, Shoshana you called me?  Your husband know more what I know.” Don’t forget my father used to be Yeshivat Eitz Chaim, one of the four top [?].  Nobody believe he will not be a rabbi. He never want it.  He said, “A rabbi to be,” he say, “you have to work sometime to tell lies, to do thing politically. I cannot work politically.  If I will work I’ll have to work through and people will get effected.  I don’t want to be rabbi.”  Mine aunt used to say to me, when they used to bring rabbis to fire, to hear what he was once one of the four, you know, by the age twenty-one.  You see the book here down? He know it by heart.  He used to study fifteen to eighteen hours a day, a day, but he learned English by himself. He worked.  He studied.  My brothers, too. We study and he made, you not going away. We study every week the whole portion of the week with the only portion, everything, you study.  You going outside, do what you want.  Shabbos a time to study.  He never let us go out.  He never let us play with other children what come from difference parents.  What do you think this can be a very bad influence on us.  I used to say to him, “Daddy, why you say this to me?”  He say, “You will be a father one day.  You will understand.  Now you don’t understand.  This is what he told me. And he was right because some parents, you know they don’t care.  The children can do what they want, you know?  We never spoke bad thing against our parents, never, or to sit on the chair where my father sit.  Even he was gone, we never sit on the chair, ‘cause this is the Jewish law to honor your father, not only lifetime, even he’s dead. Say kaddish.  We say kaddish.  Why? To elevate his soul and [?mitzvah lkayam divrei ] b’emet. [Chazal?] told us, you know?  He says a mitzvah an obligation to do what a person say before we die, to give charity, to do all kind of…I give  [?to ]charity.  My mother, for example, we say it earlier.  I used to sit in what she did for religious people, for non-religious people, Ashkenazic, Sephardic.  Every Friday night, before Friday night, she used to make packets of chocolate, all kind of stuff, you know, filling it up, and put it by the door. She closed the door.  She didn’t want to, people used to know already and she make sure the name of everyone is there but she doesn’t want to see people get it and she used to do for our neighbor.  A story, it’s not religious. She did operation on her, on her back. She become paralyzed.

INTERVIEWER:  The woman had an operation and became paralyzed. This was your neighbor.

SHIFMAN:  Yeah, a neighbor, you know from my, they live in a place a shikun, in a place in Rehovot.  So, my mother took every day.  She was not well, she took there, she washed her, she came there.  She came every day and she cooked for her.  She did all kind of thing, not to get a penny.  She never get paid for this and is not the only one.  I tell you another story.  This is true story, so  I heard it only when I was sitting shiva for my father.  A woman come to pay shiva for us. We didn’t know her.  She used to cry. She say…I lost my father and I lost my mother. My mother was eighteen months after it, but she come to pay shiva us.  So, my mother, my older brother ask it.   “She was your mother? You want to say she have you before?”  “No, you don’t understand.  I will explain.  When I was eighteen years old, I didn’t have not a mother, father, not a mother.  She was an orphan girl. She lost her both parents, poor, and my mother, she came to my mother.  My mother was like the social director from the city.  The city know it already. Go to her, not to get paid.  So my mother said to her, “My child, you’ll get a job.  You’ll get clothes and get married.  I will do it but, you have to agree with me.  You do what I tell you to do.”  She was going to a guy what got clothes. She say to him, “Is a girl don’t have a father or mother.  Got mercy?  You give clothes.”  She put her clothes.  Then she was going to the chief rabbi from Rehovot. We always used to be associate with rabbonim.  You know that the children from the rabbonim used my friend.  [?] We been in school together. So, she came to the chief rabbi and she told him there is a girl what we need to put her in place.  She need to get married, no father, no mother.  She give her a job to work for in a kindergarten to help, you know, in order to make a couple of dollar, couple.  So, the rabbi say, “What do you want from me?”   She say, “I want a letter from you. Give me a letter. We need to help this and this girl and with this letter I can go,” my mother say, “to the mayor of the city and I can go to other places.  They will not reject her.”  And she did it.   What she did with the letter?  “Firstly,” she say to the girl, “You got already a job. You got clothes.  You can put food on the table.  Now, you have to get married, have a family.”  She say, “I wish I could I don’t know if I can manage if I’ll have help.  Who can help?”  “Don’t worry.” She took the letter.  She come to the mayor, few phone calls, she came to a guy what got a factory from furnitures and he sell in a shop. He sell his own products, tables, chairs.  She show him the letter. “So, what you want?”  “You got a table, is already done, a little cupboard, another place, two beds.   I need a place to stay.”  Listen to this.  She tell the story to us.  We never know it, you know?

INTERVIEWER: This is the girl that she helped.

SHIFMAN:  The girl what she helped. After it, so everything was done.  We need a catering. She already made the shidduch. She’s engaged to get married, you know?  She come to the place where they’re having weddings, you know?  We need to have the place, what we doing about bokhrim to sing and to dance, to make happy the chazan.? She going to a shiva and she spoke to some guys what got passes here and there.  They brought fifty bokhrim to the wedding and they came to it and they made a wedding and the [?] and they having children “So, you know why your mother is my mother?”

INTERVIEWER:  Oh, my goodness.

SHIFMAN:  It’s a true story.  I’m not making it up. A true story. And they talking about it in the family and she break the news, you know when? When we sit shiva.

INTERVIEWER:  Your mother never told anyone.

SHIFMAN:  My mother never say nothing. She used to bring somebody, a woman, a [?] Jew with lice, a old woman in our bedroom she used to wash her from top to the bottom. This, my neighbor told us, a woman neighbor, you know. She did so many things.  You don’t see it today.

INTERVIEWER:  And that was instilled in you.

SHIFMAN:  But the children know it and I make sure my grandkids know it also, you know.  So, why I’m saying it to you because you ask me the question to I am closer to whom.  My father never objected.  He brought all these people, you know, on Shabbos you know, but with my mother was saw more thing how she gemilut chasadim– act of kindness.

INTERVIEWER:  She really was.

SHIFMAN:  She did it, unbelievable, yeah.

INTERVIEWER:  You learned a lot from her. Are there any other stories you’d like to tell that I haven’t asked?

SHIFMAN:  Is a lot of thing, you know, that I can tell you there.  When I was in the army, like I say again, I learned to know about Jewish song.  I taught also there what I learned at home. Example, we had thirteen soldiers in one tent when we did our maneuvers and the soldiers used to smoke cigarettes.  I am not smoking on Shabbos and two of us used to walk outside.  So, the guys say, “Oh, what is, your parents are not here.” I say, “but our father is there.  Yom zeh avec Shabbos.” He explained it to them.  Took our time, six months took and I am not joking, six months.  They walked out and smoke cigarettes outside to respect us, you know.  We never tell them, “Don’t smoke.”  You do what you want. Go your way. [?] but you know, [?] used to be summertime, used to be a truck, taking the soldiers, men and women to the other shul, you know, Shabbat, you know? Say, “Why do you go, come with us.  “Used to sit there, used to go through the parsha.  A few bokhrim what, you know, cause I came from my yeshiva, straight away.  I was in a kibbutz for three months.

INTERVIEWER:  What kibbutz?

SHIFMAN:  Kibbutz Hafetz Haim.

INTERVIEWER:  Where was that?

SHIFMAN:  This was in the south, a religious kibbutz ‘cause I want to know before I came to the army, I want to know little bit, you know, but I was involved with non-religious people, a lot of them, and particularly when I become a chazan I start to know more and more about people, you know, their philosophy, their life, their upbringing, you know what I mean? A lot of them you have to know, they never get [?].  They didn’t know what I forgot already. They will never learn what I learned but nevertheless, I used always to tell them.  “All you have to teach your children when you get married or yourself, that behaving or talking, we all got it, bad habit.  You know our sages tell us that no righteous man in this world who do good and not bad.  Nobody’s perfect but we have to try to do good thing, to balance the scale.  You have to be more the goods for the bad, you know, so, we used to speak about it in Shabbat, you know, between us, used to be once a week, used to be you called it Yom Hafarket, the Day of the Captain, tells the nights used to dance, men and woman soldiers, you know?     I say, what Dear G-d comes, I’m out dancing, you know, what but we used to come there.   We used to talk with them, we used to get coffee and tea, you know the sandwich with jam, you know, is what they give you in the army these days, but all-in-all, I can tell you the army taught me a lot of thing about human being.  They brought people from difference countries, the greatest education what you learn, you learn in the army. Morocco, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Africa, America, Canada, [?] and you see them in the army and everybody come with different [?] You could see couple come from a rich family.  “You have to clean the toilet.”  “I don’t want to.”  “You go. You have to do it. You’re in the army.”  You cannot…all kind of thing, you know? But we learn to be more for each other.  Used to get packets, for example, from home, from the family.  We share it with everybody. We didn’t, we never care, you know. In two minutes was going, was gone.  This what the army’s doing, the unity.  This what the Jewish people need to have.  In a good way, I think the army’s the best thing what happened to Israel.  This is mine own opinion, ‘cause you take people from difference background, difference home and people start to value life and you know what life is all about.  You can be today here, tomorrow you’re not here, particularly when you’re a soldier, you know?  But the thing is this.  The army is teaching people to become more human, particularly the Israeli army.  The whole world can say what it want about Israelis but they’re very human.  If this happen what happen in Israel in Russia or in America, they will rip up [?] one country after other country, or one state another state.  They will not allow it, you know?  But Israel doesn’t do it. But the world is still against us.  This is not to understand it.  But I tell this only tell to us a message.  We have to be together.  Yachad, you know?


SHIFMAN:  We have to be together.  It doesn’t matter.  Hitler [ shemo?]  Hitler never looked if somebody’s Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Conservative Right or Conservative left, or Reform.  If somebody was a drop of blood in them, he killed them.   What is the message here? You can not run away from Judaism.

INTERVIEWER:  That’s right.

SHIFMAN:  This what I used to say at this table.  You cannot run away from Judaism, so why not to be united? Why not to love each other? Our prayers, our prayers in the morning teach us a great thing.  Before you come to the synagogue you say, I’m taking on myself to love every one of Israel, everyone, so why you don’t say it first thing, “Love your G-d, your Mighty G-d?”  Why not first thing? You cannot love G-d if you don’t love human being, ‘cause we all been created in His image, Jew or not Jew, doesn’t matter.  You hear what I’m saying?  And the same thing V’Ahavta et Hashem Elokecha, Shema Yisrael, we say it later.  Why we don’t say it in the beginning? G-d want us to be first with each other good. If you are good with everyone you also represent G-d because we are a part of G-d. We’ve been created in His image.  You follow?


SHIFMAN:  And this what people have to know.  People don’t know it.  People are selfish.  Want here only by himself, here and there.  I remember I used to have a rabbi, always used to talk about the twenty-two rabbis.  I was lucky and I still survive, twenty-two of them, but anyway he used to say, “You want to have a successful in a wedding in a lifetime have to be give and take.  It cannot be only give.  If give and take you sharing your life in everything what you got, not to say this is mine, this is yours, is here and there.


SHIFMAN:  You decides to get married you are become one body.  You know my mother in blessed memory, I think I told you this before. When my father die, she die eighteen months later.  You know what she say at the grave? She say, “Pesach, you took away my right arm but I’ll come soon to visit you.”  This is true.  This is life, you know. So, what else can I help you?

INTERVIEWER:  I think we’ve covered everything, unless there’s…

SHIFMAN:  But you want to see the pictures?

INTERVIEWER:  On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society I want to thank you for contributing to the Oral History Project.  This concludes the interview.


Transcribed by Linda Kalette Schottenstein, January 2017

Edited by Flo Gurwin