Remembering Cantor David Hass

Especially noteworthy had been his uncanny ability to teach congregations prayerful tunes that they felt drawn to join in with at appropriate moments.

Cantor David Hass (photo credit: COURTESY DAVID PRAGER)
Cantor David Hass
Cantor David Hass, who passed away at the age of 89 on Shabbat, August 15, in Bat Yam, is fondly remembered across the world for his warm personality, generosity of spirit and beautiful voice.
He was born an identical twin to his brother Benjamin, on July 6, 1931, in Jaroslav, Poland, into the distinguished family of Sarah and Moshe Hass. His father was a prominent member of the Jewish community, scholarly and musical. His world was infused with communal leadership, charitableness, learning and music.
David’s eldest brother Jacob, a student at the prestigious Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva, became a pre-war child prodigy singer and was invited to intone the memorial prayer at the age of 13 in front of a crowd of thousands of mourners in 1933 when famed Rabbi Meir Shapiro – Member of Parliament, head of the yeshiva and founder of the international, synchronized page-a-day of Talmud study (Daf Yomi) system – passed away. Another elder brother became the world-renowned Cantor Simon Hass.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Jaroslav was occupied by the Germans, and Jewish life and death became increasingly subject to Nazi terror. The family, now comprising parents and 10 children, managed to escape to Soviet Russian-occupied Lvov (now Lviv, Ukraine) where they had relatives. The respite was short, as they were subsequently deported to Siberia as bourgeois Poles. One sister succumbed to the harsh conditions.
After the war the family returned to Poland to find the community destroyed and, realizing that no realistic future lay for them there, moved on to Paris. David and Benjamin headed for British Mandate Palestine, and Jacob for New York. The majority of the family moved on to London where they re-established their lives. Tragically, soon after, in 1951, at age 49, Mrs. Sarah Hass died.
Meanwhile, the identical twins were apprehended by the British en route to Palestine and imprisoned on Cyprus. After further months of incarceration, they eventually reached the Holy Land. There, David joined the Stern Group forces, and Benjamin enrolled at the elite Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, occasionally secretly swapping positions.
On learning of his mother’s death, David desperately wanted to come to England for the funeral. Tragically, as a result of his Stern Group service, he was unable to enter England until years later.
Both David and Benjamin completed Israeli military service and decided upon careers as professional cantors. David’s musical education followed at the Shulamit Conservatory in Tel Aviv, the New Conservatory in Jerusalem, the Sela Cantorial Seminary and the special cantorial academy under the direction of the legendary Cantor Leib Glantz.
David’s choral conducting skills led to him meeting his beloved life partner, Judith, a survivor of the Budapest ghetto, the Kastner train and Bergen-Belsen. They were married in Israel and began to build a family.
FOLLOWING THE retirement in 1960 of the long-serving distinguished reader of the then South Manchester Hebrew Congregation, Rev. Solomon Hirsch Morris, David was persuaded to apply for the post and in 1961, the family, now including daughter Gizela (Gizi), moved to England.
All were immediately welcomed and cherished. David set about establishing and training four ensembles: the synagogue choir, a Passover choir to teach families Haggada tunes; a Simhat Torah choir to bring planned musical order to the synagogue circuits (Hakafot); and an instrumental/singing ensemble for entertainment, named the Shalom Group, which quickly rose to prominence with television exposure. Two of his choir boys from that era pursued professional careers as cantors.
The family’s strong Zionism militated against lengthy incumbencies in the Diaspora, and in 1963, the South Manchester community had to accept the Hass’s return to Israel.
Cantor Hass’s style of traditional prayer modes interspersed with judicious choices of hassidic niggunim (tunes) from the world of his childhood, alongside beautiful cantorial recitatives and choral works, was sorely missed. Also missed was his and Judith’s encouragement to his ensemble members.
Especially noteworthy had been his uncanny ability to teach congregations prayerful tunes that they felt drawn to join in with at appropriate moments.
His steely inner strength in having endured terrible adversity early in life provided a munificent reservoir of love to cheer congregants, friends and family in times of difficulty. In addition to all these qualities was his absolute fluency in the texts all delivered in an exquisitely warm, sweet and strong tenor timbre.
In the mid-1960s, he embarked upon a new career phase with his appointment as cantor at a leading congregation in Johannesburg, Parkview-Greenside Hebrew Congregation, where the famous Cantor Simcha Kusevitsky had in earlier times graced the reader’s desk. The family had now grown to include a son Moshe. In Johannesburg, David made a number of classic cantorial recordings which fortunately we can still enjoy. As the decade closed, again the pull of returning to Israel manifested itself.
The family moved to Bat Yam, and David became a sought-after music teacher, and generations of Israeli pupils can testify to his devotion. Later, during the era of Soviet Jewish immigration into Israel, David became a lifeline to a new generation of Israelis with his language skills developed, albeit originally in his unwanted sojourn in Siberia.
He was in demand as cantor at the Acadia Hotel in Herzliya, visiting cantor in Calgary, and sang also in Nahariya and Bat Yam.
Now he has been called to the heavenly choir. May he continue to be our melitz yosher (advocate on high).
He is survived by his wife, Judith, daughter Gizi, son Moshe and brother Simon. We wish them all long life. Yehi zichro baruch! May his memory be blessed!