On a manicured lawn on Chatham University’s campus quad, students and guests gathered to enjoy kosher cheese and wine. Steps away, an elderly man in a blazing red vest and dark fedora collected his papers and entered Chatham’s Eddy Theater. As the crowd followed inside, Dr. Sean McGreevey, assistant dean of students, welcomed all to the principal event of the university’s Jewish American Heritage Month.
Rabbi Shmuel Weinstein, director of Chabad on Campus, introduced Cantor Moshe Taube (cantor emeritus at Congregation Beth Shalom and former adjunct professor of Voice and Vocal Literature at Duquesne University), the evening’s featured speaker.
“The Holocaust represents the darkest face of history. By adding light, we can illuminate the darkness,” Weinstein said.
In referring to Taube, Weinstein commented, “You have become a lamplighter to making this world a place of joy.”
To much applause, Taube emerged from behind a curtain, approached the podium and shared his experiences as a Schindler survivor.
“Being a Holocaust survivor gave me some notoriety,” he said. “Being No. 22 on Schindler’s list made me a bit of
As the evening progressed, Taube dazzled the crowd with anecdotes and one-liners. Like the red vest beneath his dark jacket, Taube’s spirit provided a splash of color juxtaposing hellish tales.
“After Schindler’s List was released, I became a personage in much demand.”
Prior to the film’s 1993 release, he was merely an accomplished musician and teacher; however, after the film’s debut, his status rose immensely – scores of letters and requests for speaking engagements and interviews came from around the world.
After a reporter from Bologna, Italy heard of Taube, he asked the noted cantor to buy a ticket, fly from Pittsburgh and come to Bologna for an interview. Taube asked why would he incur such cost and time to go from Pittsburgh to Italy. The reporter exclaimed that in Bologna there is delicious bologna. Taube replied, “We have it as well, and in Pittsburgh it’s kosher.”
When a listener later asked which notoriety Taube preferred – being a musician or Schindler survivor – Taube quickly chose the former.
“It pays better.”
Whether recounting camps, slave labor or Oskar Schindler, Taube exuded wit and grace throughout.
He recalled how at age 17, he first observed Schindler – a gruff man dressed in a white shirt who constantly smoked and discarded each cigarette after a single puff. But, Taube explained, this was another of Schindler’s surreptitious heroic acts – while the Germans perceived Schindler’s discarded cigarettes as garbage, deprived Jewish prisoners quietly gathered Schindler’s strewn “trash” and enjoyed the smokes.
“Schindler was a God-sent emissary,” he said.
Taube then described his spiritual ascent throughout the war.
“I came from a more traditional home. I became more religious in camp and after the camps when I felt the grace of God upon me,” he said. “It was the help of the Almighty. Hashem did it for me, and I thank him every day.”
Upon concluding his remarks, Taube received a standing ovation. However, his mastery over the crowd continued, as several attendees asked to be photographed alongside the speaker.
Brigette Bernagozzi, a graduate student in creative writing at Chatham, said, “I think he’s an amazing speaker. He was very gracious.”
Sarah Menz, a graduate student in sustainability at Chatham, similarly stated, “He is a great speaker with an amazing story to tell. He gave his own spin, which was very entertaining.”
Libby Zal, of Greenfield, said, “He was the best of all the Holocaust speakers I’ve heard. He added a sense of humor, and it was very important.”
(Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.)