Many Pittsburghers, Jews and fellow cantors harbor treasured memories of Hazzan Moshe Taube — a Polish Jew with a tremendous voice who survived the Holocaust thanks to industrialist Oskar Schindler’s famous list, and spent 40 years on bimas in Pittsburgh as a beloved cantor. Taube, a fixture at Congregation Beth Shalom for decades, died Nov. 11 at age 93.
Hazzan Stephen J. Stein attended Poale Zedeck growing up in Pittsburgh. But he admits he often snuck over to Beth Shalom simply to hear Taube daven. He calls Taube one of the biggest influences on his own cantorial style.
“There are musical modes, scales and musical motifs that are unique to each synagogue service — and a skilled cantor knows how to improvise,” Stein told the Chronicle. “Taube was outstanding. He’s the end of an era of the great, traditional classical cantors.”
On Sunday, Dec. 13, Taube will be memorialized and his work will be shared and celebrated. The Cantors Assembly — a 600-member national association based in Ohio — will host an online “Sh’loshim Retrospective” on Taube and his work from 8 to 9 p.m. that day. It is free to attend but advance registration is required.
Taube’s colleagues and protégés will speak at the Dec. 13 event, and there will be an open forum at the end. But the real gem of the evening is, without a doubt, the playlist. In addition to sharing recorded excerpts from a 1984 interview with Taube, the Cantors Assembly will stream multiple Taube performances, including his “Kiddush for Festivals,” “Sim Sholom” and “Tikanto Shabbos,” among others, said Hazzan Michael Weis, the group’s director of communications.
“I think it’s going to be really nice — I think we’ll have a nice group,” Weis said.
Though Weis never met Taube in person, he does have a Taube memory: He rehearsed to get into the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City with a Taube piece, “Sheva Berachot.” The man helping to lead Weis’ audition, seminary professor Boaz Tarsi, was stunned by the work; he begged the young Weis to tell him where he could get a copy of the music.
“I was shocked,” Weis said. “I didn’t know how I got a copy and he didn’t.”
Hazzan Robert Kieval remembers Taube from his time at Shaare Zedek in New York City in the late 1950s. Taube had arrived in the United States around 1957 by way of Israel after World War II, and later received a degree in voice from The Juilliard School. Two performances from Taube’s Shaare Zedek years — “Ohavti (Hallel)” and “Zaro Chayo”— will be played at the Dec. 13 event.
“Taube made five or six recordings and, when he was in Israel, he did a lot at Kol Israel, on Israeli radio, doing Chasidic songs he learned in Poland,” said Kieval, who helped lead his first High Holidays in 1964 at 17 and led a suburban Washington, D.C., shul for 25 years. “He was one of the top guys around in the old, European style.”
Stein believes the Dec. 13 event will be a great way to celebrate a colleague and a giant of the cantorial form.
“He prided himself that he never chanted the same text the same way twice,” Stein said. “A master needs to know how to do that.”
Register here for the event. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.