The Passing of Ben Zion Shenker

The Modzitz hassidic dynasty has lost a great composer

passing-ben-zion-shenkerThe recent passing of Ben Zion Shenker z”l, the acknowledged master composer and singer of hassidic music, has left the Jewish community with a great void. He passed away in Brooklyn on November 20. Ben Zion Schenker was born to hassidic immigrant parents in 1925. They raised him with a deep appreciation for Jewish music, played cantorial music for him, and gave him piano lessons. He was soon singing in choirs, made his first record at 13, and had his own 15-minute weekly radio program. He studied at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, then in Williamsburg, where he received semichah (Rabbinic ordination) and Brooklyn College. When he was a 15-year-old, the Modzitzer Rebbe, Rebbe Shaul Yedidya Elazar Taub (1886-1947), of blessed memory, who had recently arrived in America as a refugee, realized that Shenker was sight singing the Rebbe’s own composition from a musical score and asked him to be his musical secretary. By 1956 he had put out the first hassidic record ever. (Two years later Shlomo Carlebach released his first record.) From then until his passing just a few weeks ago, Shenker notated and recorded innumerable melodies of the Modzitzer Rebbes and composed over 500 songs of his own. In his later years he began to work with his friend and neighbor, the Klezmer musician, Andy Statman. Together they produced two CDs of Ben Zion’s own compositions. A final CD is still in production.

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