Address delivered by Rabbi Raymond Apple at the funeral of Rev Aaron Kezelman, Emeritus Chazan of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, on 24 June, 1980.
We are met to bid a sad farewell to a sweet singer of Israel whose music brought uplift, whose friendship brought warmth, whose teaching brought understanding, whose ministration brought comfort, and whose irreverent sense of humour brought merriment.
That Rev Kezelman would be a chazan was surely pre-ordained. Heredity and environment both fitted him for his lifetime’s task. His father was a chazan both in Continental Europe and in London and remained active until he was over eighty. He himself as a boy had such an obvious musical talent that he was his father’s assistant, his Meshorer, from the age of thirteen. And thus for seventy years, literally until yesterday, his heart and soul were in the music of the synagogue.
It was 1938 when he came to Sydney to succeed the remarkable Rev Marcus Einfeld. It was a daunting responsibility. He was equipped for it by natural talent allied to cantorial experience in London, notably at the historic Western Synagogue where he ministered for ten years. I have read some of the testimonial letters which described his abilities to the Great Synagogue and its Board and they are impressive.
His arrival in Sydney gave the community a chazan able to move a congregation, a mohel, teacher, hospital and later prison chaplain, and warm friend. For twenty-six years he was our chazan. He loved the Great Synagogue – “sharing joys as well as sorrows with its members,” as a tribute on the occasion of his retirement put it, “giving pleasure with his gifts and creating many friendships, watching a whole generation grow up and holding the public attention as Leader in Prayer on many solemn occasions”.
His exceptional loyalty to choice friends, and theirs to him, continued through the years, and it brought many a sense of particular pleasure when he mounted the Bimah again on his eightieth birthday. Eighty, in the Psalmist’s reckoning, is the age of G’vurot, of special strength, and despite his and Mrs Kezelman’s health problems both were blessed to reach this milestone and leave it behind in the distance.
His voice was no longer so firm, but sweetness and poignancy were left, and he gave of himself in these last few years to the Shearit Yisrael congregation at the Maccabean Hall where, as everywhere he was known, that irreverent sense of humour which I have mentioned forced many a smile.
To be a chazan in the historic cantorial tradition you must be able to feel deeply and to deepen the feelings of faith and hope in the hearts of your congregation. You have to be able to interpret the liturgy so that your congregation, even without great Hebrew knowledge, can sense that the words of prayer are speaking for them and out of their own deepest needs and emotions. To say that Rev Kezelman was a chazan in that tradition is the ultimate tribute.
And now – now the voice is stilled, but the memory will linger. We all, his successor, Rev Gluck; his colleague, Rabbi Porush; I myself; generations of leaders, members and choristers; the secretary of the Synagogue; and the community, offer our affectionate sympathy to Mrs Kezelman, and to his children and family all over the world. May God give you strength and long life, and may Rev Kezelman be heard to eternity with the chorus in the halls of heaven.