My intention was to write an article reflecting on our beautiful Rosh Hashanah services but due to life’s unexpected turn of events, it is with tremendous sadness and shock that I tell you that my very dear friend and esteemed Colleague, Dr./Cantor Mordechai Sobol, suddenly passed away on September 15th of a massive brain aneurysm. He was only 67. You all know him…he Conducted the Symphony Orchestra and Directed our beautiful Concerts at the Lefrak Concert hall a few years ago together with his wonderful son Ofir (also a very dear friend of mine).
Mordechai arrived in New York on Sept. 6th and June and I had dinner with him and his lovely wife Yona that night. I was so excited to see him! Mordechai comes every year from Israel to lead the Alternate High Holiday Services in Temple Israel of Great Neck (he has been doing this for more than 25 years) and I always have dinner with him as soon as he arrives in NY. I usually see him again before he leaves right after Yom Kippur. My heart is very heavy and my emotions are running very deep so please, bear with me as I share my thoughts and memories of Mordechai with all of you.
I met Mordechai Sobol approximately 30 years ago through Max Shapiro, past President of Hillcrest Jewish Center, who used to come visit our shul regularly on Shabbat M’vorchim. Max was a lover of Cantorial music and he connected me with Mordechai since he wanted us to do a concert together in the Palm Beach Auditorium. Mordechai and I met and we soon became friends. Our friendship blossomed into an extremely special and unbreakable bond that only got stronger throughout the years. Mordechai was a world renowned & brilliant (and I mean brilliant) Conductor, Composer, Orchestrator, Cantor and above all, he was a man of tremendous character, passion & love. He dedicated his life to the furtherance of Cantorial music, the music of our people, bringing it to the highest level of perfection. He had a unique way of keeping the traditional sounds of Chazzanut yet adding a unique element of beautiful symphonic sounds and bringing this to concert halls throughout the world. His mission was to keep Cantorial music “the sacred art form that it is meant to be” and to spread the love of this music throughout the world. With his magnificent orchestrations, unique creativity & love of Chazzanut, he elevated the Cantorate and traditional Jewish prayer to ensure that it will live on for generations to come. Mordechai was one of the conductors of the Israeli Philharmonic. He was the founder, conductor and musical director of the Yuval Ensemble, which is a very professional all-male choir in Israel that very often joined Mordechai on stage together with the top Cantors of our time performing with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. In fact, the Yuval Choir came here to our shul several times throughout the years. Mordechai was not only a world renowned Conductor of symphonies, but he was also a brilliant Cantor & Composer. His musical orchestrations are simply breathtaking.
Mordechai brought me into Israel to do concerts dozens of times, to the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem, Petach Tikvah, Haifa and many other concert stages and synagogues in Israel. The concerts were riveting and stirred so much emotion from the audiences. In fact, when I started doing my AVINU SHEBASHAMAYIM at my own concerts here in North America, Mordechai heard it and said, “I want you to do it at my next concert in Israel”. He created a magnificent orchestration for it and we eventually recorded it in Tel Aviv, together with his son Ofir. After that, Cantors around the world started singing it in their own synagogues and at concerts and even recording it themselves. Eventually, Mordechai and his son Ofir produced a beautiful video where Shai Abramson, Cantor of the IDF, performed a beautiful rendition of my Avinu, which took the internet by storm. And that is how my Avinu Shebashamayim got started in Synagogues and on Stages throughout the world.
I am so proud of my friend Mordechai Sobol. Not only did he light up the world with breathtaking melody and orchestral Cantorial arrangements but he also spread the love and joy of Cantorial music to the Jewish world ensuring its place in our lives. He was such a Mensch, a gutta neshama, and someone who brought warmth, love and happiness to so many people.
I will miss Mordechai terribly and when I think of him, I will shed tears, sing a Jewish tune, smile, and know that I am better for having shared a special friendship with this magnificent human being who called me “Solly”.
May he rest in Peace!
G’mar Chatimah Tovah.
Cantorially & Musically always,