Track 1 - Jack Wolofsky, grandson of Keneder Adler publisher Hirsch Wolofsky, remembers Israel Rabinovitch.
Track 2 - Jack Wolofsky describes the offices of the Keneder Adler.
Israel Rabinovitch, an accomplished musician and writer, was chief editor of the Montreal Yiddish daily newspaper, the Keneder Adler, from 1924 to 1964. For forty years, Rabinovitch took the pulse of the immigrant Jewish community and was hugely influential in helping it form opinions on a daily basis. Following in the tradition of fellow musicologist Professor Abraham Zvi Idelsohn, whom he greatly admired, Rabinovitch used the Keneder Adler as a platform to share his love for Jewish music, writing widely about it and contributing to the status and knowledge of hazzanut (cantorial arts) in Canada. In 1940, Rabinovitch published the book Muzik bai Yidn (Music by Jews), which was translated from Yiddish into English by A. M. Klein in 1952 under the title Jewish Music: Ancient and Modern.
Rabinovitch was born in 1894 in Biten in the region of Grodno (present-day Hrodna Region in Belarus) to a poor family of klezmer musicians and badchonim (entertainers who often performed comedic poems at weddings). Growing up, he received a traditional religious education. At age 13, he began to play tambourine and violin in a klezmer band and later composed his own lyrics. After immigrating to Montreal in 1911 with “handbag in one hand and fiddle-case in the other,” Rabinovitch continued to compose music and played in the YMHA orchestra while working in a clothing factory. While not religious, he regarded himself as a lover and student of Jewish song and believed that the Jewish soul could find its “deepest and mightiest expression” in the art of hazzanut.
Rabinovitch was already a respected journalist before becoming editor of the Adler in 1924. In 1926 he published his first pamphlet (with lawyer and future MP Leon Cresthol), The Jewish School Problem in Quebec, based on his activism on this important community issue. It is a testament to Rabinovitch’s skill as a journalist that his writing appealed to a wide array of readers of diverse political convictions. Many people admired his column “Good Morning,” which was published daily in the Adler during the 1950s and 1960s. Even communists, who disagreed with the Adler’s attempts to find a middle road between workers and owners during labour disputes, valued Rabinovitch’s sensitive and analytical discussion of contemporary Jewish issues. The Adler, despite having many vociferously secular readers and staff members, did not relegate articles about sacred music to its back pages. In fact, it was a home to many articles about outwardly religious topics, including at times discussions of the weekly Torah portion written by the newspaper’s publisher, Hirsch Wolofsky. Hazzanut was enjoyed and respected by many, even those, like Rabinovitch, who were avowed secularists.
Rabinovitch was one of the founders of the Jewish Public Library, a leader in the Labour Zionist group Poale Zion, and also the first president of the Jewish Music Council of Montreal. He passed away in Montreal in 1964. As Hazzan Nathan Mendelson of the Shaar Hashomayim wrote in his obituary of Rabinovitch, “his song, the song of our people remains eternal."
Compiled by Stephanie Tara Schwartz and Zev Moses
Fuks, Haim-Leib. Cent ans de littérature yiddish et hébraïque au Canada. Trans. and Ed. by Pierre Anctil. Montréal: Septentrion, 1980. 343-345.
Levendal, Lewis. A Century of the Canadian Jewish Press: 1880s-1980s. Ottawa: Borealis Press, 1989.
Mendelson, Nathan. “Israel Rabinovitch – In Memorium.” Hazzanut in Montreal. Montreal: Council of Hazzanim of Greater Montreal, 1971.
Rabinovitch, Israel. Muzik Bai Yidn. Montreal: The Eagle Publishing Co. Ltd., 1940.
Rabinovtich, Israel. Jewish Music: Ancient and Modern. Trans. A.M Klein. Montreal: The Book Centre, 1952.
Subar, Cantor Arie Leib, ed. Hazzanut in Montreal. Montreal: Council of Hazzanim of Greater Montreal, 1971.
Tribute to Israel Rabinovitch on his Sixtieth Birthday. Montreal: Jewish Public Library, 1954.
*Images courtesy of Cantor Arie Subar and Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives.