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BENJAMIN (BENY) MAISSNER

ISRAEL

Photography by Elliot Sylman

Benjamin (Beny) Maissner was born in Tel Aviv in 1944. His parents came to Israel in 1936. His mother was from Vienna and his father from Hanover, Germany. His father was a furrier in Germany, and when he came to Israel, he became a bookkeeper for a grocery chain. His mother worked as a seamstress. His parents were of modest means and lived under rent control. Beny had one sister who is now deceased.

His uncle, Israel Alter, a famous cantor in Hanover, moved to South Africa to continue his career, and later, taught at Hebrew Union College in New York City.

Beny’s parents were Modern Orthodox, and he went to a religious school. The head was an older cantor who taught the students to lead services. Beny was in a children’s choir and was a soloist by 5th grade. By the age of 12 or 13, he could chant like a cantor. He also became proficient on the violin and was hired by a synagogue in Philadelphia to perform. He attended Hebrew Union College, and after one year, was hired by the Beth Sholom Synagogue (the only synagogue ever designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) in Philadelphia. Later, he became the Cantor at the Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia, where he served as Cantor from 1967 to 1979. It was there that he met and married his wife, Hope, in 1968. They have three children: Shira, a social worker, Tal, who works in the financial sector (and blows the shofar at Holy Blossom) and Rivka, a homemaker and photographer. They have six grandchildren.

In 1979, he was offered a position at Holy Blossom Temple. Cantor Sheldon Merrill was retiring, and he had been preceded by Cantor Jacob Barkin. He was also attracted to this prestigious synagogue because of the involvement of Ben Steinberg, musicologist. Holy Blossom also gave him the opportunity to move musically in whatever direction he chose. He served there for 41 years, much beloved by the congregation, and retired this past summer. He feels he made the right choice because of the freedom Holy Blossom gave him and because they allowed him to work past the usual retirement age for cantors, which is around 65. Cantor Maissner says, “Music is my life.” He has no regrets about retirement and is happy that he has had a great career. His plans for retirement include passing on his skills and knowledge to younger people, travelling more and keeping an office at Holy Blossom as Cantor Emeritus.

Beny is glad he moved to Canada and feels it is a great country but also feels he has never left Israel. When he goes back, he feels he is returning home.