One day, I was inside the Amsterdam Jewish Museum, conducting a group of tourists on my Jewish Amsterdam Tour. In that location were four synagogues, built in the 17th and 18th centuries by- and for a community of ‘Ashkenazi‘, Eastern European Jewish, refugees who found safety and freedom of religious worship in Amsterdam.
View of Portuguese Synagogue (right)
and Ashkenazi Synagogue (left)
in Amsterdam around 1675.
We were in that section of the museum that accurately represents one of these four former Jewish Ahskenazi sanctuaries. In Yiddish, the vernacular of Ashkenazi Jews, it was called the ‘Grosse Shul’, the Large Synagogue.
Ashkenazi Main Synagogue –
Grosse Shul Amsterdam
I showed my tourists a footage displayed
on the museum’s wall. It featured the 300th anniversary celebration of that synagogue,
held in 1935, with the congregation’s award-winning men’s choir and cantor
Israel Eljasz Maroko.
Cantor Israel Eljasz Maroko
at celebration 300th anniversary
Main Ashkenazi Synagogue Amsterdam.
One of my clients pointed at the footage and said: “The cantor, he was my grandfather.” We were all astonished. Their resemblance was remarkable. Cantor Israel Eljasz Maroko was known for his musical talent and beautiful voice. He had a prolific cantorial career, first in Eastern Europe and later in Amsterdam. Then, along with his wife and three of his four children, Cantor Maroko was murdered in the Holocaust. He was only 47 years old.
Cantor Israel Eljasz Maroko –
Ashkenazi Main Synagogue Amsterdam.
While I was listening to the story of my client’s grandfather, I looked at the footage and thought about all the other millions of innocent Holocaust victims and the annihilation of so much more musical- or any other kind of talent.
I suddenly realized how fortunate I was to have had a grandfather, also a cantor, for many years. My grandfather, Joseph Hirsch, had managed to escape Nazi Germany in 1933 and made it to pre-state Israel. There he proceded his cantorial career at the Haifa Leo Baeck Synagogue. In my childhood, I spent many long summers close to him in Israel and I always enjoyed listening to his marvelous voice.