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Advocates at the Gate of Mercy

Mishpacha Staff

In Brooklyn, in Bnei Brak, in Gateshead and Uman, in humble shuls and grand batei medrash across the world, a cadre of baalei tefillah will stand before their congregations and send their voices soaring Heavenward, lifting the hearts of the listeners as they plead for a blessed new year. Their traditions, accents and melodies are unique. But together, the voices create a single symphony that coronates the King.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Lion Roars
In the Mir Yeshiva, they say that anyone who has heard Reb Aryeh Finkel roaring the words “Ayom v’Nora” in the shaliach
’s supplication has no need of a mussar sefer. Even someone who has experienced Reb Aryeh’s tefillah dozens of times still trembles anew
each year.

Absolute silence reigns. Even a light cough from one of the many mispalelim in the packed beis medrash of the Mir Yeshiva can be heard from afar. At  the eastern wall, at the shaliach tzibbur’s podium, the figure of Rabbi Aryeh Finkel shlita, the Rosh Yeshiva of Mir-Brachfeld, can be seen bent over his  machzor, immersed in silent prayer.

Then in a faint murmur, like the voice of a son confessing his sins before his father, Reb Aryeh’s voice is heard. “Hineni he’ani mi’maas. . . .” Silence  falls across the room again as the Rosh Yeshiva whispers part of the tefillah, until his sweet voice returns, a bit louder now: “Shakai, ayom v’nora!” Not  only is a tremor heard in these words; it is felt in the very marrow of one’s bones. Even a person who didn’t manage to learn the bit of mussar he had  planned to study before the tekios immediately feels that he is standing before the “Ayom v’Nora”—the Great and Awesome One.

The Rosh Yeshiva’s mighty voice thunders in every corner of the massive beis medrash: “Rebuke the satan lest he accuse me!” Again there is a tense silence. The silence is broken by a light rap on a shtender, and the entire crowd rises in unison. Another moment passes, and the lion’s voice rises in magnificent song, “Yisgadel v’yiskadesh shemeih rabbah!


Where Two Yosseles Meet

One can experience the awe of prayer any day of the year in a Gerrer beis medrash: pin-drop silent, bodies ramrod straight, there is an intensity and focus. The Kotzker way is without pomp and external signs of passion, so the tefillah is conducted with military precision: relatively fast, the avodas hatefillah takes place deep in the heart, unseen by human eyes.All the more so on during the Season of Awe, when each beis chassidim is alight with a holy fire. Though most Eretz Yisraeldige chassidim travel to Yerushalayim to be with their rebbe on the Yamim Noraim, many American chassidim choose to make their annual nesiah for Shavuos, or for Yom Kippur alone. And in Boro Park’s central Gerrer shtiebel, the tefillos are led by Reb Mendel Werdyger, scion of cantorial nobility.

There’s a certain force to Mendy Werdyger’s soft lilt, a rare fusion of strength and sweetness: it’s where Yossele Chantziner meets Yossele Rosenblatt. Yossele Chantziner — famed baal tefillah at the  overcrowded beis medrash back in Góra Kalwaria, Gur of old, where thousands filled the building and adjoining courtyard in the hope of glimpsing their revered rebbe, the Imrei Emes. Young Dovid Werdyger  was a member of the “kapelya,” the children’s choir that accompanied the baal tefillah, and he absorbed the nuances of Gerrer nusach, which he passed on to his children. But even within the traditional Gerrer  nusach, Reb Mendy — profoundly influenced by the music of Yossele Rosenblatt, as evidenced by his newly released Od Yosef Chaim CD featuring High Holiday selections from Yossele — has incorporated  some Yossele as well.

For twenty years he has been leading the tefillos at Boro Park’s Gerrer shtiebel on 51st  Street. Throughout the year, he leads the kapelya at that shul, and his children — accomplished musical figures in their own right — help him.

Twenty years ago, Reb Elya Fisher, the Gerrer rosh kollel who served as baal Musaf, went to the Rebbe in Eretz Yisrael for RoshHaShanah. After experiencing it, he decided that he would be returning every year, and Reb Mendy was asked to replace him. He asked the Rebbe, the Pnei Menachem, for a brachah and armed with it, he prepared to lead the tzibbur.


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