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Shlomi Gil

As far as the eclectic-looking baal tefillah is concerned, a Jew is a Jew, and it does not matter how is head is covered

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

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Photos: Menachem Kalish

I t’s twilight hour on Friday, just as Shabbos is being ushered in. Walking down the streets and alleyways of the mystical city of Tzfas, the niggunim of Kabbalas Shabbos, crowning with Lecha Dodi, echo from the many shuls dotting the town.

“The whole world is waiting…to sing a song of Shabbos…” The hypnotic niggun wafts from the windows of a small building in a narrow alleyway in the Old City called Simtat Meginei Tzfas. Dozens of people push toward the entrance, but only a few actually manage to squeeze into the shul, while the spillover crowd brings the energy of the minyan to the street. They stand crowded side by side, swaying back and forth to the rhythm of the nostalgic tunes, the repetition of which creates a trancelike cloud on the cobblestones.

It’s a diverse crowd here at Beirav shul’s weekly Carlebach minyan; some are sporting brand-name litvish hats, others wear shtreimels, others are wearing knitted kippahs, and there are also those whose heads are covered for the first time with those silk yarmulkes they give out at bar mitzvahs. But as far as the eclectic-looking baal tefillah is concerned, a Jew is a Jew, and it does not matter how is head is covered, nor how frum he is, or to which stream he belongs.

“My prayers belong to everyone in Klal Yisrael, and that includes anyone who was born to a Jewish mother,” he says within earshot of a young man who’s obviously new to a synagogue experience. “Every Jew really yearns to be connected to his Creator, even if he is not aware of it. Deep within him, his soul is on fire, urging him to find his connection to Hashem. He might even be anti-frum, but his soul has directed him on an unknown track in order to reach this shul.”

Make our Minyan

He’s known simply as Yitzchak (not Reb Yitzchak or Rabbi Ginzburg — although he shares a name with the well-known Chabad mekubal), and anyone who’s visited the touristy Beirav shul in the last decade has probably run into this unusual-looking gabbai/chazzan with the long hair and charismatic personality, who draws so many to this little shul — thick American accent notwithstanding.

These days, Yitzchak is busy practicing for the Yamin Noraim prayers, although he’s been a Yom Tov chazzan for the past 35 years. But he is ever-vigilant with tefillah, especially on the holiest days of the year, and the responsibility is doubled knowing that his versatile audience will be davening with him for one reason — to become inspired.

As American as he is, Yitzchak Ginzburg was actually born in Tel Aviv, in 1964. He says his father, Rabbi Moshe Ginzburg, “had been very close to the Chazon Ish ztz”l, and one of the few who received semichah from him.” But Yitzchak was just a baby when the family left Eretz Yisrael for Vienna, and eventually moved to New York, where Rabbi Ginzburg worked as a supervisor for several kashrus agencies.

Even as a young child, Ginzburg felt a strong connection to the world of niggun and prayer. During the ’70s, he used to join his father in different shuls in Manhattan, where the family had settled, listening attentively to the various baalei tefillah. “My father used to daven in the Ohab Zedek shul on West 95th Street in Manhattan,” he relates. “I would listen attentively to the chazzanim, memorizing various styles and different techniques. I think that even as a child I knew that one day I too would be a baal tefillah.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 679)

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