Yom Kippur – Today and Yesterday

Yom Kippur Today…

CentralSyngInt2I should have driven the 30 or so miles to join a Yom Kippur service on this Hawaiian island yesterday and today, but then I found that the Central Synagogue, a reform congregation right in the heart of Manhattan, New York, was broadcasting the entire service in streaming colors!  Next year in 3-D maybe!  The Central Synagogue is very ornate. The inside was completely redone following a fire in 1998.  The service was very different from what I am used to, including the use of so much music.  Yes, it sounded a bit like “Broadway” at times, but the quality of the music and the singing made all the difference.  The traditional songs and prayers were accompanied by thoughtful recitations in English.

The maxresdefaultservice was led by Senior Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl, the first Asian American to be ordained as cantor or rabbi in North America.  Cantor Julia Cadrain was outstanding (both of them are pictured to the right.)  I can truly say that the service was uplifting and helped me reflect on the year passed and the year ahead.  I find it amazing that our religion is evolving and taking advantage of the Internet in this fashion.  It certainly worked for me.

Yom Kippur Yesterday…

liege 1img_002Today’s service reminded me of Yom Kippur in my home town of Liege in Belgium where I was born and raised.  The synagogue in Liege is small but beautiful.  It was designed in a Moorish revival style and inaugurated in 1899.  On high holidays, men it on the ground floor and women and children watch from the balcony on both sides.  My family would typically go to Shul on high holidays only.  My father and I would sit on the left side, 5th row i think. These were reserved seats.

No music! The service was all business under the direction of Joseph Lepkifker, a gifted cantor who was seconding as a Rabbi.  The older male congregants would recite the prayers and chant alongside the Cantor.  By the way, Mr. Lepkifker trained me for my bar-mitzvah, every Wednesday for a few months in his study on the grounds of the synagogue.  I still remember his advice for conditioning one’s voice before a long prayer: A raw egg yolk mixed with butter and cocoa powder.  I don’t remember hearing any words in French during the service, it was all Hebrew.  I still remember the key melodies and prayers of Kol Nidre, the Shema, the Amidah, and the recital of Avinu Malkenu.

Joseph Lepkifker…

RetrieveAsset (1)The story of Joseph Lepkifker and his family is a vibrant testimony to the life of the Jews who fled Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th Century only to find themselves hounded by the Nazis. Joseph (Iosif , Yaakov Yosef) Lepkifker was born in Orgeyev, Russia in 1906, (He passed away in Liège, in 1990.)    His father, Volko (Zeev) Lepkifker was born in Tulcyn, Russia in 1863 where he was a cantor (Hazan.)  Joseph followed in his footsteps and ended up as a cantor in Romania for two years.   In 1930, he moved to Liege to study medicine, but dropped out to become cantor of the Synagogue in Liege.  His family,including his father, joined him.  The photo to the right shows the father’s Belgian identity card stamped with the word “jew” in french and dutch.

The family fled to France following the German invasion of Belgium, but comes back to Liege in October 1940.  In 1942, he is exempt from forced labor because of his position as clergy.  His wife, though, must work at the FN, an arm factory that still exists today.  In August 1942, the german police sweeps their residence and the family goes into hiding.   Joseph Lepkifker then requests assistance from the Bishop of Liege, Monsignor Louis Kerkhofs.  The family is then dispersed and hidden in a number of catholic facilities.  The Catholic Church around Liege, it turns out, was a veritable resistance network.  Many priests are member of the secret Army, in charge of logistics and fund-raising.  Other priests are charged with sheltering and helping Jews and allied pilots escape.  In October 1942, Volko Lepkifker and his wife, now elderly, were hidden at the Villa des Buissonnets in Banneux with three other Jewish couples.  They were reported to the German authorities and arrested October 28. They were deported to Auschwitz and never came back.

1361bWith the help of Bishop Kerkhofs, the Lepkifker family (Joseph, his wife and two sons) will keep moving from place to place until the end of the German occupation.  Joseph Lepkifker kept his position as cantor of the synagogue in Liege for many more years until he retired. He petitioned with the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem to consecrate as “Righteous among the Nations” six individuals (table below) who helped hide him and his family during the War.  So did my Mother, by the way, who was hidden during the war by the George family.  Joseph Lepkifker is seated second from the right on the front row, attending the ceremony to elect Madeleine Bonhomme.

Righteous among the Nations who helped hide Joseph Lipkifker. 

Bonhomme Madeleine
Kerkhofs Louis (1878 – 1962 )
Lambrichts Marcel
de Gruyter Louis (1875 – 1946 )
Delannoy Georges
Bonhomme Paul