Cantor embarking on new religious journey
December 11, 2012 | Jack Borenstein - Correspondent
Cantor Aaron Bensoussan will be a special guest singer at a Chanukah music concert being held Dec.13, featuring Israeli singer Gad Elbaz, at Uptown Chabad Lubavitch at the national headquarters of B’nai Brith Canada. His exemplary work will come full circle in the next few years as he prepares to become a rabbi.
The 58-year-old Torontonian was born in Mogador, Morocco, and has a rich religious background. His grandfather Haim David Bensoussan was the chief rabbi of Morocco “and I inherited his angelic lyrical tenor voice,” said Bensoussan. He learned liturgical modes and melodies of piyyutim (liturgical poems) from his father and local musicians at a young age. He was sent to New York City in 1968 to follow in the footsteps of his brother Isaac who had become a rabbi.
“Arriving in the US was a big shock and such a different world. My brother took me to a yeshiva and I was awed by their loud and intense praying.”
When Bensoussan heard Cantor David Koussevitzky sing at Temple Emanu-El in Boro Park he wanted to become a cantor. He sang at weddings and Israel night clubs and subsequently attended NYC’s Jewish Theological Seminary graduating as a cantor.
“My first assignment was at Temple Beth Sholom in Rosslyn, Long Island, where I worked for 11 years. Wanting to become more spiritual I came to Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue in Toronto, one of the most traditional conservative shuls, and worked there for 11 years.”
He has been a cantor the past two High Holidays at Uptown Chabad and is very impressed by Rabbi Moshe Steiner “who is such a forward thinking and innovative religious leader who brings a lot of joy and simcha to the prayer services and his Uptown Chabad congregants.”
Bensoussan has listened to Elbaz’s songs, which combines religious, hip hop and reggae.
“Elbaz could’ve been a mainstream performer but turned to G-d’s way and has become an excellent singer.”
Bensoussan’s music combines Ashkenazi cantorial, Sephardic liturgical along with Near Eastern rhythms, flamenco and jazz. Over the years he has performed in impressive international venues like the Moscow Choral Synagogue, The Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, Heichal Hatarbut concert hall in Tel Aviv and Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Bensoussan this past November performed at the Arab World Festival of Montreal at Place des Arts along with a Muslim Sufi singer and a Gregorian chant master.
“It was the first time this event added someone from the Jewish faith. The highlight was the three of us together doing vocal improvisations of ‘Shalom Aleichem’ in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin. We all embraced at song’s end and the audience gave us a standing ovation.”
Bensoussan’s current sixth CD, A New Journey, will soon be available at CDBaby.com and combines different music genres such as rock and roll, jazz, blues, middle eastern Sephardic, Ashkenazic and flamenco.
“This CD reflects my new Jewish religious journey and its’ lead song is called Tov Lehodot (meaning ‘it is good to give thanks to G-d’ and can be heard at www.aaronbensoussan.com). We are all on a spiritual journey and no matter where we are it is important to thank Hashem for all we have.”
He is studying daily at North York-based Kollel Yismach Moshe and stated, “I feel my life is coming full circle because I am able to sing and compose full time and am also studying for Smicha (to become a rabbi). Rabbi Mordechai Lebhar (head of Kollel) is a unique and very learned individual. My joy is going there to learn every day.”
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