Moishe Oysher was celebrated as a serious and vocally gifted hazzan and also as an exciting stage and film performer. Born in Lipkon (Lipkany), Bessarabia, to a family that boasted six generations of cantors, he was drawn to the stage even as a child. In 1921 he joined a traveling Yiddish theatrical troupe in Canada, appeared with them in New York, and eventually led his own troupe on a South American tour. Still, he never abandoned his affinity for hazzanut or his extraordinary talent for highly emotional liturgical expression, and he created a sensation when he officiated as cantor for the High Holy Days at the prestigious pulpit of the First Rumanian Synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side. His cantorial concerts at that synagogue also attracted a considerable public following, as did his numerous recordings, and he served other important pulpits in the New York area as well. Oysher starred in three major Yiddish films: Der Vilner Shtot Khazn (Overture to Glory), in which he played and sang the role of the legendary cantor known as “the Vilner Balabesl” (Hazzan Joel David Lowenstamm); Dem Khazn’s Zindl (The Cantor’s Son), based loosely on his own life; and Yankl der Shmid (The Singing Blacksmith), based on David Pinski’s story.
By: Neil W. Levin