The road to a successful career in music—and Jewish music in particular—is anything but easy. As in most cases, the role that parents play in the success of a music artist is near impossible to quantify, but cannot be understated.
With Father's Day just days away, we asked Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi a few questions about the role his father played in the cantor's incredible career in Jewish music. Like the Hazzan's soulful voice, his answers made us laugh and cry.
Enjoy the entire touching interview below, listen to the music of Hazzan Mizrahi, and share your own stories of fathers and Jewish music.
The Mizrahi Family: Moisis, Belina and Alberto
Stockman in a fabric shop in Athens, Greece, and then in Cleveland, OH, when we moved to the U.S.A. in 1956.
My father, Moisis Mizrahi, from a very poor family originating in Izmir, Turkey, was born and grew up on the island of Chios, Greece (a very short distance from Izmir). He was the strongest man I have ever met, and having also been a survivor of Auschwitz, a quiet man. His love was as strong as my mother's love and I grew up blessed to have them as parents. My mother was my strong influence toward music. She had a beautiful voice and had attended the Odeon Music School in Athens until the Nazis entered the city. It was she that convinced my father to move us to the Unites States… and that made whatever I have become over the years possible.
My father and Jewish music only met when I entered the JTS Cantors Institute (now the H.L. Miller School). My parents lived in Cleveland and I went to Yeshiva in Skokie, IL, before entering the Jewish Theological Seminary. He was immensely proud of my accomplishments and when my mother, Belina, died very young (53) would move to each city that I served as Hazzan and attended services every Shabbat and Yom Tov. The feeling that I owed so much to him and my departed mother was the strongest driving force to working to make myself the best that I could be.
Having come from a very poor family, and through a life of horrible realities realized, my studying music and voice seemed like a miracle to him. On the other hand, his life experiences always effected him with doubt every time I would accept a new position. I was very happy and content that I could keep him nearby (he always lived alone… could not imagine being a burden).
I believe he was proud every time he heard me in prayer. I have no doubt that when I started singing with orchestras and in recitals around the world, he had something to talk about to his friends in synagogue. My father died at age 92 and had the chance to hear my recording with Dr. Levin and the great choir, of the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf. He had most of my 40 CD's and played them all the time.
Read more on Mussaf Service for Rosh Hashanah
This is a tough question. I believe he was most moved with the High Holy Days. In terms of emotion and pathos, I cannot imagine a setting more moving than to see his son on the bimah of a large synagogue with thousands of people praying together. I am also sure he was particularly moved by my performances of "Chants Mystiques" and a few years later with Maestro Penderecki (7 Gates of Jerusalem).
I have made it a point to sing authentic Ladino songs in a pure form of the art (even playing the tof/doumbeq). He spoke Ladino all his life (not at home, because my mother only spoke Greek and English). I fell in love with this music a long time ago and have performed it in both recitals of the genre, or simply by including a few in my recitals around the world.
As an only child, I was coddled and given unremitting love by both my parents for as long as they lived. I always wonder if I gave them as much, no matter how much I loved them and still do. As one grows in a musical career, the sacrifices are often most paid by his/her family. The main reason I gave up opera (right after I understudied Luciano Pavarotti in "Ballo in Maschera" with the Miami Opera) was: 1. because I realized that I could never sing at that level (yes, I have an ego… but am also a realist) and 2. because of the difficulties that life presents to your family on all counts. I am content that my father's connection to Jewish music was his son on the bimah! It makes me feel that perhaps I have given back, a bit, for the sacrifices he and my mother made all those years ago to help their son succeed.
Spotlight Series: Cantor Alberto Mizrahi
This Father's Day, we thank every father who has sacrificed, served as inspiration, been a supporter and acted as a champion of their child's dreams—even ones as audacious as a career in Jewish music.
Do you have a story to share? Was there a time when Jewish music played an important role in an experience with your father? We would love to hear from you! (We might even share your experiences on our social media channels.)