For The Love of Pure Khazones

Cantor Yitzchak Helfgot Gives Itzhak Perlman Goosebumps

More Nigunim, Maestros: Perlman and Helfgot’s new CD honors the music Perlman loved
Lisa-Marie Mazzucco
More Nigunim, Maestros: Perlman and Helfgot’s new CD honors the music Perlman loved

By Jon Kalish

Published September 12, 2012, issue of September 14, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Few outside the world of cantorial music know the name Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, but when Itzhak Perlman listens to the Brooklyn-based cantor’s tenor, he gets goose bumps. Perlman, who has had a love of khazones, synagogue chants, since his boyhood in Tel Aviv, compares Helfgot to Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti, two opera giants with whom he has also recorded.

“Helfgot just opens his mouth and gold comes out,” Perlman declared during an interview with the Forward at his home in the Hamptons, while seated in an electric scooter in his spacious living room. “I love the timbre of his voice.”

Helfgot is a Ger Hasid who performs around the globe when he’s not serving as head cantor of Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue. He is widely considered to be the pre-eminent practitioner of the cantorial art alive today.


Listen to a podcast on the new album:


“What people get so excited about is that he’s a throwback to all the great cantors during the early 20th century,” said Russell Ger, the musical director at Park East Synagogue. “Suddenly out of nowhere, after generations of having great cantors but not with the weight and gravitas of the old guys, Helfgot emerges, and he has this voice that just stuns people.”

Perlman’s wife, Toby, who co-founded the Long Island-based Perlman Music Program with Suki Sandler to train young string musicians, first tipped off Perlman to Helfgot’s vocal abilities. She had heard her Bible class teacher rave about the cantor. When Itzhak Perlman was in Tel Aviv a couple of years ago to conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, he saw Helfgot perform with the orchestra the following evening. After the concert, the violinist made a point of going backstage to meet the cantor, and he proposed that they get together back in New York. Helfgot called it a dream come true to record with the man he considers “the high priest of music.”

Perlman brought in Hankus Netsky, leader of Boston’s Klezmer Conservatory Band and who worked on the violin virtuoso’s foray into klezmer music in 1995, to arrange and co-produce the “Eternal Echoes” CD, which was released September 4. Perlman, Helfgot, Netsky, members of the KCB and a 20-piece chamber orchestra recorded the album in Avatar Studios, where Bruce Springsteen recorded the album “Born To Run.”

Netsky called it the most thrilling experience he has had in a recording studio, and noted that the role Perlman played in the project was markedly different from the one he played with the klezmer bands he collaborated with in the wake of “In the Fiddler’s House,” a special that aired on the Public Broadcasting Service. Perlman and four American klezmer bands, including the KCB, the Klezmatics and Andy Statman, recorded two CDs — one in a studio and another before a live audience at Radio City Music Hall — and toured in North America and Europe. In that collaboration, Netsky says, Perlman was learning from the klezmorim. But in the project with Helfgot, Perlman ran the show.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.