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Benefit Concert For F.R.E.E.

By Basha Oka

Abraham Presman, the internationally acclaimed cantor who has been performing to a packed shul in Brighton Beach during the yom tovim, will sing a special benefit concert for the Friends Of Refugees Of Eastern Europe (F.R.E.E.) on Sunday, October 20 at I p.m. at the Hebrew Alliance of Brighton Beach, 2915 Brighton 6th Street.

No less a luminary than the late Jan Peerce first recognized Presman’s unusual vocal gifts and sent him to study with his teacher.

Although Presman comes from a musical family, it took him a while to become serious about a career as a chazan. True, his father and grandfathers had been chazans and his great grandfather on his mother’s side was a particularly famous chazan in the Ukraine.

Presman recalls how his father, who davened Sephardi nusach, took him aside when he was nine years old and placed a Chabad siddur in his hands. “From now on you will daven with this,” he said, “because without Chabad in Russia you will not survive as a Jew.”

Presman became very devoted to learning and did not think -of chazonus as a way to make a living until he was married and living in Israel. A big shul in Netanya engaged him for the High Holy Days, and paid him a considerable sum of money for the job.

After this, Presman decided to become serious about chazonus. He applied to Israel’s Ruben Academy of Music, which accepted him and awarded him a scholarship. He was too religious to perform in operatic scenes with females, but his teachers managed to find a scene in Benjamin Britten’s “Beggar’s Opera” in which only men appeared.

Presman’s star rose as he became chief cantor at the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv, and was then hired by the Great Synagogue of Ramat Gan, at that time, the most important cantorial position in all of Israel. It was there, Presman says, that he really became a chazan.

He has performed all over the world, including important synagogues in England and South Africa

Two years ago when Rabbi Even-Yisroel (formerly Adin Steinsaltz) established a yeshiva connected with the Russian Academy of Science, Presman temporarily gave up his career to go and teach there. While in Moscow, he performed with the all male choir of the Moscow Synagogue, which he calls “outstanding.” He hopes to perform with them again in the States on their upcoming tour. In the meantime, he made a recording of cantorial pieces with them, which is now available on compact disc.

Rabbi David Hollander of the Hebrew Alliance of Brighton Beach says Presman’s sojourn there during the yom tovim “has been a tremendous drawing card for the Russian population. Over a thousand jammed the shul to hear him.” He notes that for such a great talent, Cantor Presman did not stand aloof, but made the crowd feel close to him.

Rabbi Hollander, Gabbai Shmuel Cohen, and the Board of Directors of the Hebrew Alliance donate the shul free of charge to F.R.E.E. for Shabbos and yom tovim. Rabbi Hollander says the programs F.R.E.E. has initiated for Russian Jews “have brought a very great simcha, not only to the shul, but to the whole neighborhood.”

True to its acronym, F.R.E.E. programs are free to Russian Jews, and include free circumcisions, bar mitzvah preparations, weddings, Russian-language publications on Judaism, pidyan habens, youth clubs, religious articles, and more. At the Hebrew Alliance and other shuls in the area, F.R.E.E. offers classes in Hebrew and English that include information about Judaism.

At Sunday’s benefit concert for F.R.E.E., Cantor Presman will perform a varied program, including art songs, operatic arias cantorial pieces, and Yiddish favorites. Tickets are available at the Hebrew Alliance of Brighton Beach on the day of the concert. To purchase tickets in advance at other Brooklyn locations, contact F.R.E.E. at 1383 President St., B’klyn, NY. The October 20 benefit concert is the last chance to hear Cantor Abraham Presman perform this season.

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