Shalom Berlinski (1918 - 2008)

By Hervé Roten and Jean-Philippe Amar

Born on January 16th 1918 in Radom, a Polish village about 100 kilometers from Warsaw, Shalom Berlinski is the youngest son in a family of eight children. His father is a shoemaker, he likes to sing in the synagogue and plays violin for his own pleasure.

As a child Shalom Berlinski goes to the synagogue and imitates the vocalizations of the cantor. At 8 years old, he enters the choir of the Great synagogue of Radom and sings the alto part. Progressively, he learns how to read music, and at 10 years old he becomes meshorer, and is charged to accompany almost by improvisation the baal tefillah (the conductor of the prayer).

In 1930 he leaves Poland with his family and settles in France. After a short stay in a primary school of the XVIIIth arrondissement of Paris, he joins the shoe making factory of his father. On the same year he discovers the Great synagogue on the rue de la Victoire, and he is very impressed by the organ, the choirs and the cantor during that time, Mr Henri Kahn.

In 1935 and 1936 he follows singing courses and performs regularly as a solo in the Parisian synagogues for wedding ceremonies. In 1940 he is sent on the front and fights in the Somme. In April 1941 he gets married with Sarah Katz. A few months later, the couple finds refuge near Roanne. After the invasion of the free zone by the nazis, Shalom Berlinski enters a small group of Jewish resistance fighters composed of communists and zionists led by the rabbi Samy Klein. In August 1944 when Paris is freed, the couple goes back to the capital city.

In 1945, Shalom Berlinski goes to the music private conservatory René Muable on rue Lepic, where he will follow for 10 years the vocal technique course of the Italian tenor Umberto Valdarnini, from the Scala of Milan. He follows also singing courses with Maurice Franck, chief conductor at the Opera Garnier.

In 1945 he creates the Jewish Artistic Center with the aim of creating and gathering the repertoire of Jewish music and theater.

In 1946, he performs Hebrew melodies with the National Orchestra directed by Manuel Rosenthal.

In 1948 he is appointed first cantor at the Synagogue of rue de la Victoire (Paris), a position that he will keep during 31 years.

Between 1953 and 1966, he performs several remarkable concerts, particularly at the Gaveau concert hall directed by Eugène Bigot, and at the théâtre des Champs-Elysées, directed by Pierre Dervaux.

From 1959 to 1962-63, he is a producer at the O.R.T.F. (French public radio) and creates with the musicologist Yvonne Tienot and the organ player Jean Bonfils two series of radio broadcasts, “The Bible and the musicians”, dedicated to the musical works inspired by the bible in which he is the main performer.

In parallel of his religious role as a cantor for la Victoire, he teaches between 1957 and 1968 the cantorial art at the Israeli Seminary of rue Vauquelin in Paris, and more specifically the singing of the Torah in the Ashkenazi ritual.

In 1979, he stops to be the main cantor at the synagogue of la Victoire, but continues to sing for varied events until 1998. Victim of a glaucoma in 1972, he looses progressively eyesight. Surrounded with the affection of his wife, son, step daughter and four grand children, Shalom Berlinski dies in Versailles on September 28th 2008.

Discography:
- Kippur and Sabbath prayers, 33 RPM, Ducretet Thompson editions, 1957.
- When Israel prays, double boxset 33 RPM, 1972
- Shalom Berlinski, la voix de la ferveur : Du shtetl à la synagogue de la Victoire, Double CD, in the collection Musical Heritage of Jews from France, volume 3, French Judaism Foundation, Buda Musique editions, 2004.

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