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The history of the the Basel Synagouge Choir

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The first references to a Jewish male choir in Basel may be found at the end of the 19th century and again in 1903. The records are then silent until the 1920s, when Chief Cantor Max Epstein came to Basel from Frankfurt, and the existence of a synagogue choir has been documented since 1928. Tragically, a synagogue choir which has functioned without interruption for so long a time is, because of the Holocaust, a unique phenomenon in Europe and may be considered a historical miracle.

Indeed, Basel has a very long tradition in Chasanut. The Jewish Community of Basel / IGB (founded in 1805) – a so-called Einheitsgemeinde (‘United Community’) following the German type – is one of the very few in the world to have had in the past and to this day a permanent professional Chasan, (prayer leader or cantor) as well as a synagogue choir performing every Shabbat, on all festivals and on special occasions.

Since its ‘rebirth’ in 1928, the choir has performed together with Chief Cantors Max Epstein, Israel Karmon, Marcel Lang and Issachar Helman, and has played an important role in regular services.

Most Chasanim in Basel are rooted in the eastern-oriented tradition. The Chasanut they have brought with them to Basel reflect more or less the German-Ashkenasy tradition, albeit with an Eastern-European character.

With today’s Chasan, Israel-born Issachar Helman, new melodies have entered into our very large repertoire. Tradition and progress are not contradictory. The resulting tension between old and new, between eastern and western influence, embellishes services in a very special way.

Today, the Choir of The Great Synagogue in Basel consists of 16 amateur male singers under the direction of Michel Uhlmann – a professional conductor and music educationalist. The choir has a very large repertoire both for the regular services in the synagogue and for concerts.

The Choir has appeared on stage in many concerts, performing with famous Chasanim such as Naftali Hershtik, Joseph Malovany, Moshe Stern, Moshe Haschel and many more. It is always a very special moment and brings great satisfaction to the singers to be on stage and to participate in concerts, as we not only bring Jewish liturgical music closer to people, but also give them moments of joy and happiness.

Today, three CDs – MA TOVU & YA’ALEH & Ejtz Chajim – sung by the choir and Issachar Helman, are available on the market.