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There were many highlights in the Jewish Heritage Centre’s “Musical Legacy” program, which was held in the Berney Theatre on Monday evening, April 18, but the segment that left the most lasting impression on this writer was also probably the silliest.

It came when seven former members of Cantor Benjamin Brownstone’s (a.k.a. Chazan Bronshtein”) choir took a break from singing to reminisce about their days in the choir.
Led by Allan Finkel, who took upon himself the task of describing to the audience what it was like to be a member of one of Brownstone’s choirs, each of the six men on stage was asked to reveal the nickname that Brownstone had given him when he was in the choir.
Now remember, there were only boys in those choirs, and it was usually around the age of eight that Brownstone would start drafting youngsters into them (much like British press gangs grabbing young men for the navy). The nicknames invariably were “apropos of nothing”, as one might say, but some 50+ years later, those nicknames remain  carved into the psyches of many aging males.
Some of the nicknames were downright cruel, others were hilariously crazy. Here, in no particular order are the nicknames given to each of the guys who appeared on stage together last Monday:
Allan Finkel: “Chai Vekayam”
Alecs Chochinov (in a barely audible voice): “Peeper...(something)”
Sid Hochman: “Shrekl Kukl”
Carey Boroditsky: “Yemenite”
Perry Rubenfeld: “Rat #2” (Perry’s older brother, Cary, naturally was “Rat #1”, Perry explained.)
Marshall Dana: “Hey you!”

Now, rather than leaving you with the impression that the program was non-stop hilarity, it wasn’t, but it did have a light touch running throughout. Put together by musician Sid Robinovitch and occasional playwright Bruce Sarbit, the idea was to combine stories from years past with musical performances by younger and older performers – all giving a taste of Winnipeg’s Jewish musical legacy.
Emcees Linda Freed and Brian Richardson provided a running narration describing the origins of our community’s vast musical heritage. They explained that the program was being held in conjunction with the Jewish Heritage Centre’s current exhibit on Winnipeg synagogues.
The program began with Michael Eskin performing “R’Tzei”. Eskin was followed by the aforementioned “Brownstone Boys”.
And, although it may seem crass to repeat a story that was told during the “Brownstone Boys” time on stage, nobody ever accused me of being tasteful, so here goes:
Carey Boroditsky, whose father was famed cantor David Boroditsky, recalled that, any time during choir practice that he had to excuse himself to go to the bathroom, Brownstone would give Carey a picture of his father to take with him. I think you get the ‘picture’.
According to another source, moreover, Brownstone kept a ready supply of pictures of other Winnipeg cantors to give to the boys when they had to go to the bathroom. Is this story for believing? I await further confirmation. As they say: “I’d like to get to the ‘bottom’ of this.”

To return to the musical program – the next act in the program featured the energetic young members of “Dor Chadash”, Shaarey Zedek Cantor Anibal Mass’s adolescent and pre-adolescent singing group. The seven members of “Dor Chadash” engaged in a spirited version of “Hinei Mah Tov”, which had members of the audience clapping along. (Isn’t that a really hackneyed description of what went on? What else would you have expected – that audience members would boo those eager youngsters?)

Finally, the engaging duo of Tracy Kasner Greaves and Len Udow appeared on stage together. Unfortunately, as Udow explained, Rabbi Alan Green, who was also scheduled to perform with them, was unable to appear.
As Udow tuned his ever-present guitar, he told his own life story, explaining how, as an 11-year-old, he was first brought into Cantor Brownstone’s choir. As Udow told his story – of leaving Winnipeg at 17, and not just leaving his city, but his Jewish heritage as well, he recalled the epiphany he had when he heard Tracy Kasner Greaves singing “Mizmor LeDavid”.
“I always thought that being Jewish was a very personal thing,” Udow said. “You have to go to synagogue, you have to go to the community centre, but in Talmud Torah they taught us that a Jew can be a Jew all over the world – in one’s own home. All you need is a little siddur and you take some time to davven and lay tefilin. You go to synagogue, I guess, and have some ‘Bronfman’, some herring, bagels…so all these melodies are interwoven through this journey of mine.”

Tracy Kasner Greaves’ segment of the program was described as “Personal reflection” – and Tracy certainly lived up to that billing. In a very revealing, often poignant reminiscence describing the often reluctant path she took that led her to her present position as cantor of Etz Chayim Congregation, Tracy admitted that “I knew that I could sing and, unfortunately, everyone around me knew that I could sing.
“I use the word ‘unfortunately’ because it followed me around all the time: ‘Sing, Tracy, sing.’
“But, when I was growing up, it bothered me. I didn’t actually like to sing, I didn’t like to perform.”… I was always the kid who would never get on stage, I didn’t want to sing…I just knew that I could sing because everyone kept telling me that all the time.”
Fast forward a few years and Tracy found herself working at the Shaarey Zedek, where the cantor there at the time, (Sanford Cohen), suggested that Tracy should consider becoming a cantor. It was also at that time that Tracy met Marcy Dempsey, who was program director of Shaarey Zedek in the 1990s.
Tracy was living in Calgary with her husband, David, when two events transpired. One was the amalgamation of three synagogues (the Beth Israel, Bnay Abraham, and Rosh Pina) into one new synagogue; the other was hearing that her friend, Marcy Dempsey, was gravely ill.
Returning home to audition for the position of cantor of the newly formed Etz Chayim, Tracy said that, when she got off the flight from Calgary, she planned on going to her parents’ house first, but was told that she should go directly to the hospital to see Marcy.
“When I walked into the room, “there’s two circles of people around her, and as soon as I walked in, they said ‘Sing, Tracy, sing.’
“And I did. At last I had an answer to my question. I had a reason to sing – other than the sound of my voice. I realized what a voice should do to a room, how music is a tool, and how music can be used to soothe, to celebrate, to teach, to comfort – and that’s when I found my voice.
“It was a moment that changed my life, as I was singing ‘Etz Chaim He’ – I sang right to her – and that was the last moment of her life.”
With that story in mind, Tracy launched into a rendition of “Mizmor LeDavid”, for which she, herself, composed a new melody.

(You can watch a complete video of Len Udow’s and Tracy Kasner’s speeches, along with their musical performances, in the Videos section this website at

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