O. spoke about this in his
conversation with Chaver Paver:
"If I were not to
tell you about Eliezer Shteynbarg, the famous
poet and parable writer who influenced my entire
life, the story of my childhood would not be
complete. Eliezer Shteynbarg, my rabbi, my poet,
my leader, my booster, my challenger, my first
acting and musical director. He provided me with
the key to Yiddish and Hebrew literature.
Eliezer Shteynbarg had written a musical play
for children...so I, naturally, because of my
voice, played the eponymous role of Reb Levi
Isaac, as well as of the main devil and a bunch
of other roles."
O. wrote a detailed
account in his article in the June-July edition
of Yidishe Kultur [Yiddish Culture, literary
journal of the left-wing YKUF], "My Teacher
Eliezer Shteynbarg and His Play About Reb Levi
Isaac of Berditshev," in which he excerpts
lengthy sections of the play.
In 1921 O. joined
his father in Canada. En route he lost his
boyish voice. Because his father was unemployed,
O. had to find work: first as a restaurant
dishwasher, then in a laundry in Brighton.
Finally his voice returned and he began to sing
in a number of literary-dramatic clubs. He
became acquainted with the actor Wolf Shumsky
and traveled with him to Winnipeg, Canada, where
he acted in the latter's Yiddish theatre for two
seasons, debuting in Solotorefsky's "The Woman
In 1924-25 he was
granted non-member privileges in the Yiddish
Actors' Union and played in the Montreal Yiddish
Theatre (director -- Isidore Hollander), while
also directing a drama group at the local Jewish
Cultural Center, where he produced works by
[Moishe Leyb] Halpern, [H.] Leivick, [Moishe]
Nadir and others. In the summer of 1928 he
appeared on Yiddish radio broadcasts in
Philadelphia, where his parents had settled, and
was recommended by Hillel Vikhnin to the Yiddish
theatre directors in New York. In 1928-29 he
acted in Brooklyn's Hopkinson Theatre (manager
Louis Weiss), and in 1929-30 with Florence Weiss
in Newark (manager Bernard Elving). In 1930-31
he acted with Florence Weiss in the Lyric Theatre,
and on the 7th of November 1931 he became a
member of the Jewish [Hebrew] Actors' Union. In
1931-32 he acted for Anshel Schorr in
Philadelphia, where he abandoned his
performances in mid-season and set out touring
across the American hinterland. 1932-33 -- for a
short time in Thomashevsky's Gaiety Theatre.
According to Chaim Ehrenreich, Thomashevsky
admired him and called him "my dear little son"
and considered him to be his successor in his
major roles, such as "The Yeshiva Boy," "Bar Kokhba" and others.
Again, O. toured the
hinterlands, returned to New York and concluded
the season at the Amphion Theatre. During a
half-season, 1933-34, he was both manager and
actor at the Amphion, then touring again in
outlying areas and traveling with Florence Weiss
to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he produces
plays previously staged in America: "A Night in
Paris," by Lash and Olshanetsky; "The Great
Celebration," by Moishe Oysher (under the
pseudonym Ben Zelik--son of Zelik) and Wolf Shumsky; and "The Path to Love," and "The
Little-Girl Thief," by Isidore Lillian.
O. then made guest
appearances in Uruguay and Brazil and returned
again to touring all three South American
Zylbercweig, who visited Argentina in 1936,
relates that O.'s appearances two years earlier
were still being spoken about by Yiddish
theatre-goers, and that the songs he sang in the
operettas were still being sung in Jewish homes,
especially "Khasidish [Hasidic] in America" and
"A Zemerl" [A Little Tune] that O. sang as a
duet with Florence Weiss and which were later
Upon returning to
America, O. became a frequent guest on Yiddish
radio, which had been growing significantly. He
appeared at the Lyric Theatre in
Kalmanowitz-Rumshinsky's operetta "That's
Loving," and in 1935 he became the cantor at the
Roumanian Synagogue in New York. As one of the
first actors to transfer from the stage to the
pulpit [Yiddish: bine ariber tsu bime], he encountered,
at first, many great difficulties. Great
controversies and tumult arose among the more
pious worshippers of the synagogue and its
directors, but the sweetness of his praying, the
perfectly traditional modes of his cantorial
singing, quieted his opponents who were
converted into followers.
O. began to switch
from the theatrical boards to the synagogue's
and vice versa. Thus he often appears on Second
Avenue and in other Yiddish theatres.
In June of 1942, at
Chicago's Civic Opera House, there was an
extraordinary "star" performance of "Bar Kokhba,"
with the following participants: Moishe Oysher
as Bar Kokhba, Mikhal Mikhalesko as Eliezer,
Menakhem Rubin as Papus, Betty Simonoff as
Dinah, Celia Adler as Caesar's Wife, Ludwig Satz
O.'s fame as cantor
and soloist grew ever greater in the Jewish
world, and he was more and more frequently engaged
in both capacities across America, Canada,
Europe, South America, South Africa and the Land
of Israel, everywhere achieving huge success.
His voice also
brought him to the world of film, both in
Yiddish and English, where he plays the leading
roles in the sound-films "The Cantor's Son (My
shtetele -- Little Town -- of Belz)," Dovid
Pinski's "Yankl der shmid [Jacob the Smith]," [English: "Overture
to Glory"] produced November 1, 1938 in New
York's Continental Theatre in a specially
prepared adaptation by the author under the
Collective Film Producers, directed by Edgar J.
Ulmer, assisted by Yosif [Joseph] Dymow and Ben-Tzvi
Baratov, music by Jacob Weinberg. In February
1940, at New York's Cameo Theatre, there was the
opening of the sound film, "The Vilna City
Cantor," ["The Little Householder of Vilna"] by
Ossip Dymow [based on Mark Arnstein's play of
the latter name], dialogue by Jacob Glatstein,
directed by Max Nosseck, music by Alexander
As to his
acting in "Yankl der shmid," Ab. Cahan writes:
"...Moishe Oysher is
known as a cantor, and he sings as a cantor
almost throughout the talkie, and that doesn't
work. If he had only quietly and infrequently
introduced cantorial devices, that would be all
right. As it is, however, I don't believe that
his singing will have the success that it might
have had. As to his character portrayal, there's
nothing good to say. A young blacksmith wanders
about, a dandy, wearing fine, shining little
boots. What appears is not a smith, not a dandy,
not a singer. But--as long as it pleases the
crowd, as long as they enjoy it and laugh."
writes [of "The Little Householder of Vilna,"
film title: "The Vilna City Cantor"]:
film achieves success with its acting and
especially in its singing scenes, left entirely
in the hands of Moishe Oysher. In the film his
voice is much stronger and more powerful. Both
in his cantorial work, presented with
specifically Jewish sweetness, and in the arias
of Moniuszko's opera, 'Halka,' his singing rings
beautifully with voice-metality. And he is no
less fine in the dramatic scenes of the Vilna
little householder's pain and suffering.
" Regarding his film
acting in general, Dr. N. Swerdlin writes:
chapter is M.O.'s pioneering in the field of
Yiddish film. True, the movies were primitive and
were not always on a required artistic level,
but they were a novelty and the Jewish audience
was entranced by the Yiddish language in the
mouths of the heroes... His latest movie was
produced in Hollywood [New York and Berlin] as
'Singing In The Dark'...It was difficult to
consider the film as much of a success with the
exception of Moishe Oysher's singing, which was
Moishe Oysher as a cantor, in a Berlin
synagogue, in the film, "Singing in the
Using the name
Walter Lawrence he sang "Russia Is Her Name,"
music by Jerome Kern, on the soundtrack of the
film starring Robert Taylor, and, in 1954,
together with Joey Adams, he made the sound
film, "Singing In The Dark," in which
he acts in
English and sings some songs in English and
Around 1943 --
according to Ehrenreich -- O. signed a contract
with Fortune Gallo to appear with the Chicago
Opera (actually a touring company: San Carlo
Opera Company) as Eliezer in Halevy's "La Juive"
and in Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci." He began to
study the roles with Azloaf Peshia and was
predicted to have a successful career as an
opera singer, but he suffered his first heart
attack and the plan had to be abandoned.
For several years O.
appeared with huge success on radio station WMGM.
Beginning in 1954 O.
has been the cantor of the Pines synagogue in
South Fallsburg [N.Y.] O. sang the
following songs that were recorded:
America" (together with Florence Weiss)
shmid" (music by Jacob Weinberg)
khoylem" (music by Jacob Weinberg)
"Gott iz einer"
"In mayn shtetl"
"A din-torah mit
(music by Moishe Oysher)
Yiddish and English, with the Barry Sisters,
music by Moishe Oysher), and the liturgical
yom-tov" (with a chorus)
And the albums:
Seder Album" (narrated in English by Barry
Gray) that contains:
"Ho Lachmo Anyo"
"Blessing of the
(with Abraham Nadel's chorus, under the
direction of Abraham Ellstein)
Kol Nidre album ["Kol Nidre Night with
Moishe Oysher"] (narrated in English by
Barry Gray), which contains:
["The 24th Psalm of David"
With the Abraham Nadel Chorus, under the
direction of Abraham Ellstein), and "The
Moishe Oysher Chanukah Party," (narrated in
English, by O.'s daughter, Shoshana), which
"Blessing of the Candles"
Soloist--Marilyn Sternberg [Marilyn
Michaels], under the direction of Abraham
regarding the Chanukah record:
"The religious and
traditional approach toward Chanukah naturally
occupies the major role in the record, and its
liturgical portions resound with power and
pathos. But the folk-music aspects were not
overlooked. The prayers interchange with a group
of Yiddish songs...sung by Oysher with charm and
temperament...But over it all there dominates
Moishe Oysher's succulent, resonant voice with
its rich color and authentic nuances...a voice
that has entranced the masses of Jewish
listeners. It is a pity that this last chord was
struck so prematurely."
And Chaim Ehrenreich
poured his heart into this album, along with his
artistic singing -- artistic, because it is so
vocally pure and tastefully selected. There is
the style of the cantor plus that of the folk
song, plus that of Hasidism...Many of the things
that Moishe Oysher sang on the recording are
pearls of many years' standing in his
repertoire. They will now be a part of our
record-culture and recorded repertoire. Moishe
Oysher's tenor voice is rich and warm and
colorful. In this record it attains a depth and
a celebration that affect the listener to the
deepest depths of his emotions. You will not
forget his 'Ani Ma'amin' [I Believe, a confession
of faith] and you need not be ashamed of the
tears you will shed..."
O. put great weight on
the final recording of his Chanukah album. In
reference to it he declared these words to Chaim
"There is a rumor
that I am not well, and that my engagements have
diminished. When you write about this record,
people will lose their fear. When you hear the
record you will know how my voice is doing. I
have never been in better voice than now.
And in a telephone
conversation with Dr. N. Swerdlin, O. declared
"He will do
something important with his new Chanukah
record... O. began to develop something that he
later described as a new theory of his...In
every country in which Jews happened to live in
their long exilic road...they were also
influenced [by the surrounding population] in
the matter of melody and this was reflected in
cantorial music. During the years that Jews have
lived in America...the influence of American
music has not been a minor one.. .His Chanukah
record is, accordingly, a first attempt, a
pioneering effort that will succeed with Jews
and have a good influence on the American-born
youth. He asked...that we not be shocked by the
blending of traditional melodies with jazz... O.
told of his future plans that included a further
series of records."
illness, having suffered several heart attacks
over time, on the advice of doctors he accepted
very few invitations to concertize or perform
cantorial duties during the last period of his
life. Yet, in June of 1958, he appeared in
concert at New York's Town Hall and prepared in
the final days of December to appear at the
National Theatre and planned to settle in a warmer
climate: Florida or California.
who visited him at his home in Scarsdale, N.Y.
in mid-October 1958, reports that O. kept
grabbing at his heart and -- it just happened to
be a happy occasion, his thirteenth wedding
anniversary -- and spoke only of death. Every
topic led to a single climax -- death -- and he
expressed his joy at being lucky to have so
devoted and understanding a wife and a gifted
daughter whom he had raised in a truly Jewish
O. again suffered a
heart attack, a very severe one this time, and
was taken to the hospital in New Rochelle where,
after several days, he died on November 27,
O. was survived by
his wife, Theodora, a pianist who often
accompanied him in concert; their daughter
Shoshana, who was the narrator of the Chanukah
album; his sister Fraydele, a Yiddish actress
and singer, and her husband Aaron Sternberg, a
choral member of the Metropolitan Opera and a
According to his
will, his funeral was truly Orthodox, and the
only eulogist was Rabbi Chaim Porille of the
Roumanian synagogue where O. had begun his
O. was buried in the
Cedar Park cemetery of the [Labor Zionist]
Jewish National Workers Alliance; Two-thousand
people attended the funeral.
characterizes O.'s singing at a concert in
Buenos Aires in this manner:
"...Even when he
interprets cantorial music and projects the
traditional mode of prayer with rich voice
methods, he, Moishe Oysher, is extremely
theatrical. He possesses a ton of effects in his
singing. Hasidic stylistics and Romanian pain
are bound up in his temperament, linked and
embedded, both when he sings cantorial melodies
and when he sings folk songs. The actor always
accompanies him. Slender, with fiery eyes,
romantic, Moishe Oysher can make use of his
figure. At times he is too Jewish, accompanying
himself with gesticulations and hand-movements
as he sings, moving about and hardly able to
keep standing in place. In contrast with all the
classical outer forms of platform singing, he
feels himself to be free on-stage, as an
authentic actor...Between one song and another,
between one prayer and another, he converses
with the audience, announcing the next song,
making some comments that are needed, especially
for certain cantorial tunes; he also permits
himself to be close to the audience, tossing in
a folk-saying and a joke, a little story, a
gesture, a wink -- he addresses his public per
du [in the familiar voice]...In general, Moishe
Oysher ranges in the higher notes, because that
is where he shines, he amazes, where he seizes
ovations from the audience...He is not the
cantor with the thin voice of a lamb. He is the
cantor of cries and lightning-bolts -- he
thunders and flashes...It is simply amazing that
a baritone can sing such high notes, challenging
heroic tenors. His timbre is broad, with much
warmth. His voice resonates in one's heart. But
Moishe Oysher is never satisfied with that and
always allows himself to be accompanied by the
actor, the role-player."
Israel Rabinowitz writes: "...His strength as an
actor lay not so much in his acting as in his
singing. He was blessed with a marvelous
tenor-voice of the finest timbre and was
naturally musically talented. The cantorial
genre lay in his blood and he noshed on it
mightily from his childhood on...At the same
time, he was enchanted with the footlights of
the stage and from the very beginning it seemed
to him that he could bind the two art forms --
cantorial and acting -- into one 'heavenly
match'...When he finally found the courage to
stand before the ark it never occurred to him
that this might mean a farewell to the theatre.
To the contrary, he figured that adding the
theatrical to the cantorial would be welcomed
both by the crowd and by God...So convinced was
he that there is no contradiction between prayer
and theatre that when anyone publicly challenged
him -- as this writer once did -- he would
disdain the critic as someone who didn't know
what he was talking about.
Oysher, the cantor-actor was a typical product
of the specific mishmash in which the Jews in
these [i.e. Western] lands live in the process
of seeking spiritual pleasure...Moishe Oysher,
who came here from his Bessarabian Lipkan as a
child (?), was so thoroughly under the influence
of the "confused sources" in the local
surroundings, that he failed to see where the
contradiction lies. But, in any case, his
singing was heartfelt. It was so both at the
pulpit and on the stage. He possessed all the
necessary 'tools' for it. In some of his films,
such as Der vilner balabesl [The Young
Vilna Householder -- film title: The Vilna City
Cantor], the cantor-actor combination served him
quite well, as it did in certain dramatized
songs from the folksong genre. He was the
darling of many Jews whom he impressed not only
with his golden voice but with his handsome
appearance. Jews will long listen to certain of
his records, especially those that have the
stamp of genuine, not overly theatrical
And the cantor and
writer Yardeini writes:
many like Moishe Oysher wandering the streets --
neither among Jews nor the other peoples of the
world. He was, to speak truly, a raw and
partly-tamed talent, but yet a talent in the
fullest sense of the word. He had, before all
else, a phenomenal voice, a baritone with a
tenor timbre, a fiery temperament, theatricality
-- and above all: a tremendous desire to sing."
Swerdlin characterizes him thus:
"Oysher had much
theatre-blood, a seething temperament, but more
singer than actor. His roles were almost always
connected with singing. As a cantor he quite
quickly moved into the front ranks. As the
'singer of his people' he appeared in concerts
of Yiddish folksongs and gratified the listener.
M.O. was a warm folk-person and therefore he
was so suited to heartily interpret his people's
deals in greater detail with O. as a singer,
actor, person and Jew:
"He was a great
singer -- a singer with a wonderful voice...His
roots, embedded in Lipkan, were never severed.
He was a folk-person, but his personality was
actually complicated, full of contradictions and
psychic labyrinths and entanglements -- an
extraordinarily interesting person. M.O. was
the born bohemian artist; if a person appealed
to him and they shared a goblet of 'lekhayim,'
he was love and goodness personified. In
addition, he had a rare sense of humor; he was
able to laugh at himself. Mostly he laughed with
others, not at them. As a singer, Moishe Oysher
gave of himself to the fullest -- and beyond the
fullest. He was not a disciplined artist. He
allowed his temperament and his feelings to play
too great a role...It was this undisciplined
behavior that finally undermined his health...At
a concert he could sing for hours on end, song
after song, aria after aria, cantorial things,
unsparing of his own energy. He never falsified
nor fooled, but opened all his vocal sluices and
allowed the golden melodies to flow from his
throat to the highest note, even after he
already knew that he was not well and had to be
frugal and contained...He Americanized himself
quickly, learning the English language. However,
he remained a completely Jewish person...He
spoke English, for example, only when he had to
with people who would not understand his
Yiddish. He enrolled his only daughter in the
Mamaroneck Yeshiva and was proud of the fact
that she spoke Yiddish. Moishe's wife, Theodora,
is native born. Moishe spoke Yiddish with her."
Hershl Hartman, 2018.
--Biography in "Di yidishe velt,"
Philadelphia, 30 June 1928.
Musik notisen, dort, 6 July 1928.
Dr. L. Herbert--
Dem khazans zin, "Der yidisher kemfer,"
N.Y., 12 January 1938.
Dort, vu men makht dem film, "Yankl der
shmid," "Morgn frayhayt," N.Y., 11 July
A. Lerman-- "Mayn
shtetele belz," "Unzer ekspres," Warsaw, 22
Kh. Gutman-- Di
naye muvis fun der vakh, "Morning Journal,"
N.Y., 7 Nov. 1938.
Ab Cahan-- Dovid
pinski's "yankl der shmid" als yidishe toki,
"Forward," N.Y., 12 Nov. 1938.
Joel Entin-- "Yankl
der shmid" als film, "Der yidisher kemfer,"
N.Y., 25 Nov. 1938.
Tsvishn shotens, klangen un farben, "Da"ts,"
Buenos Aires, 14 April 1939.
"Yankl der shmid": A shener folkstimlekher
yidisher film, dort, 25 Sept. 1939.
L. Fogelman-- Di
naye yidishe muvi, "Der vilner shtot khazn"
in kemeo teater, "Forward," N.Y., 14
N. Buchwald-- "Der
vilner shtot-khazn"-- a gut gemakhter film,
"Morgn frayhayt," N.Y., 15 February 1940.
Der vilner galebesl, "Der yidisher zhurnal,"
Toronto, 15 February 1940.
"Der vilner shtot-khazn"-- a film, vos kon
zikh gleykhn tsu di beste oyf brodvay, "Der
tog," N.Y., 16 February 1940.
"Der shtodt-khazn," a film fun yidishn
folks-patos, "Morning Journal," N.Y., 23
Chicag hot nokh aza min "bar kokhba"
farshtelung nit gezen, "Forward," Chicago,
19 June 1942.
Einbinder (Khaver-Paver)-- Moishe oysher fun
lipkan iz in holyvood gevorn valter larens,
"Morgn frayhayt," N.Y., 22 June 1943.
Mayn lerer eliezer shteynbarg un zayn shpil
fun r' loy yitzkhak fun barditshev, "Yidishe
kultur," N.Y., June-July, 1944, pp.
Zylbercweig--Nokh 14 yor kumt itst vidr
moishe oysher kayn argtentine, "Da"ts,"
Buenos Aires, 16 June 1948.
Moishe oysher a teatralisher khazn-isher
virtuoz un zinger, "Da"ts," Buenos Aires, 12
oyshr, nit lang fun zid-amerkie, fl-ht kayn
england, "Forward," N.Y., 26 Nov. 1948.
M. Yardeini-- In
der velt fun khazanut, shul un templen,
"Forward," N.Y., 11 May, 27 July 1951.
Lipkan fun amol," Montreal, 1955, pp. 49-50.
Ehrenreich-- Moishe oysher's rekordirter, "Khanukah-party
album," "Forward," N.Y., 28 Nov. 1958.
Ehrenreich-- Moishe Oysher gesht9orbn in
elter fun 51 yor, dort.
oysher, barimter khazn, zinger, geshtorbn,
"Tog-morz"sh," N.Y., 28 November 1958.
Dr. N. Swerdlin--
Moishe oysher-- aktor, khazn un
folks-zinger, dort, 2 Dec. 1958.
Ehrenreich-- Moishe oysher-- der mentsh un
der kinstler, "Forward," N.Y., 3 Dec. 1958.
oysher's khanukah-rekord, "Morgn frayhayt,"
N.Y., 9 Dec. 1958.
Rabinowitz-- Notitsn iber tog-fragn," "New
York Weekly," 30 Dec. 1958.
M. Yud [M.
Yardeini]-- Muzik in teater dort.