New York, NY - Local Chazan Shares Thoughts Of 9/11 Memorial Service With Pope Francis
New York, NY - He has sung at the United Nations, the Knesset and the Capitol Rotunda, but for the Israeli-born cantor who sang at Friday’s interfaith memorial service which included representatives of religious leaders of numerous faiths was an emotionally charged experience.
Cantor Azi Schwartz, who serves as the chazan at the Park Avenue Synagogue, was called upon to make a Kel Maley Rachamim during the poignant memorial service at Ground Zero. Schwartz’s four minute prayer for the fallen, which was translated by a sign language interpreter, was followed by another prayer, this one for peace throughout the world.
The Park Avenue Synagogue shares a warm relationship with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who paid a personal visit to the synagogue last November as a show of support after the Har Nof massacre.
“It was a normal Friday night service with Cardinal Dolan sitting in the back,” Schwartz told VIN News. “At the end, he came to the bima and offered words of comfort and strength.”
Schwartz described the interfaith memorial service as a well organized and orchestrated production and said that both he and the synagogue’s rabbi, Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, spoke at length with the bishop who coordinated the service about what prayer would be most appropriate for the occasion.
“Eventually they selected a memorial prayer plus a prayer for peace, Oseh Shalom,” said Schwartz.
Watch below Cantor Schwartz at 9/11 Memorial Service With Pope Francis.
Schwartz, who grew up in Alon Shevut, is a graduate of Yeshivat Har Etzion. He served as a soloist in the Israeli Defense Forces Rabbinical Troupe and studied music at the Mannes School of Music in New York, the Tel Aviv Cantorial Institute and the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music and Dance.
The 34 year old father of three has worked as the chazan in the Palm Beach Synagogue and the Park East Synagogue and as the assistant cantor at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. The gift of music clearly runs in the family: Schwartz is the son of a musicologist and the grandson of a chazan.
Singing as a cantor at the widely watched memorial service, and representing the Jewish community, was a moving experience for Schwartz.
“It was two days after Yom Kippur and the feeling was the same, a heavy bag sitting on my shoulders emotionally,” said Schwartz. “It was a moment of fear and being humbled and trembling before G-d. It was a big responsibility and a big honor to me. Every time I say a Maley, I think about my family, about where I come from.”
As the grandson of four Holocaust survivors, Schwartz observed that being able to publicly perform as a cantor always stirs up a wide array of feelings.
“It is always there, whether it is at Yad Vashem or the Capitol or the Knesset or the UN,” said Schwartz. “Wherever I am, it is there. It is a great sense of pride and victory and also a great sense of humility.”
The opportunity to take part in the interfaith service brought with it many memorable moments.
“The idea of religious leaders getting together, that we all felt we were there for the same purpose was special,” said Schwartz. “Having a bunch of religious leaders standing there in one room for two hours, all looking for WiFi and chargers for our iPhones, that was a very human moment. Being there at the 9/11 memorial and speaking to family members and survivors and hearing their stories was very powerful.”
Schwartz credited the pope for serving as the catalyst for an opportunity to foster greater unity between religious leaders and shared his thoughts on his brief exchange with Pope Francis.
“He struck me as a person of great humility,” said Schwartz. “We spoke for a second and the way he complimented my singing - he didn’t see me as Cantor Azi Schwartz, just as a human being.”
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