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Cantor Weiss and wife Roz committed to chazzanut, one-on-one outreach

Cantor Moshe and Roz WeissCantor Moshe and Roz Weiss are one of those couples who have been together so long and know each other so well that they finish each other’s sentences.

Roz knows as much about Moshe’s family history as he does — maybe even more.  And each one is prouder of the other’s professional accomplishments than they are of their own. They are each other’s biggest fans.

The walls of the Weisses’ spacious, tasteful Berkshires at Lowry apartment comprise a museum of the life they have built, individually and together.

Early days

First, there are photos of Cantor Weiss’ father and grandfather.

Moshe Weiss was born in Romania. He came to New York with his family in 1937 at age 8. His family consisted of his father, who was a shochet, his mother, a brother and a sister.

From the age of 13, Moshe was involved in the world of chazzanut (cantorial arts), singing and learning with many choirs with great cantors. He had his first High Holiday position at age 14, setting the stage for a career that has spanned 70 years.

He was a soloist with the famous Meir Machtenberg Choir and sang with such well known cantors as Pinchik, Waldman, Kwartin, Yoselle Rosenblatt and Moshe Oysher.   At 21, Weiss was the chazzan at the prestigious Bais Hamedrash Hagadol on Eldridge St., on New York’s East Side.

He sang at weddings and other events; this helped pay for school. He graduated from Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn.  Cantor Weiss is not only a trained chazzan, but he is an ordained rabbi. He received his smicha (rabbinic ordination) from Yeshiva Chasan Sofer of New York. On top of that he’s also a “doctor,” if you count the honorary doctorate he received from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2007.

While going to school, Cantor Weiss also worked at Temple Sinai in Philadelphia, followed by a tenure at Ahavas Israel of Oak Lane, also in Philadelphia.

One evening in 1951, Moshe Weiss, age 22, was hanging out on the Rockaway Boardwalk in Queens in what was unofficially the “religious section” with other young Jews. There he met 16-year-old Roslyn “Roz” Kaplan.

Roz, a Brooklyn native, was only three when she lost her mother. Consequently, she was raised by her maternal grandparents, and was an only child. At age 17, Roz found herself in the position of nursing her ailing grandmother until two days before her death.

Her grandmother’s death left Roz alone in the world with the exception of her beau Moshe Weiss.  Moshe’s father said to his son something to this effect: “Look, she’s an orphan now, and a nice girl. You know you want to marry her, so you might as well do it sooner than later.”

Moshe heeded his father’s advice and on Sept. 23, 1951, just after the first Selichos and days before Rosh Hashanah, Roz Kaplan and Moshe Weiss were wed, creating a marriage still going strong 62 years later.

When the Weisses married, Roz joined her husband in Philadelphia, where he continued to go to school and work at Ahavas Israel.

Roz went to Temple University for awhile, but she “was always more interested in the business world” — an aptitude that would serve her well many years later. She left Temple and went to work for a wholesale shoe company.

The fledgling young Weiss couple was taken in by the congregants of Ahavas Israel. “They all became my parents,” Roz recalls. “They looked after me. They taught me how to become a hostess, a cook, an auxiliary lady and a working gal. I’ve always been a multi-tasker.”

Family

Then, on the Weisses’ walls are photos of their daughters and granddaughters. In July, 1955, Moshe and Roz became the parents of Cheryl “Cher.”

Cher was multiply disabled from birth. She was blind, and sustained what Roz describes as “motor damage.”

“When Cher was born, the doctors told us to put her in an institution,” Roz recalls. “We looked at them like they were out of their minds.”

There was no way that Roz and Moshe Weiss would give up the care of their precious daughter to strangers.  In fact, they kept Cher at home and nurtured her into as independent a person as she could be, given the nature of her disabilities. Cher, now 58, lives with her parents to this day.

“She does whatever we do, and goes wherever we go. She goes on vacations with us, and that has included Israel and cruises.”

Daughter Karen came along in December, 1957, six months before Moshe and Roz made a move that would change and define the rest of their lives.

Cantor Weiss was asked to become the chazzan at Beth Joseph synagogue, a traditional shul at 8th Ave. and Holly St., on Denver’s East Side. Beth Joseph, led by Rabbi Daniel Goldberger, was burgeoning with post-war baby boomers and their parents, and this new, young cantor was the next step in the congregation’s growth.

For the Weisses, whose lives had been mostly restricted to the East Coast, the thought of moving out West to Denver was daunting.

“Ve iz Denver? — Where is Denver?” asked Cantor Weiss’ parents, in Yiddish.

“Before we got here, people would tell us [from back East] , ‘put on your long underwear!’” Roz recalls.

But once they got here  — in January, no less — they found they didn’t need their long underwear, but instead found warmth, both socially and meteorologically.

“Three people met me at the airport,” says Cantor Weiss, “Sam Pepper, William “Vilu” Hochstadt and Sam Shames.

“I was wearing a heavy coat and a scarf; they were wearing light jackets!”

“From the airport, I saw the mountains, and the gorgeous blue skies. We drove down Monaco; it was so gorgeous, and people were watering their lawns in January!”

From that point, the cantor was sold.

The Weisses drove cross country from Philadelphia to Denver, with their two young daughters in tow.

Roz had some difficulty adjusting to life in Denver; it was so different from what she was accustomed to in the East. She wanted to “go home” after Cantor Weiss’ initial two-year contract was up.

Well, within that two-year period, the Weisses began building relationships. People reached out to the young family, and the Weisses reached back. Roz put the hostess and cooking skills she learned from her mentors in Philadelphia to good use, as they opened their home to visitors nearly every Shabbos.

Their first home was at 6th Ave. and Monaco Pkwy.; then they moved to Cedar Ave. and Jersey St.

The cantor would find people who were alone and invited them, along with 12-15 other people to join his family. That set the stage for the next 55 years for the Weisses to develop their reputation for hospitality and informal outreach, and it continues to this day.

While Cantor Weiss built his career at Beth Joseph, Roz raised her daughters.

Cher became an avid skier, and was active in the Blind Ski Program. Her hobbies have included bowling and music.

Karen graduated from Hillel Academy and Colorado Academy. She received her undergraduate degree from Washington University, and her medical degree from CU

Karen became a gynecologist. She is married to Dr. Robert Weinberg, an anesthesiologist, and they live in Atlanta. They have two daughters Natalie, a vocalist who attends the University of Indiana, and Dayna, who is studying hotel management at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.


Cantorial career

Framed certificates, articles, plaques and photos on the Weiss’ wall are mementos of the long, respected career that Cantor Weiss has enjoyed in Denver and around the country.

He served at Beth Joseph from 1958 to 1980, and during and since that time, he has trained more than 5,000 Bar and Bat Mitzvah students, and officiated at thousands of weddings and funerals.

He remembers in Beth Joseph’s heyday performing three weddings on a single Sunday. “I ran from Beth Joseph to the Alliance and back to Temple Emanuel in time for all the ceremonies.”

At Beth Joseph, Cantor Weiss created a men’s choir which rivaled its East Coast and European counterparts. The choir was a source of pride for the congregation — and not easy to get into.

Indeed, Cantor Weiss was Denver’s version of the classic, old world cantors, with his strong and controlled yet dramatic tenor voice. To this day, it’s nearly impossible not to tear up when hearing Cantor Weiss sing the E-l Male Rachamim at a funeral.

For many years, Cantor Weiss’ official photo in the Intermountain Jewish News was a Norm Bloom portrait of him wearing the classic, tall “chazzunishe” hat. He is definitely proud of his art and those on whose shoulders he stands as he perpetuates the grand traditions of synagogue music.

While Cantor Weiss loves singing and adding beauty to services and ceremonies, he particularly relishes teaching, imparting synagogue skills to young people and adults alike. He recalls the example of a community leader who needed to observe a yarhrzeit, and wanted to do more than merely recite the Kaddish. The cantor taught the man how to daven and lead the service for his loved one’s yahrzeit. He was but one example of those who grew as Jews from Cantor Weiss’ special brand of tutelage.

When he left Beth Joseph in 1980 to go into business — he and Roz owned Stockade Liquors on Parker Road, 1980-1990 — he says Rabbi Goldberger begged him not to leave. (Rabbi Goldberger himself had left Beth Joseph to pursue pastoral counseling, but had maintained a keen interest in Beth Joseph.)

Stories of rabbis and cantors who do not get along have been the fodder for many an urban myth in communities throughout the country. Many may be rooted in truth, but not so with Rabbi Daniel Goldberger and Cantor Moshe Weiss.

“We were the best of friends,” the cantor says. “We took trips together and got along beautifully. When he passed away, we were heartbroken. He was like my brother.”

The warm relationship continues as the Weisses reach out to Rabbi Goldberger’s widow Ida with invitations for Shabbos and holidays.

While his tenure at Beth Joseph ended in 1980, Cantor’s Weiss’ cantorial career continued to flourish. He remained a Bar and Bat Mitzvah tutor and the cantor of choice for countless weddings and funerals in Denver, and he was sought after for the High Holidays at synagogues around the country.

He enjoyed a particularly long and warm High Holiday tenure at Congregation B’nai Jacob in Charleston, West Virginia, for nearly two decades. At Cantor Weiss’ final service at B’nai Jacob in 2012, Rabbi Victor Urecki delivered a passionate, heartfelt farewell to the chazzan, whom he called his “chaver” — friend: “You have built an extraordinary relationship with each and every one of us, even though you are only here four or five days a year.”

A career highlight for Cantor Weiss was receiving an honorary doctorate from Jewish Theological Seminary in 2007.

Boutique Judaica

Wall space in the Weiss home not occupied by photos and memories is adorned with carefully placed colorful, contemporary Jewish artwork. One might wonder how this couple amassed such an impressive collection of Judaic art. Well, they had an “in” . . .

One day in 1977, Roz and Moshe were having breakfast with their close friends Ralph and Carolyn Auerbach.

Roz was telling them of the beautiful Judaica — art and ritual objects — that she had recently seen in people’s tiny apartments back East. She commented that it was ironic that many people in Denver had huge, beautifully appointed homes with nothing more than simple, green patina mezuzzahs on their doorposts. These homes, she felt, deserved the aesthetics offered by the artful, modern Judaica she saw in the East.

Ralph Auerbach, a businessman, suggested that Carolyn and Roz  go into the Judaica business. He wasn’t just making conversation; he meant it. Auerbach took a drive down Hampden Ave., where he saw a for lease sign at Happy Canyon Shopping Center.

Next thing they knew, Roz Weiss and Carolyn Auerbach were co-owners of Boutique Judaica, in which they carried higher-end Jewish ritual objects for the home, as well as prints, sculptures and other works of art.

The two ladies built Boutique Judaica into more than a Judaica store; it became an information center for many — newcomers to the Denver area, newcomers to Judaism and even non-Jews. At Chanukah and Passover times, the line of customers and information seekers went out the door.

Roz always enjoyed sharing her knowledge of Jewish life with her customers, and many came in just to chat between the times they needed to shop.

“I made so many friends and contacts.  Some became lifelong friends.”

Among the customers at Boutique Judaica were messianic Jews. While Roz held back on expressing judgment on their religious beliefs, she never hesitated to show them the beauty and fulfillment of authentic Judaism, and is proud that she and her husband helped “save some messianics,” and brought them back into the fold.  They are particularly proud of and close to a family who not only embraced their true Jewish roots, but became totally observant and now live in Ramat Beit Shemesh, an Orthodox enclave near Jerusalem.

Roz and Carolyn ran Boutique Judaica side-by-side for some 35 years until March of this year. Carolyn had stepped back from the day-to-day management to care for her ailing husband in recent years. (Ralph Auerbach passed away in January, 2013.) The economy over the past few years had also taken its toll; people didn’t have the discretionary income for luxury Judaica items like they had in the past.

Roz says she misses her customers and looks back on the store’s 35-year run with pride and satisfaction.

THESE days, things appear to have slowed down — just a bit — for Cantor and Roz Weiss. The cantor still tutors Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and officiates at lifecycle events. Ever the balabusta, Roz still keeps an immaculate home, extending her signature hospitality for Shabbos and holidays, and of course, they continue to provide loving care to their daughter Cher.

Cantor Weiss is 84 and Roz is 79, and both say they don’t feel their ages at all.

When asked how they’ve made their marriage work for more than six decades, Cantor Weiss quips — but with some seriousness, “I always listen to my wife.”

Roz doesn’t disagree.

Looking back, Roz is candid with her “mixed emotions” about their 55 years in Denver.

She feels that had her husband stayed on the East Coast, he would have been one of the hugely successful luminaries in the world of chazzanut.

But that regret is superceded by her feeling that “Denver is such a beautiful place, and we have built a wonderful extended family around us. It’s been a wonderful place to live and raise our children.”

Copyright  2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News

 



Chris Leppek

IJN Assistant Editor | ijnews@aol.com


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