In the earlier part of this century, when provincial communities flourished, some of the finest Chazanim in Britain were to be found engaged by large congregations in various parts of the country. Amongst them was Chazan Aryeh Garbacz who served the Southend and Westcliff Hebrew Congregation from 1930 for nearly 53 years!
Chazan Garbacz was born in Rovno, Lithuania, and was already singing in public by the age of eight. He received his education at the Yeshivot in Novograd, Volinsk and Rovno and was taught Chazanut and voice production by several Chazanim who were well-known at the time, including the great Zeidel Rovno.
As a youngster he officiated at many different Shuls, and was invariably accompanied by a choir, which he took with him. At the age of 20 he was appointed to his first post as Chazan Rishon at the Great Rovno Synagogue.
During his army service he learned to play the trombone and, through the intervention of the Rav of his community, while he did his army service, he continued to serve as Chazan in Rovno.
He was next appointed Chazan at the Beth Medrash Hagadol in Brest-Litvosk, where the Rav was the famous R. Velvele Soloveichik – the Brisker Rav.
In 1928 Chazan Garbacz came to England. One of his first tasks was to conduct services on the Yamim Noraim at ‘The Pavilion,’ with a choir of forty men, for which he was paid £100, which was no mean sum of money for those days. He was then appointed Chazan at the New Road Synagogue in the East End of London.
On a visit to Westcliff-on-Sea in 1930, he Davened an ordinary weekday Mincha, as a result of which he was called upon to become the Chazan of the Shul. Accepting the invitation, he moved there with his wife, and stayed for the rest of his career.
Like every professional, he rehearsed regularly and it’s said that many times there would be a gathering of people, Jews and Gentiles, outside his house who would be able to enjoy a free concert!
During those years he became a Mechutan of his own colleague, Rabbi Pinchas Shebson. They enjoyed a very close relationship and made an agreement that, irrespective of anything the congregation would say, at the end of each service the Chazan would tell the Rabbi that he’d never spoken better than ‘today’ and the Rabbi would assure the Chazan that no Chazan had ever Davened better than he did ‘today’! If ever there was a recipe for providing Shalom between Chazan and Rabbi, this must surely be it.
Chazan Garbacz was a proficient pianist. He also composed many Cantorial pieces, some of which are still sung by various Chazanim.
He retired for the first time (!) in 1975, at the age of 76, but after six months he was prevailed upon to continue to conduct services, as the Shul couldn’t find anyone as good as he was to replace him.
As well as being a very fine Cantor, Chazan Garbacz was a warm and friendly man who was much loved by his congregation. He typified the finest of the Anglo-Jewish ministry in combining the best of Chazanut with the most caring in pastoral care of his members.