Berele Chagy

Berele Chagy
1892 – 1954

Berele Chagy, was born in Dagda, Latvia, on July 25, 1892.

It is believed that both his father and grandfather were Chazanim, and from a very early age Berele used to sing in the Synagogue with his father. One tale relates that on one occasion he ran away to another village and was found conducting the service in the Synagogue there!

He went from Dagda to Riga to study, and then to Smolensk, where at the age of 17 he conducted services, and, because of his young age he required special permission to be a cantor. With great difficulty, he was able to escape army duties and emigrated to America where he continued to study music and Chazanut and where he began to make his reputation as a Chazan of outstanding qualities.

He married Esther, while he was still a young man, and she became very active as a Zionist.

He was appointed to posts in New York, Detroit and Boston and in 1932 he was brought to Johannesburg, South Africa to the Beth Hamedrash Hagodel, where he established his reputation of one of the finest Chazanim that south Africa ever had.

He and his wife entered thoroughly into all the activities of Johannesburg Jewry and became well known and deeply respected for their communal work, as much as for Cantor Chagy’s magnificent rendition of the religious services.

He spent nine years in Johannesburg before returning to America, where he acceptod a call, in 1941, from one of the largest Orthodox congregations in Brooklyn – Beth El.

Chagy was possessed of a superb high tenor voice and a scintillating falsetto, which he used to great effect. He composed many pieces and made many recordings.

When he retired because of poor health, he moved to newark, New Jersey, and died unexpectedly on the seventh day of Pesach, while he was attending a service.

Chagy was blessed with an instantly recognisable style and voice. He was a wonderful Baal T’fillah, who had a deep understanding of the prayers and interpreted them with warmth and passion. His reputation as an international ‘star’ was indeed well deserved.