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Marc Duke - Zemer l’Shabbat Chanukah

Shalom Aleichem
Yom Shabbat Kodesh Hu
Zemer l'Shabbat Chanukah


Marc Duke“The majority of these songs are from my grandparents on my father’s side who were both from Germany. Some of the tunes might be a little more modern and these would be from my father but most of the customs that I do are originally from my grandfather.

My father’s father, Eliezer Lazarus Lanzkron, was born in 1903 in Hamburg, Germany and died in 1988. He had the same Bar Mitzvah sedra (Bechukotai) as me. I have strong memories of him as I lived with my paternal grandparents in Golders Green for about six months when I was five years old.

My grandparents were married in 1936 in Mainz and managed to get out of Germany before the Second World War. During the war they were interned on the Isle of Wight and then went to live in Hillingdon before settling in Golders Green where they became very involved with the local Jewish community and davenned at Rav Munk’s Bet Hamidrash known as Munk’s. My grandfather had a giftware and rag salvaging business although I only remember him as a frail old man. They later went to live in Israel and settled in Petach Tikvah where other members of the family lived.

Marc Duke's Grandparents

My father has lived in America since 1983 and davenns in the New York version of Munk’s, known as Breuer’s. They have kept the Frankfurt minhagim fastidiously - from a cultural perspective it’s fascinating. My father was the fifth of six children and one of his elder brothers, Romi, who now lives in Israel and is crazy about ‘mischpochology’ (from mischpocha) , put together a family tree going way back. Every time a member of the family gets married or has a baby he adds their names to it, so I have all the information, dates and so on, of my family.

My childhood memories are of singing all the time - especially Friday night and Shabbes lunch. This is a tradition I have been keen to continue. Both my father and grandfather had good voices and both led services. I’m fairly sure that there were chazzanim in the family. I now regularly lead services in Borehamwood shul, read the Megilat Esther (the story of Esther read at Purim) using my father’s tune and sing in a Jewish choir called the Neimah Singers (www.neimah.com).

The most notable tradition in our family is a zemer for Shabbes-Chanukah and I also have a particular version, with a lot of words, of Yom Shabbes Kodesh Hu, a zemer which is sung on Friday night.

My maternal grandfather Leon Gehler, who was actually more interested in how fast he could do the Seder than how well he could sing it (!), originally came from Tsanz in Poland but lived in Strasbourg, France most of his life. The family had been in Tsanz for a number of generations and apparently my great-great-grandfather was a schochet which was, so I’ve been told, a great accolade! My paternal grandfather went to France and he and his brother fought in the Resistance. He was awarded the Legion D’Honneur by General de Gaulle, I think for his involvement in liberating Clermont Ferrand, but he never spoke about the war.

They stayed in Strasbourg where there was, and still is, a thriving Ashkenazi community and davenned at a place called Caganec. My maternal grandfather was an accomplished Ba’al Tefilah (prayer leader) and would regularly take the services at Caganec especially over the High Holy days. At home he did not have a great tradition of singing as my other grandfather did. He had six children - four girls, one after the other, of whom my mother is the second, and then two boys.

My mother’s mother, who now lives in Israel, came from Pressburg which is now in the Czech Republic. Her father, my great-grandfather, who I knew as Oppa Donnenbaum had an interesting story - he went to visit his wife when she was recuperating from bronchitis in a sanatorium in Switzerland and when he was about to leave the border guards suggested it would be best if he stayed in Switzerland and that’s how he survived the war. His brother escaped from Pressburg and got on a boat, which was later torpedoed, all the way to Melbourne, Australia.”

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