God's sanctuary

Story by:  Harold Lerner
Recorded:  May 2014, New York, NY
Music:  Alex Tiuniaev

1943, The Pacific. Aboard a troop ship bound for New Guinea, under threat of enemy fire, a young private is tasked with an awesome responsibility. His actions that evening will effect hundreds of his shipmates, and alter the course of Harold Lerner's life inexorably.

The first American born descendant of a long line of European cantors, Cantor Harold Lerner studied concurrently at the Julliard School of Music, the Jewish Theological Seminary and as apprentice to the eminent Master Cantor, Adolph Katchko. In 1953 he was called to Temple Adath Yeshurun in Syracuse, NY one of Central New York’s largest congregations, where he served for forty years and upon retirement was elected Cantor Emeritus.

Though steeped in the chazzanic tradition of Eastern Europe, Lerner recognized that part of his mission was to encourage the creation of new American works that would reflect contemporary thinking and speak to the younger generations as well. In addition to his work on the pulpit, he thus inspired and produced a prodigious body of work reflecting a remarkable variety of styles, traditions, and trends. Among the most notable is a concert version of the Passover seder called “Haggadah, A Search for Freedom” which he commissioned and for which he wrote the lyrics.In 2001 he was invited out of retirement to become the spiritual leader of Temple Beth El of Syracuse, NY during its period of transition from modern orthodoxy to a more egalitarian orientation. This ended in 2005 with the successful merger of Beth El and two other synagogues. In appreciation Lerner was elected Cantor Emeritus once again, this time at Temple Beth El.  

Cantor Lerner passed away in November 2015.

Listen to the story of Harold Lerner's daughter Lisa.

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My friend Lisa Lerner, who had recorded a story for me in 2011, wrote to say she thought her father, then 92, had a story of his own.  I wrote to Harold, still sharp as a tack and living on the Upper West Side, and we arranged a time in mid-May for me to come up and interview him in his apartment.  Little did I know, he was from Lynn, a town just two over from my own hometown in Massachusetts.