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Last updated:
December 2007

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The Compositions and Arrangements


Avram Mordechai Himelstein

(1905 - 1974)

Himelstein - Lamnatzeach for Cantor & Choir.pdf


Himelstein - Lachazan for cantor.pdf

Biographical details

Avram Mordechai Himelstein was born in Warsaw on December 16, 1905 to Reuven Yehuda HaCohen, Rosh Yeshiva in White Russia and Peshe, whose sweet voice and deep musicality left an indelible impression on him. He joined the local synagogue choir at age 6, singing there for 12 years, where he absorbed the traditional tunes of the prayers from Reb Yehoshua Reichstaler, the local “davener”.

His formal teachers included A. Davidovitz, the distinguished choir master of the Zalman Nozhik Shul; M. Shneur, conductor of the Great Popular Choir in Warsaw; Itzhak Shlossberg, conductor of the Jewish Theatre Orchestra; David Eisenstadt, choirmaster of the Great Shul in Tlomatzka Street; and Leon Zalman, conductor of the Popular Choir in Warsaw. By the age of 14, he was conducting four-voice choirs. For two years he attended the Warsaw State Academy, followed by a series of performances as conductor of choirs with the great cantors of the time in Warsaw, such as Gershon Sirota, Moshe Koussevitsky, and others. He was also very active in conducting youth choirs, including one consisting of 140 choristers.   

In 1936, in spite of blatant anti-Semitism in Poland, his exceptional talent was recognised and he was offered a position teaching harmony at the State Academy.  Instead, he accepted a call from the “Tifereth Israel” Synagogue in Rowland Street, Cape Town to act as its choir director. He arrived in South Africa bringing with him enthusiastic recommendations from great Polish musicians. He was accorded excellent reviews and earned an outstanding reputation in the fields of conducting, composition and arrangement of music for cantor and choir.

From Cape Town, he moved to Johannesburg, first to the Yeoville Synagogue, then to the Great Synagogue in Wolmarans Street, the largest synagogue in Johannesburg and the seat of the Chief Rabbi.  In addition, he was active in training and conducting choirs for various “Salute to Israel” pageants.

Himelstein regarded the continuity and fostering of chazanut and of choral shul music as a holy mission, and he devoted much time to training both cantors and choir directors in the proper ‘nusach’. Among his protégés are some of the best known cantors (such as Joseph Malovany) and choir directors of our time.

In his later years, he turned to composing chazanut for cantor and choir. Two books of his compositions, “Lamenatze’ach” and “LaChazan”, appeared during his lifetime. In addition, there are many compositions which exist in manuscript form.

One of his last works, the magnificent “Ad Heina” (“Your mercies have not forsaken us…”), was written barely two months before his death. This outstanding piece and many others, have been performed in synagogues and concert halls by the great cantors of our time and appear on numerous cantorial albums.

His life was tragically cut short in January 1974. His very last work, which he did not complete, was a Kaddish for the High Holy Days.  Its opening bars are engraved on his tombstone.

His son Lior, who has followed in his footsteps as a choir director and arranger of chazanut, lives in California. His other two children, Shmuel Himelstein and Ilana Katz, live in Jerusalem, Israel.


A request

You are free to download this music for your own personal use. However, as a rule, the purpose for using this music may only be for performances by shul choirs during synagogue services and must be free of charge. Under no circumstances may this music be used for purposes of any business, profit or financial gain including by way of selling or through making any other type of transaction which involves the music/arrangements, or by performing this music in a commercial show where entry fees are charged, or recording this music for commercial purposes, without the express consent of the owner of the music in writing. Nothing in the aforesaid may be understood, construed or interpreted as the Owner transferring his intellectual property rights or copyright over to anyone party, including those who download this music from the Internet and perform it with their choirs, and full ownership of this music shall remain in the ownership and copyright of the composer/owner. Thank you!


Last updated: 27th January, 2005