Conversation with Cantor Aaron Bensoussan

Posted By on April 9, 2014

Music with a Sephardic soul and an Ashkenazi heart

By Cindy Mindell

Cantor Aaron Bensoussan

Tenor Cantor Aaron Bensoussan was born in Mogador (now Essaouira), Morocco to a prominent rabbinic dynasty that can trace its lineage back to Maimonides. His grandfather, Rabbi Haim Bensoussan, was the chief rabbi of Morocco in Casablanca.

At age eight, Bensoussan taught himself to play the oud (lute) and darbouka (goblet drum). Around the time of his bar mitzvah, his mother took him for lessons with Moshe Afriat, one of the great Moroccan masters of the oud and piyutim (Jewish liturgical poems).

In 1968, the then 14-year-old was sent by his parents to join his older brother in New York and to study at yeshiva with the intention of entering the rabbinate. After attending several yeshivot there and the Telshe Yeshiva in Chicago, he graduated from Queens College in New York and began to explore a musical career, studying at Yeshiva University Belz School of Music and enrolling in the Cantors Institute (now the H. L. Miller Cantorial School) of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

At age 24, Bensoussan began his cantorial career as chazzan at the Sephardic Jewish Center in Forest Hills, N.Y., a position he held for five years. After graduating from JTS in 1986, he served as cantor of Temple Gates of Prayer in Flushing, N.Y. and then as cantor of Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn Heights, N.Y. for 11 years. From 1999 to 2010, he was cantor of Congregation Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda in Toronto, ending his tenure to do more performing and recording.

A prolific composer who blends the Sephardi and Ashkenazi traditions, he has toured extensively throughout the United States, Israel and Europe performing in synagogues, festivals, and concert halls including Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv.

Bensoussan will be guest cantor in West Hartford on Friday and Saturday, Apr. 25 and 26, at Beth El Temple and Beth David Synagogue.

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Conversation with Cantor Aaron Bensoussan

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