WINNIPEG — It’s been half a century since Gerry Daien began serving as a cantor in the community here, and Chevra Mishnayes Synagogue, where he’s been spiritual leader for 30 years, is planning to hold a tribute to him in the near future.
Albert Benarroch, who has worked with Daien in leading services for Chevra Mishnayes for the last seven years, told The CJN that he’s been “honoured” to do so. He said that Daien, who has “a passion for liturgy and the traditional European nusach,” has been a “teacher to thousands,”and has always dedicated “his life to the synagogue and the role it plays in Jewish life and continuity.”
Daien, who has earned a living as an electrician, was first guided by the late Rabbi Shalom Rappaport, who at the beginning of Daien’s career used to jokingly refer to him as “an electrifying cantor” and would say that to hear Daien is a “shocking experience.”
One of Daien’s fondest memories is singing with two former Winnipeggers, well-known television producer, writer, actor and director Allan Blye, and Cantor Hershel Fox, who has performed extensively in Yiddish theatre.
“For 10 years in the winter, Winnipeggers would get together at a shul in Palm Springs, [Calif.] where many of us spent the winter, and I enjoyed the opportunity to sing with these two great performers, ” Daien said.
Daien didn’t receive any yeshiva training in musical or cantorial study, but was mentored by Cantor Benjamin Brownstone, a renowned composer of liturgical music.
Daien began as a cantor at Herzlia Adas Yeshurun Synagogue, where he remained for 18 years, a period where there were “seven different rabbis.”
Daien comes from a musical family. His grandfather, Moishe Daien, was a cantor and shochet at Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue in Winnipeg’s North End.
Daien recalls that his father, Harry, “probably had a sweet tenor voice like my grandfather,” but began work as an electrician to support his family.
“I love being a cantor, and I am grateful I can do the work,” Daien said, noting, “I thank God for my abilities and my loving wife and family.”
Daien said it has been a highlight of his career to “be respected by the community all these years,” and to have “people that I taught some 20 or 30 years ago [as a school and bar mitzvah teacher] come up to me to say hello and hug me. Former students find me from all over”
Another memorable moment was when Daien, who has four children and seven grandchildren, shared the bimah with his father, Harry, and his son, David, when David became a bar mitzvah.
“Shul is my home away from home,” said Daien, who will celebrate his 60th wedding anniversary with his wife, Peril, this summer.
“I have been lucky that Peril went along with me in whatever I needed or wanted to do as a cantor,” he said.