Dr. Warren Fingrut
Internal Medicine Resident Physician, University of Toronto
I have known Cantor Ben Silverberg for over 22 years (since I was five years old). Over my life, he has been an inspiring and loved cantor in our community, an outstanding mentor for me, an inspiring teacher for me and my peers, and a phenomenal support for both me and my family.
Since I was a child, I have always been moved by Cantor Ben’s davening. I remember listening to him daven at the high holiday services at Shaar Shalom Synagogue in Toronto. At the time, I didn’t understand the meanings of the prayers, but his passion, style, and beautiful singing voice engaged me to participate and follow along, and introduced me to my love of Judaism as well as music and singing. My family has always greatly enjoyed and looked forward to his beautiful and skillful davening. He made the prayers and services especially meaningful, and I know that this feeling was shared by our entire congregation.
As a high school student, I participated in my synagogue’s chapter of the United Synagogue Youth (USY), and I served as chapter president. Cantor Ben led a monthly program on our calendar called “Torah with a Twist”, where he taught and led discussions on Judaism’s views on a range of issues that related to our age group. His sessions were the most popular on our chapter’s event calendar (despite competing with a host of social and other events!), and regularly attracted attendance of 15-30 Jewish youths in our community. I recall that I had never been so excited about learning Judaism. My peers felt the same way, and I remember everyone in the group always had their hands up, ready to contribute, ask questions, and learn together. Our chapter received an award at our regional spring Shabbaton for the success of this programming, an achievement which would not have been possible without Cantor Ben’s innovative and engaging Jewish teaching.
Cantor Ben also served as my Bar Mizvah tutor, meeting with me for weekly lessons to prepare. Ahead of my Bar Mitzvah, I knew very little about davening and about reading Torah. Cantor Ben taught me how to read Torah and Haftorah, including how to read the trops. I found my lessons with him to be so much fun. He practiced my sections with me and guided me to pronounce the words correctly, and with the right emphasis. He was patient, warm, and supportive throughout. Through our lessons, Cantor Ben realized I had an aptitude for music, and he encouraged me to develop it further. He taught me several duets, which we performed in front of our congregation at Shaar Shalom during Musaf services. He went on to teach me how to lead Shabbat Shacharit services as well. During my Bar Mitzvah I led Shacharit for my congregation. This was a really wonderful experience for me and my family, and it would not have been possible without to Cantor Ben’s instruction and guidance.
Following my Bar Mitzvah, my congregation invited me to lead Shabbat Shacharit Services, Haftorahs, and Torah regularly, and Cantor Ben was always there to help me prepare. Seeing my enthusiasm to learn more, and how receptive the congregation was to my participation, Cantor Ben taught me how to lead Rosh Hashanna Shacharit services – one of the same services that captivated me so many years ago as a child. I went on to lead these services for my synagogue, and continued to lead it annually for many years. Leading this high holiday service has been one of the most meaningful experiences in my life, and I was so excited and honoured to serve my community and apply the lessons that I had learned from Cantor Ben.
Cantor Ben’s support has also been instrumental in my professional life. Cantor Ben wrote me a letter of reference outlining my experiences leading services for the congregation, which helped me to secure an interview with University of British Columbia’s medical school. I went on to gain acceptance there and complete my medical training. He also supported my application for a Hillel Jewish leadership trip to Vienna, which allowed to develop important personal and professional skills. Overall, Cantor Ben’s mentorship over the years has had a strong impact on my personal growth and development, Jewish identity and sense of community, and professional development as well. I am deeply grateful to him for the important role he has played in my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without him.
Cantor Ben has always been there for my family, too. He has been there for all of our simchas, sharing in our excitement. Our family was overjoyed as he led the Aufruf for my brother and his now wife, and he led my niece’s baby naming ceremony too. He was also there for the difficult times too, including the passing of a close family friend, where he offered us support and let our family know we were not alone. My family continues to think of him as one of the most important members of the community to us, and we have deeply valued his relationship over the years.
Overall, Cantor Ben has gone above and beyond as a phenomenal cantor, teacher, mentor, role model, community member, and support. He introduced me to Judaism, guided me to become a Bar Mitzvah, and mentored me to go on to lead high holiday services for my congregation. My family and I are lucky to have had him in our lives, and couldn’t have asked for a better cantor. I emphatically recommend him in the strongest possible way, and we wish him all the very best in his life too!