It’s been almost 15 years since the death of the much beloved blind chazzan and teacher Cantor Abraham Immerman z”l, who died in Cape Town on 7 April 2003, aged 96.
Known as ‘Der Blinde Chazzan’ and ‘The Man with the Computer Brain’, due to his remarkable memory, Cantor Immerman impacted thousands of lives in and around Cape Town during over 60 years of dedicated service. He is described as a ‘legend’, ‘an icon’ and ‘a truly special man.’ Question is, what do younger generations today know about Cantor Immerman? How do we keep his legacy alive and pass on the values that he modelled? Values such as determination, love, dedication, humility, humour and an unwavering commitment to Jewish customs, education and spiritual life. Will this remarkable man and his legacy withstand the test of time?
With this in mind, and to celebrate his life, a unique new film has been created. Produced by journalist-filmmaker Lisa Chait it is a beautiful narrative tapestry capturing Cantor Immerman’s magic and the powerful messages of his life. Based on the only known video interview he ever gave, conducted by Chait herself in the late 1990s, the film is entitled ‘Legacy of Light’. In it, Cantor Immerman shares stories and insights from his life, interwoven with comment and perspective from others.
Cantor Immerman’s story reads like a movie. Born blind, he lost both of his parents by the time he was five and was brought up by his step-parents in Zastron, a small town in the Orange Free State. Despite challenges and setbacks, he was determined from an early age to become a cantor and teach Yiddishkeit to children when he finished his schooling. His cousin, Shelly Furman explains in the film, “Everyone at the Worcester School for the Blind, as well as his family, thought he was nuts. They thought he was too ambitious, but it was what he wanted to do and nothing was going to stop him!”
Despite his blindness, Abe memorised the entire Torah, including the trop, and the synagogue services off by heart by the time he was a young man. He went on to lead services in many congregations around the country settling in Oudtshoorn and then in Cape Town and teaching hundreds, if not thousands, of barmitzvah boys and school pupils. His first barmitzvah pupil in Cape Town, Solly Alpert, is in his 80s today and still remembers his portion.
Cantor Immerman, so instantly recognisable, always dressed immaculately in his dark suit and black hat, with his white walking stick, remembered everyone by name and could tell you in an instant what your barmitzvah portion was, no matter how many years had passed since your big day. He was famous for telling you in an instant what day of the week you were born on. All you had to do was to supply the date.
He led services with confidence and taught with determination and patience, yet never once had he seen the letters or words on a Torah scroll, never once a prayer book, a calendar, or the face of the countless people whose lives and stories he took such an interest in and remembered without missing a beat. Former pupils and community members would flock to him wherever he went simply to say hello, and those who knew him understand why.
Cantor Immerman z’l brought light into our lives. He saw what was shining from us and reflected it right back to us. He led us. He loved us. He should never be forgotten.
The film Legacy of Light, as well as the full Cantor Immerman video interview, will be available on www.lifestories.co.za after its public launch in Cape Town on 20 August.
The screening will be followed a discussion about finding the light within perceived darkness as well as anecdotes from those who knew and loved Cantor Immerman. The film ‘Legacy of Light’, as well as the full Cantor Immerman video interview, will be available on www.lifestories.co.za after the 20 August public launch.
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