Lt.-Col. Shai Abramson
Lt.-Col. Shai AbramsonIDF website

Lt. Col. Shai Abramson, the IDF’s new Chief Cantor, was content with a successful career in military technology, but Someone had other plans. In early 2008, Abramson, who was then a major and the Head of the Teleprocessing Weapon Systems Department in the IDF’s Technology and Logistics Branch, was asked to recite the Prayer for the Well-Being of the State of Israel at a farewell ceremony for Maj.-Gen. Benny Ganz. The ceremony’s organizer, Lt. Col. Zohar Velusky, had heard Abramson reciting the E-l Male’ Rachamim [G-d, Full of Mercy] prayer at the IDF delegation’s historic visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and was certain he was on to something.

Minutes after Abramson concluded the prayer, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Col. Gabi Ashkenazi approached the podium to deliver his tribute to Ganz. Ashkenazi prefaced his speech with words of praise for Abramson.

“I greatly enjoyed that amazing chazan (cantor),” Ashkenazi said. “Your voice is amazing and if you lack a horizon at Elram [the previous name for Technology and Logistics Branch – ed.] then you have one in chazanut with us,” he said.

Left: Personnel Branch Head Maj.-Gen. Avi Zamir and Chief Rabbi Maj.-Gen. Avichai Ronsky give Abramson his new rank.

The event was not over when the then-Head of the Personnel Branch, Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, approached Abramson and invited him to audition for the role of Chief Military Cantor. He competed against other candidates and won handily. Last week he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

“When the Chief of Staff suddenly addressed me I felt deep surprise and elation,” Abramson told IDF journal Bamachaneh this week. “I was very moved by the fact that the Jewish singing had touched the Chief of Staff’s heart and that he commented on this in a ceremony that was entirely devoted to saying goodbye to Maj.-Gen. Benny Ganz.”

Another member of the Abramson family who sat in the audience and was also very proud was Shai’s father, Ronny Abramson, who was the cantor in Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue and managed the Israeli Chamber Orchestra for years. The zemirot and chazanut portions Shai heard at home while growing up shaped his love of chazanut, and he turned it into a hobby – which is now a profession.

Lt.-Col. Abramson is the fourth Chief Cantor in the IDF’s 60 year history and the first who did not advance through the ranks of the Military Rabbinate.

”I see it as a great privilege,” Abramson said of his new job. "There is nothing greater than touching the audience and the bereaved families,” he explained to Bamachaneh. “Anyone can be Head of a Weapon Systems Department but having the job of stirring people’s emotions with your voice is far beyond that.”

Chazanut, he said, brings together people of different types. He sees it as a way of realizing “the connection between secular people and religious ones, army and society, on the basis of a deep-rooted Jewish common denominator.”