On my interview Shabbat in Jericho last January, I was blessed to meet a great man-Cantor Wolkin. I quickly learned that Cantor Wolkin had led holiday services at Browns in the Catskills for almost 40 years and that he had preformed over 1,000 marriages. This past summer, Cantor Wolkin attended services almost every Shabbat with his daughter Barbara Smiler (who along with her husband Dennis are active members of our synagogue) and his attendant Rex. Barbara was very close to her father and devoted to his needs. Cantor Wolkin also was great friends with congregant Judy Solomon, who was devoted to his well-being and care. He had a face that would light up a room, and a voice that even at 96 years of age would blow people away.
Cantor Wolkin joined us for Shabbat on the Beach in August and for Tashlikh services. Seeing him there in his wheelchair and with a big smile on his face was inspiring. It was not so easy for him to attend, and I thank Barbara Smiler and Judy Solomon for bringing him.
My first time visiting Cantor Wolkin at his house was very memorable. Cantor shared memories of his career, played a recording and gave me a copy of his book Shalom Aleichem! Reading the book helped me learn about his childhood in Brooklyn, his marriage to Louise his career as a Cantor and his 6 children, as well as his concerts and interactions with Yossele Rosenblatt, Jan Pierce and Moshe Koussevitsky. Some of Cantor Wolkin’s recordings are available on YouTube.
Hearing recordings of Cantor Wolkin singing V’chol Maaminim at R’tzeh helped me imagine what it was like to be in the Borsht Belt 50 years ago listening to powerful Hazzanut. You could hear his neshama (soul) through every word.
The most touching moment in my short time of knowing Cantor Wolkin was the last time he made it to Saturday services-Thanksgiving Weekend. After the Musaf Amidah, Cantor Black along with Mark Perlson, Howard Gendel and Bob Hordos went over to Cantor Wolkin and sang “she’yibaneh beit hamikdash,” one of Cantor Wolkin’s favorite songs. It was such a touching moment and symbolized everything that Cantor Wolkin has meant to our congregation.
The last time I saw Cantor Wolkin was on Hanukkah. I was dismayed that he did not respond when I talked to him. When I began singing Hanukkah songs, however, his face lit up and he began to speak. I said “It’s Hanukkah” and he replied “Wonderful!” I was happy to know that I was able to leave him with a smile.
Zichrono L’vracha-Cantor Wolkin’s memory is for blessing.