By: Mrs. Sarah Frieda Sasson
“Is anything too hard for Hashem? Where’s your emuna [faith]?”
These are the words that echo in my mind when I think about my loving and wonderful father, Mr. Jack M. Mizrahi, a.h. To all who knew him, my father represented the very highest ideals of yirat Shamayim and genuine love of Hashem.
Born in 1922 to Moshe Mizrahi and Freida Grazi on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, he was the youngest boy of eight children. His brothers – Mike Mizrahi (who ran Shaare Zion’s Tehillim group), Isaac Eastman (Bozi), and Joe Miles – have all passed away. His sisters were Julie Esses, Millie Safdieh, Adele Lichtman a.h., and Sally Rosenblatt, who currently lives in Florida.
A Career in Hazanut
The family later moved to 65thStreet, where my father began his early career in hazanut (cantoring). He studied under Hacham Matloob Abady, and was very close to Hacham Ezra Mishaanieh, who was his uncle through marriage. He married my mother, Renee Esses, who supported him in every way with patience, devotion and love.
He began in Young Shaare Zion, and then continued to hazen (serve as a cantor) in the Dome (the famous main sanctuary of Shaare Zion). In New Jersey, Rabbi Dweck hired my father to hazen on the High Holidays in the Deal Synagogue, a capacity in which he served for over 15 years. He then worked in the Ohel Yaakob (Lawrence Avenue) Synagogue for the next 19 years. My mother and I always felt so proud of my father, who had such stamina and could sing for hours even while fasting all day on Yom Kippur. His magnificent voice beseeched Hashem to forgive His nation and pleaded for yet another year of blessings. Everyone in attendance felt his love and sincerity in his prayers. He inspired so many hearts to do teshuva. Anywhere I go, still to this day, I keep hearing about how he performed his hazanut with such love and feeling for Hashem and our community. I would never get tired of hearing him singing his prayers or people singing his praises.
A Humble Man and Seeker of Peace
My father’s beautiful voice was matched only by his sterling character. He was humble, a gentleman, and a gem of a person. Like Aharon Hakohen, who strove to make peace among people, my father knew how to calm tensions between feuding parties. Despite being the youngest boy, he was a pillar in the Mizrahi family. They admired him for his strong commitment to Torah values and lifestyle.
His middot were something everyone should aspire to. One of the many stories he told me was about a man who snubbed him after my father repeatedly greeted him with his usual warmth. My father’s motto was, “kill them with kindness,” and that’s exactly what he did. He continued greeting the man for years, until eventually the man asked for mehila (forgiveness). My father taught us that one shouldn’t compromise his middot (character) even if the other person’s middot are lacking. Often, he would attend sebbets (Shabbat occasions) and refuse to take any money for his many hours of singing. Even if he didn’t receive a formal invitation, and it was at the last moment, he wouldn’t stand on ceremony, but would attend any sebbet for which his expertise was requested.
The Family Hazan
My father’s love of music spilled over to the Shabbat table. He loved to sing both old and new tunes of pizmonim and to teach them to my boys. He received so much nahat (pleasurable pride) singing with them. They were his pride and joy. He was so proud of all their accomplishments. He would always say to us, “I want you to be better than me, smarter than me and have all the berachot!” And he was always praying for all of us.
He hated any kind of showy display. He was happy with anything and everything (even if it wasn’t perfect). He showed us what simhat hayim (love of life) was. He would and did give the shirt off his back, because he was a one-way giver and had such a love of people. He was particularly devoted to my mother and a wonderful son-in-law to my grandmother, Mollie Esses (may Hashem grant them continued good health and long life). He treated all of us kindly, especially my husband Moshe and my children. My parents really instilled within all of us the message that you don’t need a lot to be content. The thread that ran through my father’s life was that all you have to worry about is what Hashem wants and what He thinks about you.
When it came to parties, company and semahot (happy occasions), his generosity shone through. He would always say, “The more the merrier”; “Tell them our house is their house”; “Fadaal! – (Welcome)”; “Come on over”; “We’d love to have you!” He could have had company every day of the week and wouldn’t have minded. My mother was always by his side supporting him in every way. He was so happy when things were going well for others. He was so genuine and honest. He was also very accepting of other kinds of Jews.
My parents traveled a lot. When I was 10, they took me to Europe and we visited nine different countries in nine weeks. They made friends everywhere they went. They were able to connect with so many people because they didn’t judge or look down on anyone.
My father was the type of person who you felt was always there waiting to help you. After he retired, he made it his business to be available for anything that was needed. He must have learned this from my grandma Frieda, who used to go around asking, “You need me?” to anyone in her building. My father was so devoted to his grandchildren, he and my mother never wanted to miss a siyum or birthday party or graduation. He would stop whatever he was doing to show how much he cared about all of us.
Missvot Always on His Mind
During my father’s final years, when he suffered from Alzheimer’s, my devoted husband Moshe took care of him like he was his baby, making sure that his every need was met. My children, too, were very attentive to his needs, running to bring him whatever he needed.
On one occasion, my father slipped away when no one was looking. We had the entire police force looking for him, only to find him asleep in Shaare Zion with a Tehillim book in his hands. Serving Hashem was always on his mind, even until the very end. In the last year or so, he would always be in a rush, saying, “Hurry up, Shabbat is coming soon” even though it was still early in the week. He would recite Shir Hashirim all the time, anticipating Shabbat Kodesh. It was so appropriate that he passed away exactly at 7:18pm on Friday Aug 28th– the precise time for Shabbat candle lighting.
We learned so much from you, and we will never forget you, our Dad, our Grandpa Jack!
The Sasson/Mizrahi furniture Gemach has been established in the merit of Jack Mizrahi, le’iluy nishmat Yaakov ben Frieda. To donate or receive furniture/appliances (in good condition only) in Brooklyn or Deal, please call 917-361-8268.