Reverend Michael Plaskow MBE
our emeritus Chazzan
Article Published in the Jerusalem Post
25th January 2018
A certificate was presented to Reverend Michael Plaskow MBE on January 5th 2018 as an expression of the great appreciation of the Young Israel Community for his acting as the Maggid Shiur of Daf Yomi for over twelve years, from May 2005. This enormous effort in the daily preparation and presentation of complicated Talmudic texts is a further example of his exemplary life as a dedicated minister of religion.
ISRAEL IS chock-a-block with retired rabbis and cantors, so the competition for those who want to continue with what they were doing in the old country, even if they are willing to do so on an honorary basis, is pretty stiff. Nonetheless, there are those who succeed in creating an imprint in the congregations that they join by giving lectures, leading prayers when there is no full-time cantor or none at all, teaching a daf yomi group, or teaching bar mitzva boys their Torah portion. Some of the immigrant rabbis are even sufficiently fortunate to become the spiritual leaders of the congregations they join.
Among the clergy who have not only found an outlet but are appreciated for what they do is cantor Michael Plaskow MBE, a retired London United Synagogue minister who joined the Young Israel Synagogue of North Netanya, where he has been giving a daf yomi lesson since May 2005.
Technically, Plaskow is a returning Sabra. He was born in British Mandate- ruled Palestine, but his family moved to London. Plaskow, together with his wife, Phyllis, returned to the land of his birth in 2000. In London, he was well known for his 43 years of service to the Woodside Synagogue in Finchley. He was a freeman of the City of London, chaplain to Kisharon special needs school, chaplain to the Jewish Deaf Association, and was honored by Queen Elizabeth with an MBE (Member of Her Majesty’s Most Excellent Order of the British Empire).
In Netanya, his students and other congregants gathered to present him with a certificate of appreciation.
Studying a daf yomi – a page of Talmud – is actually a big deal, because it takes seven-and-a-half years to complete one entire cycle of studying the Babylonian Talmud at the rate of one page per day. The certificate, designed by Anthony Felix, one of the daf yomi regulars, is in the form of a page from the Talmud.
The certificate, presented in the first week of January in appreciation of Plaskow’s dedication over the past 12 years, was signed by Rabbi Boruch Boudilovsky, the spiritual leader of the congregation, and chairman of the board Hilton Share. Netanya is known for its large French-speaking community, but it also has a large and active English-speaking community.
Michael, as he was affectionately known in the kehillah, was born in Tel Aviv on 8th July 1936 of British born parents. His father, Solomon, was born in Brady Street, East London, and his mother, Bella, in Tredegar, South Wales.
The reason why Michael first saw the glorious light of day in a Jewish city was because his parents had gone there on aliya in the early thirties and were married in Jerusalem. However, due to the political troubles in Palestine, as it was then, they returned with young Michael to England in 1937.
Michael was then brought up in Wales and after the war in 1945, they moved to Stamford Hill. He attended the Egerton Road primary school and then went to Central Foundation Grammar School, Cowper Street, in the City of London from 1947-52. After leaving school, he went to the Faculty for the training of Hebrew Teachers at Jews' College where he obtained teaching diplomas. He taught for eight years at the New Synagogue Hebrew Classes and at other centres.
He decided to study Chazanut and was accepted at Jews' College. The course lasted four years and he twice gained the Samuel Alman Prize for Chazanut, a most unusual and remarkable achievement. At the same time he was studying music at the Curwen College of Music where he gained his LTSC diploma and ALCM (Associate of the London College of Music) diploma in singing and theory of music.
He officiated during this period at many different synagogues gaining much experience. It was during that time that Woodside Park Synagogue suffered a terrible tragedy in the grievous loss of the Chazan and financial representative who were killed in a road accident whilst returning from the funeral of the father of Rabbi Sydney Leperer of the synagogue. Jews's College were asked to supply a Chazan at short notice, one who could also read the Torah. Michael came immediately and officiated Shabbat, 17th November 1956. He became permanent part-time Chazan until 1960.
Michael married Phyllis Weisfogel on 20th June 1961 and set up home in Singleton Scarp. After their marriage, Michael and Rev Bernard Koschland had a double induction officiated by Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie. Michael and Phyllis have two married daughters, Angela and Rosalind, "six grandchildren Meir, Hadassah, Zvia, Mia, Hillel and Yaacov eighteen great-grandchildren" -Yaacov, Shlomo Dovid, Sara, Bracha, Yehuda, Yaffa, Elchanan, Chedvah, Tehilla, Noa, Adina, Avishai, Odelia, Rina, Tagail, Emuna, Tifferet and Avigail.
He was the Visiting Chaplain to many hospitals and a prison, Wormwood Scrubbs. In 1967, he qualified as a Registered Mohel with the Initiation Society and was one of the best-known mohelim in London. He performed milah in many provincial towns and abroad. Among his most interesting experiences as a mohel was the brit of a grandson in a shelter in Gilo, Jerusalem and twin grandsons in his shool, Woodside Park. He also performed a brit in Eltham Borstal Institution for the governor's son.
In 1985, he was appointed Honorary Chaplain to the Jewish Deaf Association. In his efforts to communicate with deaf people, he undertook an intensive study of sign language and having passed the first grade, enjoyed the challenge ahead of him. In 1986, he was awarded the Sir Robert Waley-Cohen Memorial Travelling Scholarship to the USA and Israel. In America, he attended the National Convention for Jewish Deaf and in Israel a conference for the World Organisation of Jewish Deaf. He achieved a great deal as Chaplain and was instrumental in obtaining the authority of the London Beth Din for use of the Loop System on Shabbat. For 15 years, he was Chaplain to Kisharon School for Special Needs Jewish Children and attended on virtually a daily basis.
Michael has lectured on very many occasions on the subjects of Chazanut and circumcision and on Jewish life in general. He was the Chairman of the Chazanim Association of Great Britain and in that capacity represented all the Chazanim at meetings of the Council of the United Synagogue.
For many years, Michael was vice-president of the Woodside Park Ratepayers' and Residents' Association and chairman of the public sector for the Metropolitan Police in the borough of Barnet.
He is a Freeman of the City of London and holds the distinguished rank of Past Junior Grand Deacon in Freemasonry. When he held the rank of Acting Grand Chaplain, he was given the honour of being Founding Chaplain at the Consecration of two new lodges - a rare honour. In 1996, he was awarded the Norman Spencer Essay Prize for Research into Freemasonry.
He was overwhelmed by the number of Lodges who requested to hear this research Paper. In fact, he delivered it on more than forty occasions in London and in Israel. Michael is the Life-President of the Jewish Old Boys of Central Foundation Grammar School.
Perhaps the icing on the cake was the honour bestowed on him of MBE (A member of Her Majesty's Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II in 1996. (See photographs above).
May our Emeritus Chazan long continue to be amongst us and be a source of help, wisdom and inspiration to us all and may he enjoy his deserved retirement in Netanya, Israel, with Phyllis and his delightful family.
To Download the letter received by Reverend Michael Plaskow MBE from Rabbi Natan Morowitz, Rabbi of the Young Israel Shul Netanya who is retiring after 30 years please click here