🕯 Chazan David Werdyger (1919-2014) – 2nd of Nissan

April 10, 2024

Today, being his 10th yahrtzeit, Chazan David Werdyger is being recalled for his tremendous warmth, enthusiasm for life, his passion for excellence, his ever-present simchas hachaim and, of course, his illustrious musical talent that forever changed the face of Jewish music.

A legendary chazan and singer and the founder of the Aderet music label, Werdyger was the scion of one of today’s most prolific music families and was the father of yblch’t Mordechai ben David and grandfather of singers Yeedle and Yisroel Werdyger.

Dovid Werdyger was born in Poland in 1919, the youngest of the eight children of R’ Yisroel Aryeh and Gittel Werdyger. His considerable musical talent was evident by the time he was four years old, and by the time he turned six, he had already earned a position as a soloist in the Eizik Yeikeles Shul in Krakow.

With music being an integral component of the Gerrer chassidus, and hailing from a Gerrer family known for its musical prowess, Werdyger grew up in a culture of song and in his memoir “Songs of Hope,” he described how as a young boy, he could sing an entire niggun after hearing it only twice, often going to cheder the next day and teaching the new niggun to both his classmates and the melamed.

Six-year-old Dovid first caught the eye of legendary song-master Yankel Talmud during his first visit to the Rebbe, when the youngster joined in the singing at the Rebbe’s tish. Several years later, on a visit to Krakow, Talmud invited him to be part of the Yomim Noraim Kapelye choir for the holy Imrei Emes of Ger.

After being evicted by the Nazis from Krakow in 1940, Werdyger lived in several different locations, going into hiding twice to escape deportation, before ultimately being discovered by the SS and sent on a death march to the Plaszow extermination camp.

The following story, adapted from R’ Dovid’s memoir, describes the miraculous incident that saved him from certain death (Songs of Hope, as part of the Holocaust Diaries series published by CIS Publishers, 1993):

Our column came to an abrupt stop, and one by one, we filed past the commandant. Motioning with his cane, he directed most of us toward the square where the machine guns were set up.

R’ Dovid spent five months at Plaszow and was eventually transferred to a nearby camp where he worked at a factory under the direction of Oskar Schindler, giving Werdyger a brief reprieve from the horrors of the war. He also spent time in the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp and the Linz labor camp, where he was liberated on Shabbos, May 5, 1945.

Following liberation, Werdyger married his first wife, Malka, first settling in Paris and then relocating to America in 1950. The couple had four sons, Yisroel Aryeh, Mordechai, Chaim and Mendy, and Werdyger found work both as a chazan and in his new business, Werdyger Travel.

It was while he was serving as a chazan in the shul of Rabbi Jacob J. Hecht that the seeds of Werdyger’s musical career began to bloom in earnest, with Rabbi Hecht advising him to record an album. Werdyger’s first record, Tefillah L’Dovid, was released in 1959 and completely sold out. Tefillah L’Dovid was followed by a second record a year later entitled L’Dovid Mizmor.

R’ Dovid then created his own record label, Aderet Music, and as the years went by, more and more albums followed (30 in all!), with Werdyger recording various niggunim from many different chassidic dynasties – Bobov, Boyan, Skulen, Satmer, Sadigur, Melitz, Radomsk, and of course Ger – using the music of the alter heim to build a permanent bridge to life in America.

On the night of September 28, 1997, seventy-thousand people were linked together by satellite and they celebrated the completion of a seven-and-a-half-year Daf HaYomi study cycle. For the tenth time in recent history, the Jewish people concluded the last page of the Gemara and began again the first.

Before the thousands assembled at Madison Square Garden, Reb Dovid Werdyger intoned the Keil Malei Rachamim on behalf of kedoshei Churban Europa. In his memoirs, Werdyger describes this moment as being one of the high points of his life, noting the stark contrast between this joyous moment and singing the very same words at the Plaszow death camp.

“Hashem performed countless miracles to bring me from the valley of death in Plaszow to the summit of fulfillment at the Siyum Hashas,” wrote Werdyger. “A never-ending stream of chasdei Hashem has accompanied me every step of the way.”

While there are many well-known niggunim that he composed, for today’s song choice, I decided to go with a song that was arguably his most famous recording. Although it was not his own tune, Lo Seivoshi is just one of the many treasured songs that David Werdyger chose to gift Klal Yisroel, but has become the song that is most associated with his signature vocal flair. Composed by R’ Yaakov Dov (Yankel) Talmud, this marvelous melody was first recorded on Songs of the Gerer Chasidim Vol. 2 in 1962.

Lo seivoishi v’lo sikolmi – Do not be ashamed, do not be humiliated, we ask Hakadosh Baruch Hu to rebuild Yerushalayim. Commentaries explain that this is being addressed to Yerushalayim with a question: Ma tishtochachi u’mah tehemi – why are you forsaken? Why do you cry? You are aware that in the very near future, Boch yechesu aniyei ami – poor survivors among us will find shelter within your boundaries, V’nivnisah ir al tilah – and you will be rebuilt as you were in the previous years! Continues the paytan, those who trampled you will be trampled, those who attempted to devour you will be cast far away!

This was a large part of the message that Reb Dovid Werdyger used his voice to convey – a voice to which there is no comparison to its beauty and unforgettable melodious sound. The great chazan mesmerized those fortunate to hear him, and continues to carry us in his role as shliach tzibbur, leading us through our tefilos and zemiros ad bi’as goel tzedek, bimheira v’yameinu.

ר’ אלטר דוד יצחק ב”ר ישראל אריה

Yehi Zichro Baruch – may R’ Dovid’s memory be a blessing and may his neshoma have a heavenly Aliyah.

Plaszow concentration camp, near Krakow
Three Generations of Music. Chazan David Werdyger sitting with Mordechai and his son Yeedle Werdyger
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