Heartfelt tributes have been paid to Chazan Rev. Michael Saville following his death this week.
Rabbi Jason Kleiman of Beth Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue, Leeds, where Michael, 83, served for over 50 years, before retirement to live closer to his family in London and where shuls benefited from his love of Yiddishkite, led tributes from Rabbonim at New Bushey Cemetery on Tuesday.
Rabbi Kleiman recalled Michael’s formative years growing up in Middlesbrough where he owed a debt of gratitude to his father who taught him Nusach, Zeide for his ability to layen and Rev Kersh for giving him a chance to layen and lead services as a teenager. The result are leaders of services around the UK including Rabbi Kleiman who grew up in the renowned BHH Choir with Michael at the helm.
He told The Jewish Weekly, “Michael had a profound impact on my life and ministerial journey. He taught me how to lead Shabbat services for the Queenshill and Chassidishe shuls in Leeds, then trained me to conduct Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services for Harrogate and Sheffield communities. He graciously guided me to become a choirmaster and form choirs at Reading and Catford as their Rabbi. Michael passed on the torch to me and others of leading congregations in prayer. I will always be grateful for all he has taught me. His memory will be an eternal blessing.”
Michael grew up in a family atmosphere of tradition and music which nurtured a love for liturgical and choral music. Whilst studying law at the University of Leeds, he joined BHH Shul as Chazan and Ba’al Keriah on Shabbat Shira in January 1959 in the temporary synagogue on Street Lane Gardens. He became Chazan Sheni in 1967. An accountant in industry, Michael was active in the Leeds communal and charity scene. Organisations included the Leeds Jewish Representative Council, Shomrei Mitzvos (Moortown Mikvah) and Kashrut Authority.
Music though was Michael’s calling. Though not formally trained, apart from four years study of pianoforte theory, he was blessed with an ear for harmonies. Forming the BHH Choir in November 1969, the choir made its first public appearance at a barmitzvah in March 1970 and developed its repertoire to become one of Europe’s finest. Traditional synagogue melodies sat seamlessly alongside old tunes of the Lithuanian Shteltl and modern Israeli compositions.
Musical director of the Leeds Jewish Choral Society, Michael was a Judge at the National Chazanut Competition in Manchester in 1977 and in 1985 he set up the biennial Yom Yerushalayim Song Contest which ran to 1995 attracting global entries.
But it is BHH Choir where Michael enjoyed decades of fulfilment. They sang on a Shabbat, Yom Tovs, weddings, bar/batmitzvahs and entertained shuls across the UK.
BHH held an annual gala concert from the early 70s that accompanied famous Cantors including Simon Hass, Joseph Malovany, Moshe Korn Zohn, Naftali Herzok, Moshe Stern and Benjamin Muller. There were TV appearances with Harry Seacombe, James Gallway and Halle Orchestra.
Arguably most memorable was a tour of Israel in 1985. Concerts took place at hotels, shuls, Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem and Beit Levinstein Hospital in Ra’anana. There was also an unforgettable performance at Yad Vashem and a warm up act in Netanya Square before Yardena Arazi took the stage! The tour raised funds for good causes.
BHH described Michael as a “cornerstone” of the shul for over 50 years who will be greatly missed.
A statement read: “He founded and conducted the BHH choir and his training tapes for Barmitzvah boys were legendary. Under his tutelage countless boys brought many hundreds of people to celebrate their simcha, and some boys continued their involvement in synagogue life, such was the inspiration and motivation he provided.”
Rabbi Mendel Sufrin joined BHH Synagogue in 2005 and described Michael as a Kol Bo, an all-rounder.
He recalled: “He was the Ba’al Keriah, layened the Parsha every week and read all five Megillot from a klaf (parchment). He conducted the choir, led services during the week and on Shabbat. He led shacharit and Mincha on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, was assistant Minister, officiated at weddings, funerals and shiva houses. And he kept the Hebrew names for the plaques up to date. Michael also taught people how to Daven and layen. Michael made it all sound so easy, even though he put his heart and soul into everything. And all this in addition to his daytime job.”
Rabbi Sufrin added: “Michael requested many things from Hashem on behalf of the congregation as a Ba’al Tefillah. He gave tremendous light to BHH and to the Leeds community at large.”
The BHH choir included generations of youngsters in the soprano section. I made my debut at my elder brother Clive’s barmitzvah in November 1971. For me the choir is Michael’s greatest legacy as it covered my late childhood and teen years in Leeds. I recall the many choir practices on a Tuesday night when we perfected various tunes for all occasions and venues. Friendships were formed as I graduated from soprano to alto. Michael never once raised his voice, if you made a mistake, he’d come over and go over your part. Nothing was too much trouble. For a decade I rarely missed a performance until leaving Leeds but Michael always came over with a twinkle in his eye for me to join performances on visits home for a Shabbat or the High Holydays.
Five decades on from my debut I still use the tunes verbatim that Michael taught whichever shul I’ve attended in Leeds, Hendon, Borehamwood or Shenley on a Shabbat and Yom Tov much to the annoyance of congregants around me at times!
If I was to select just one of his arrangements from those halcyon choir it has to be Unetaneh Tokef on Yom Kippur because in the mid-80s my old alto mate Jonny Berkovitz told me to read the English rather than gabble through the Ivrit before we led the congregation.
My days with the choir and Michael taught me life lessons and were unforgettable. There were many occasions when we talked about community life especially when I was reporting on the Leeds Jewish community. To say, Michael was a titan of communal life does not do justice to his impact.
My younger brother, Laurence, is President of the Rep Council and ran the BHH shul bookshop with Michael for a number of years. He recalled Michael’s stories when he shared a room with our late father at our grandparents, Rabbi Louis and Annie Saffer, and learnt with Zaide after arriving in Leeds.
“Michael fondly spoke of those times,” he said. “At BHH, he was a stalwart of the shul as Chazzan Sheini. Michael was knowledgeable, positive and creative in his attempts to bring musicality to the services as choirmaster.”
Michael impacted many lives and his memory will live on as Rabbi Kleiman eloquently recalled before hundreds of mourners. He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Jeanette, children Daniel, Debbie, Rafi and Gil, nine grandchildren and a sister, Ruth, in Israel.