Sephardic Hazzanut Project

Faraj Samra

2010-2011 Goals

I'm happy to announce that all of the prashiot of the Torah as well as shahrit of Shabat in all the main maqamot have been completely recorded and uplodaded to the website for everyone to download. In addition, I have recorded hundreds of pizmonim for different occasions and the holidays. This year, I would like to record the Haftarot for each parasha as well as the ones that are said on the holidays. As a baal Koreh, I have noticed, that many people do not know how to read nor sing properly the haftarah when they go up to the Torah and I hope this part of the project will alleviate this problem. Additionally I would like to add more pizmonim and bakashot.

Baal Koreh

I was born in Damascus, Syria and when I was ten years old I emigrated to the United States to join the rest of the Syrian Jewish community. During my schooling in Syria, reading the Torah (including learning Ta'amim) was stressed and taught extensively. When I first came to the USA, I went to Ateret Torah for elementary school and I continued to learn Ta'amim with Rabbi Maslaton on Friday afternoons. Because of my dad's encouragement, when I became Bar Mitzvah, I began reading the Torah portions on Mondays and Thursdays. Initially I used to read the Torah in Shevet Ahim but later got a job to read during the week at Ahi Ezer on avenue X. Reading a whole Parashah was a daunting task and during my summer after my Bar Mitzvah, I got a job reading the Torah at Mil Basin synagogue. Additionally, I used to read at Shaare Zion for Shabbat Minha. When the Rabbi of the shul heard me, he encouraged me to continue reading the parashah on a regular basis. The following week I got a job to read the Torah in the Shaare Zion annex. At that time, I used to read every third week because there were two others reading. During those days, it took me more than a week to study each parashah. I stayed there for about a year or two. During the summers, I would read at Mil Basin Synagogue. Additionally, for two summers I read at a Sephardic synagogue in Boro Park. After that I got a full time job to read at Ahi Ezer of Avenue X and I stayed for about two and avhalf years. Later on, I got a job as a Baal Koreh in Bnei Yosef synagogue, where I have been reading there since 2004.


I was always interested in Middle Eastern music because of my father. As a young kid, I had no idea what a maqam was but I enjoyed listening to music. My first exposure to hazzanut was at the Sepharadic Lebanese Synagogue when it was located in the Ahi Ezer nursing home. I used to be part of the choir led by Hazzan Ari Ovadiah. We used to prepare songs on Shabbat and sing them in front of the congregation between Minha and Arbit in Seuda Shilishit. Additionally, on a few occasions, we got the opportunity to sing in front of the Chief Rabbi of Israel. During my high school years when I used to read the Torah at Ahi Ezer on Avenue X, I learned a lot about hazzanut from Hazzan Menachem Mustachi who was the Hazzan at the shul. Hazzan Mustachi and Hazzan David Shiro used to give Bakashot classes at Shaare Zion every Shabbat before Minha. At that time, I began to comprehend and understand a little bit about the maqamot and how they relate to each other. I continued listening to Arabic music and tried to incorporate what I learned from the music into the tefillah. I used to be the Hazzan for Arbit Saturday night in Ahi Ezer and every week, with my dad's help, I tried to find a beautiful tune that I could use for Kaddish. As I listened to more songs, I became more familiar with the tunes and maqamot. I loved going from shul to shul in order to listen to different hazzanim so that I could learn from them and apply what I learned to my Hazzanut. When I began reading the Torah in Bnai Yosef, during the first summer, I was asked to take over as the hazzan for the summer because the regular hazzanim were away. Initially, I was very hesitant and I was not sure if I would be able to be a Hazzan for Shahrit on Shabbat. In the end, I decided that it would be a worthy challenge for me and a great learning experience. Since that first summer, I have been the hazzan every summer. Additionally, I'm one of the hazzanim at Bnai Yosef every year during the High Holidays. When I began college at Yeshiva University, I noticed a course entitled "Sephardic Liturgical Music" given by Rabbi/Hazzan Moshe Tessone. I decided to take the class and I must say that what I have learned there has helped me tremendously in growing in Hazzanut. I learned how to use improvisation and how to advance in my learning. I took the class every semester and even though the curriculum was the same, I learned something new every time.

Sephardic Hazzanut Project

For years now I have been thinking about how I could pass on what I have learned to anyone who wants to learn about hazzanut. There are many sephardic music tapes and for those really interested there is always the option of taking hazzanut lessons with an experienced Hazzan. I found that to be a very expensive option for many people and has dissuaded many from learning about our beautiful musical heritage. Additionally, as a baal Koreh, I noticed that many people have trouble singing the taamim properly and reading the Torah correctly. I wanted to do something about that but I really had no good option in carrying it out. Last year Succot I was sitting at a friend's house and I had the opportunity to talk about the Sephardic Pizmonim Project with David Betesh. He explained to me what he was doing and that's how the Sephardic Hazzanut Project began. Also, I'm especially thankful to Harry Catton who, over the years, has encouraged me to record my Hazzanut. My initial goal is to record all the parashiot and Shahrit of Shabbat for all the main seven maqamot. I have a tremendous task ahead of me and I hope BH, I will be able to fulfill that as soon as possible. My hope is that this will be of great help to anyone wishing to learn how to read the parasha with taamim and those interested in hazzanut. I'm more than happy to hear about any comments or suggestions on how this can be improved. Though I'm very busy, I will try my best to respond as soon as I can.

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