Cantor Avraham (“Avi”) Albrecht has been a familiar face at Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Pikesville for more than 26 years. At the end of 2022, he has decided to retire. But the cantor certainly isn’t leaving quietly — on Sunday, Nov. 20, he was honored with a tribute concert presented by the congregation, where he belted out tunes to an appreciative audience.
“Voices of the Heart” featured a debut performance from Albrecht’s musical trio Cantori, consisting of himself and his students, Yoni Rose and Benjamin Warschawski — all for the benefit of Laniado Hospital in Netanya, Israel. Nearly 1,200 guests attended, and the trio’s performance was met with raucous applause and a standing ovation.
Albrecht, 71, will remain the synagogue’s cantor emeritus, leaving behind a long legacy of involvement, music and charity.
“The cantor has a heart of gold, and anything he does, he wants it to be associated with good deeds,” said Rabbi Chanan Daniel Skurnik, who serves as the Mid-Atlantic director for the Laniado Development Fund of Laniado Hospital. “When the time came to discuss a farewell tribute, he didn’t want it to be just some party. He wanted it to have meaning and to benefit a worthy cause.”
Albrecht actually hails from Israel, having grown up in Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood. These days, Florentin is known as Tel Aviv’s hipster art district and often compared to SoHo in New York City. When Albrecht grew up there, it was home to a bustling Orthodox community of which his family was a part.
His tenure as a cantor began at the young age of 13, when he helped officiate his own bar mitzvah. He officiated on occasion in different synagogues throughout the city, and when he entered mandatory national services as part of the Israel Defense Forces, he became a member of an army choir. Albrecht later moved to New York, where he would attend Yeshiva University and the Manhattan School of Music.
“I took private lessons with some of the greatest cantors at the time,” recounted Albrecht. “That was much of my musical experience when I first came to America.”
He served as cantor in a few New York congregations, but would not start work at Beth Tfiloh until 1995. The synagogue was looking for a chazzan at the time and called him even though he had no familiarity with Beth Tfiloh. When he arrived at the synagogue, he was impressed by what he saw.
“It was very attractive,” he said. “The offer was attractive, the congregation was very attractive. I was impressed by its school since I’d only been to one or two congregations that had schools of their own. I took the offer because I was in a congregation half the size of Beth Tfiloh, but I wanted to better myself musically.”
‘I feel it’s the right time’
During the 26 years he spent as its cantor, Albrecht wrote and provided music for the synagogue, officiated services and helped teach choir at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. After so many changes in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, he began to rethink his role and the future.
“I felt that it’s the right time to let a younger cantor take over and handle the responsibilities of the position,” said Albrecht. “It’s time for someone young to come and take over [those duties], to be involved with the congregation in a social way and in a musical way, especially with the children. That’s what the congregation is looking for.”
At the moment, Beth Tfiloh is in the process of choosing Albrecht’s successor. Though the cantor mentioned that there have been a few promising candidates suggested, nothing official has yet been confirmed.
Once he retires, Albrecht hopes to take Cantori on the road. The group is currently in the process of finding an agent and expanding its repertoire of Jewish and secular songs.
Above all else, though, and especially with the arrival of the eight-day holiday of Chanukah in mind, he wants to continue stressing the importance of Jewish charity and education.
“As Jews, we should concentrate on Jewish charities before museums and other things,” noted the cantor. “Our brothers and sisters should come before anything else … and if you give, you will get much more. People should always remember to give as much as they can because it’s a way we can emulate G-d.”