Synagogue Bids Adieu to Cantor

Though as a boy Sidney Karpo sang in his South Philadelphia Hebrew school's junior choir – and was well aware that he had a considerable voice – he never dreamed of being a cantor. Actually, it was his wife who convinced him to do it.

"I could have been anything," said the 78-year-old. "My wife is a very musical person, and I'd sing her songs. So she talked me into it."

Earlier this month, Karpo retired from the profession his better-half chose for him, the only one he's known for nearly 60 years now. The past 44 of those six decades have been spent at Congregation Ner Zedek-Ezrath Israel-Beth Uziel in Northeast Philadelphia.

The youngest of 10 children, Karpo married his wife, Sylvia, when he was just 15, with the approval of his father. Consequently, he started thinking about his long-term career earlier than most people.

"At 18, I was leaning toward cantorial music," said Karpo. "At 20, I studied cantorial work and, at 24, I took my first position at the Yeadon Jewish Community Center in Yeadon, Pa."

Karpo spent 11 years there before moving on to Ner Zedek. On June 3, after the cantor's last Shabbat service and last yom tov leading the prayers – it was the holiday of Shavuot – the congregation honored its longtime chazzan with a special luncheon.

"The cantor has always conducted himself as if we are the center of the Jewish world in Northeast Philadelphia," wrote co-presidents Jack Belitsky and Joe Cooperstein in an e-mail. "There is the Sidney Karpo of the bimah, whose voice shakes the very structure of the building. But there is also the Sidney Karpo that most of us don't see: the one that patches the roof and the sidewalk, the one that fixes broken doors and windows, the one that puts up the sukkah."

According to the co-presidents, the synagogue at this time does not plan to replace the cantor, and will have someone come to help conduct High Holiday services.

Karpo and his wife have moved on to Florida, where he hopes to focus on his hobbies.

"I've always done everything and anything that I've wanted to do," said Karpo. "I love to read – I love to read the Torah, the Tanach. I love literature, and I love poetry. I'm interested in anything and everything that keeps you alive. People always say they will do things tomorrow. To me, tomorrow is today."



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