Chazan Tzvi Hersh Tsatskis, who learned music in the Soviet Union and went on to sing Jewish songs in America, and sang many times while the Rebbe distributed kos shel bracha, passed away.
Chazan Tzvi Hersh Tsatskis, who learned music in the Soviet Union and went on to sing Jewish songs in America, and sang many times while the Rebbe distributed kos shel bracha, passed away on Shabbos, 10 Shvat, 5784.
He was 85 years old.
Tzvi Hersh was born on Yom Kippur in 1938, in the city of Kazan, Tatarstan, then part of the Soviet Union. In his youth, he was educated in Torah by Chabad chassidim, who would come to his house in secret to teach him, despite the danger of imprisonment.
In this oppressive environment, his parents tried their best to be Torah observant. Even after the war, when the Tsatskis family moved to Moscow, where Jewish life was even harder, they took great pains to keep kosher, and against all odds they succeeded.
In Moscow, young Tzvi Hersh attended public school and tried to avoid desecrating Shabbos as much as he could. He also “played hooky” on the Yomim Noraim. After that, in 1955, he went to university—the Moscow Conservatory of Music—to become a pianist, and was arrested twice while trying to attend the great Moscow Choral Synagogue. He was questioned and held in jail a few days each time, but he suffered no further fallout from those incidents.
From that time on, the Tsatkis family were actively trying to leave Russia. Finally, in 1970, a Chabad emissary went to the Rebbe to ask for the Rebbe’s bracha that they get out. And less than a year later—at a time when this was near impossible!—they received the green light to go. As soon as the family arrived in America, they traveled to see the Rebbe to express our gratitude.
That was the first time Tzvi Hersh participated in a farbrengen and saw thousands of Jews gathered together—something which was forbidden in Russia. “It was amazing to hear the Rebbe speak and to see everyone so happy, singing with such joy. For me, it was an unbelievable experience,” he recalled in an interview with JEM’s my encounter.
“During the farbrengen I was sitting by the door as far away from the Rebbe as you could get, and I couldn’t hear him very well from there. But even if I could have heard him, I wouldn’t have understood much,” he said.
Then, at the end of the farbrengen, the Rebbe began to distribute kos shel bracha, and Tzvi Hersh, seeing Ipeople lining up to receive it and say l’chaim, began debating with myself whether I should join them.
“I wanted to, but not being a Chabad chassid, I wasn’t sure if I should, until I saw the line coming to an end. And then, on an impulse, I got up and stood at the back of the line. Before long I found myself in front of the Rebbe holding my cup,” he recalled.
The Rebbe gave him a big smile, poured wine into my cup, and he said l’chaim. He then started to walk away, but the Rebbe called him back.
“So I came back, and he gave me an even bigger smile and poured a bit more wine into my cup. I said l’chaim again, and then he spoke to me in Russian: ‘Don’t have any more doubts.’ I was so shaken that I almost fainted. Then he said, ‘Sing!’ And I started to sing the Pesach song, ‘Who knows one?’ except I sang it in Russian: ‘Ech Ti Zemlyak . . .'” he related.
After that, he was privileged to sing many, many times at the Rebbe’s farbrengens.
At one point in time, Chazan Tsatkis was invited to give a concert of Jewish melodies in Manhattan for the Workmen’s Circle, a secular Jewish organization. During the first intermission, somebody approached him and asked me to take off my yarmulke, and he refused. And then, during the second intermission, another person came over to him. He said he was the vice president of the organization sponsoring the concert, and his organization was very happy that I was performing for them, but they were not comfortable with him wearing a yarmulke. “Would I please remove it?” the man asked.
Chazan Tsatskis got very upset, and told him, “You are the second person to come to me and ask me to take off my yarmulke. And if someone else comes, then I will not only not take it off, I will take out my tzitzit and make sure no one has any doubt that I am a Torah-observant Jew.” That put an end to that.
When he later came to see the Rebbe, he told him about this upsetting incident. As he was relating the story, he said, “I was giving a concert to a Jewish audience that was not observant . . .”
At that, the Rebbe interrupted me: “Why do you say that they were not observant? They are observant; they just don’t know that they are observant!”
In the interview with JEM, he related one story with the Rebbe that stood out in his mind.
“Let me preface: I once brought my son to a farbrengen, but I did not bring my daughter. And right away the Rebbe asked, ‘Where is she? Where is Tanya?’
“When my son heard the Rebbe asking for Tanya, he ran to a make a call to my wife. She brought her right over—Tanya was then just a little girl—and when the Rebbe saw her, he waved to her. After that, I would bring her to Chabad events on many occasions.
“One time the Rebbe was distributing wine at the end of a festival, and many of the yeshivah students were singing chassidic songs. Standing on the stage not far from the Rebbe, I led a song, and Tanya, who was seven or eight years old at the time, began to sing along. When she did that, the Rebbe’s secretary indicated to me that she should stop, as the men present should not listen to the voice of a girl singing.
“The Rebbe noticed this and, concerned that she might be upset, put down his cup of wine, turned to her and motioned to her to clap. He was encouraging her to participate, and he did this for some time. I was amazed! That the Rebbe should consider the feelings of a child, and that he should take so much trouble to engage her!
“He had a tremendous love for every Jew and every person. In fact, what he felt was beyond love—it was a feeling of unity. He united us with him and with G‑d. I experienced this feeling, and I will never forget it,” Chazan Tsatskis remembered.
He is survived by his wife, Eda Tsatskis and children, Izzy Tsatskis and Tania Weissman.
The Levaya will take place on Sunday, January 21, at 1:00 PM
Boulevard Riverside Chapels
1450 Broadway, Hewlett, NY 11557
Shiva will be at Tsatskis Home, 454 Broadway, Cedarhurst, beginning on Sunday evening until Friday 1 PM.
Shacharis Monday – Friday at 7:00 AM
Mincha/Maariv Monday – Thursday at 4:45 PM
The family requests no visitors from 6:00-7:00 pm or after 9:30 pm.