Cantor Benny Rogosnitzky has experienced his world through the grace of music and his never-ending passion for music and the performing arts. He has been able to incorporate his passion and his career as a Cantor and leader of a prestigious New York synagogue.
As far back as he could remember, he had a love for music. Benny’s mother would often sing to him. Her beautiful and enchanting voice piqued his interest in music and the performing arts as a very young child.
Born the son of a well-known Rabbi in Liverpool, England, his family had the opportunity to experience life on several continents. His early schooling was spent in Amsterdam before moving to Johannesburg, South Africa. Benny flourished in this environment. There, he was able to learn about the ritual synagogue, Jewish life, and of equal importance, music.
The concept of performing either at a synagogue or a concert came naturally to Cantor Benny Rogosnitzky. When he was eight, he joined the choir at the Synagogue. By the time he was nine, he was singing as a child soloist at large venues. At times he was the main attraction, other times he would perform as a guest soloist.
At the age of 14, the family returned to England where Benny finished high school and enrolled in college. He attended the Royal Manchester School of Music where he pursued his music degree. Simultaneously, he learned to sing cantorial music, which is very specific music for the Jewish synagogue.
Cantor Benny Rogosnitzky landed his first official position at a synagogue at age fourteen almost by default when the synagogue’s Cantor was ill before the Jewish High Holidays. It was imperative to find a stand-in for the Cantor at the very last minute and Benny was their choice. Since that time, he has led services on weekends and the high holidays in the Jewish tradition.
Music is a very important part of Benny Rogosnitzky’s life, not only with traditional music. Cantorial music is a deliberate niche style of music. He enjoys all genres. He frequently attends Broadway shows and the opera. His excitement comes from the performance and mastery of each individual who has the ability to maintain a unique style and rhythm of music.
In the last few years, what lifestyle, habit, or behavior change has had the biggest positive impact on your life?
My work as a cantor involves music as a discipline and prayer as a discipline. Following a routine ultimately benefits you in every area of life. Getting used to doing the very same thing, whether it is attending services, teaching a music class, or participating in some sort of presentation on a regular basis, is very helpful to a person.
The same thing is true in relationships with people, for example, in reaching out to people. I’ve made it my business on Friday afternoons to always reach out to the elderly members of our congregation. Every Friday afternoon that is in my calendar to do. It is a benefit to the people you are calling, but at the same time it is a benefit to the person who calls because when you reach out to someone and make them feel important and let them know that you care about them, you also get a good feeling out of that.
When you feel unfocused, what do you do?
I find that stopping helps. I’m a big fan of the stop signs that are in the street for cars. I look at them not just as a measure for a car to take note, but I think a person needs stop signs in their daily activity. What happens is we are generally running from an email to a phone call to a text and to a meeting, and when I feel that I am not focusing or I am not paying attention to something, taking some time to stop and just recalibrate. I try throughout the day to have these moments where, even for 10 seconds, I just take a deep breath and I say, “Okay, we’re going to take a step back” and I always envision the stop sign that you see when you’re on the road. That reminds me, it’s not only to keep you safe, it actually a very good lesson in life.
What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?
I have found that in most cases people that don’t know you well give you bad advice. If you are on the street corner and you are asking someone for directions, someone will tell you exactly where the building is, and some will send you in circles. The only time you should really take advice from people is when you people really know you for a length of time so they understand your assets and your struggles, and they can then really be a guide to you. That’s a general statement of who you should be careful of as far as taking advice.
The best advice, and what I have seen in my own life, is there is no greater fulfillment than doing something that you are passionate for and also getting paid for it. The problem is that you run out of steam if all you are doing all day is simply working to make ends meet and bring the money home because at the end of the day that is life and you may be existing, but you are missing a very important component. I would say to a college graduate, you have to look deep in your heart and ask, “What am I really passionate about? And is there a possibility for me to earn a living from that passion?” By the way, even if there isn’t, then the answer would be to get a job that sustains the person and brings in income, but never to give up on those areas of passion, whether it’s volunteering or whether it’s doing something good in the community, or following a sport that they love. You should never give up on yourself and your passions because in order to keep the engine running, you need to take care of yourself.
What is one lifestyle trend that excites you?
I am excited about wearable exercise technology. Everybody struggles with something and the way my lifestyle is, between going to events and singing at events, can get so hectic that I often forget and have to look at my phone to see what is next on today’s agenda and whether I am singing somewhere or performing somewhere.
The thing about the technology is that it monitors you without you having to do anything and it gives you an awareness, whether it is how many steps you’ve taken, what your cardio level is, so you can have something that complements your life without having to divert from your daily activity. I just think it’s fascinating because I’ve always found that the more awareness and knowledge a person has about themselves the better person they can become and the more they can improve themselves.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why?
I don’t know that I can pinpoint one specific person, however, at the same time I will say in the same breath, I was invited to several times to the White House over the years. Without getting into the political side of the argument, I remember once meeting President Obama, and in the eight seconds perhaps that he spoke with me, and I don’t think that it was longer than that, he gave me the sense that there was nothing else in the world that mattered other than speaking to me. I thought to myself, that is of value that a person is able to do that. Everybody says, and in a relationship your wife will say to you, “Give me attention, talk to me.” What does that really mean? When you have your phone and everything, you’re diverted in several different ways, so to me a role model of paying attention to someone and making some special, the fact that 10 years later I still have that feeling, in that moment I was very taken by that action. I just felt that it said a lot about a person, and he must meet thousands of people, that he gave me that feeling. I often try to emulate that in my relationships with people. If I am talking to someone on the phone, I try to focus on them for that moment and not on the next task that is going to take place right after.
What’s one of the biggest life lessons you’ve learned?
What I’ve learned is that the moments of greatest tribulation and the moments of greatest hardship are very often the moments of greatest growth. Nothing in life comes simply. When I look back at my life and I look at challenges that I’ve experienced, I can now in hindsight say, wow, those were the moments that changed me for the better and that taught me the value of whatever it was, whether it was money or a relationship or work. I look today at times of trouble, for instance dealing with the virus, there is so much to learn. Yes, we are in tough times, but there is a lot to learn from the tough times and how we deal with them. That was life altering for me to see that.
What do you think it is that makes you/someone successful?
I think part of it is luck. You can’t take away the fact that some people are just lucky. There is a sense that God smiles upon them or there is something in their destiny that they are meant to be successful. Part of it, I think, is not of our doing, but I think that’s the smaller part. I think the more important part is if the person is driven. They say nice guys finish last, but I don’t think that’s true.
If you define success as just having money, then you can be very nasty and do very well financially. But to leave a lasting impression, which is ultimately what I think everybody wants in life, we want to leave a lasting impression on other people. I think it is kindness and the way a person treats others that makes them successful.
How do you stay motivated?
Connecting to God by praying motivates me. I’m also lucky to be in a position where things that I do, small actions, have impact on people. When I get back an email that says, “I was so depressed and you gave me a call and it brightened my day”, that to me says, look, these are the little signs on the road that you are doing the right thing. I would say that I’m lucky that I get feedback many times, not directly, but I get it indirectly or from a third party, that says to me and is a reminder that I’m on the right path.
What legacy do you hope to leave behind?
My favorite mantra in the entire world is “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” because I truly believe in that. There is not a person living on this earth that has not been through tough times. Number one, I would want people to see the legacy that I’ve left was that in difficult times I was able to overcome.
The second part is to pay it forward and do good for others. If you have things in life and God has blessed you with things, you should spread that and help others. If you only keep it for yourself it will not bring you happiness. But if you reach out to other people and make an impact, and I’m not talking about this only in the realm of my work, I’m talking about in the realm of life, if you give kindness to other people, you remember them, you impact them positively, that is something that I think can my long lasting legacy.