Cantor Jack Korbman, teacher to 1,000-plus students, dies at 81

Cantor Jack Korbman, teacher to 1,000-plus students, dies at 81

Remembered as ‘pied piper’ of Adath Shalom

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Korbman and his wife Barbara were feted at a gala upon his retirement in 2015. Photo courtesy Adath Shalom
Korbman and his wife Barbara were feted at a gala upon his retirement in 2015. Photo courtesy Adath Shalom

Cantor Jack Korbman, who served the local Jewish community for more than 50 years and specialized in “reaching all the kids” at his synagogue, died on Oct. 19. He was 81. 

In a 2007 interview with NJJN, Michael Landau, then president of Adath Shalom in Morris Plains, where Korbman served for 30 years, called the cantor the “pied piper of kids.”

“He has a magic, a talent to reach all of our kids,” Landau said at the time. “He manages to find the key to each puzzle; he opens them up and connects with them. It’s so rare to see a cantor reach out and connect and bond with kids.”

The walls of Korbman’s office at Adath Shalom were covered with photos of smiling b’nei mitzvah students. The shelves overflowed with puppets and stuffed animals. As an extra treat, he also kept machines dispensing M&Ms and bubble gum in his office. For Korbman, it was evident the cantorate was about the kids.

He told NJJN before he retired in 2015, “Most cantors are trained as cantors. They can teach trop and prayers. But engaging students — I don’t think they’ve learned this,” he said. Perhaps because he was also an educator — he worked in the Newark public schools for 34 years — he took a different approach. “I view every child as my own, and I think they pick up on that.” He claimed that “the more pleasant” the lessons, “the more they will come.” 

Lay leaders at Adath Shalom calculated that before his retirement Korbman tutored 758 kids at Adath Shalom and more than 1,750 over a career spanning more than 55 years and four synagogues. 

One of those youngsters, Broadway, film, and TV performer Jason Alexander, trained with Korbman during the cantor’s time serving Congregation Ahavat Achim Bikur Cholim (AABC) in Irvington. The actor, best known for his leading role on TV’s “Seinfeld,” sent a video tribute to the cantor’s retirement party. “Yes, it is true,” Alexander says in the video. “Jack Korbman is the man who taught George Costanza the Sh’ma.”

He ends with, “I remember you fondly; I always will.”

As a youngster growing up in Newark, Korbman dreamed of becoming a pop star, he told NJJN in a 2007 interview. At some point, he decided the cantorate was a safer bet, and followed in the footsteps of his father — who was also rabbi and a ritual slaughterer — and of the three generations of cantors who preceded him. 

Rather than going to cantorial school, Korbman studied with area cantors.

He acquired his musical chops studying with Seymour Greene, a musician who was part of the big band and Broadway scene in the mid-20th century. Korbman also sang with the Mark Silver Choir and with the prominent cantors Berele Chagy, Maurice Ganchoff, and Samual Vigoda.

The 1954 Weequahic High School graduate retired as an administrator in the Newark Public Schools in 1998. 

Jack Korbman was born March 30, 1936, to Rabbi Abraham and Celia Korbman of Newark. 

He earned a bachelor’s degree from Upsala College and a master’s degree from Seton Hall University. 

He started his career as a hazzan in 1962 at Congregation AABC. But after 20 years, the Jewish community moved west, the Irvington synagogue closed, and Korbman moved to Congregation Beth Torah in Florham Park, originally conceived as an annex for AABC. In 1985, he moved again, to Temple Beth Shalom in Boonton, just before it merged with Congregation Adath Israel of Dover to become Adath Shalom. He remained there for the rest of his career.

At the time of his retirement, he said, “If they knew how much I loved my job, they would never have paid me.” 

After he retired, Korbman and his wife, Barbara, sold their Livingston home and moved to Boynton Beach, Fla.

Funeral services were held Oct. 20 at Adath Shalom; interment was at Americus Lodge-Odd Fellows Cemetery in Saddle Brook. 

He is survived by his wife Barbara (nee Kopf); sons Jeffrey (Dana) of Highland Park and Barry (Melinda) of Robbinsville; stepson Mark Jiorle (Amy) of Franklin Park; brother Harry of Edison; grandchildren Aviva, Sam, Aaron, Hannah, Sammy, and Shayna; and sister-in-law Mildred Korbman. He was predeceased by his brother Rabbi Meyer Korbman.

Donations in Korbman’s memory may be made to Congregation Adath Shalom Youth Fund or to NCSY Summer Programs.

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