The Museum of

       Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays




Jakie Rabinowitz, the Cantor's son, sings "Kol Nidre"
at the synagogue in place of his ill father.
To hear Jolson sing "Kol Nidre," click on the photo above.

Jakie, his mother Sara and his father Cantor Rabinowitz,
as played by versatile actor Warner Oland.


Yom Kippur

"The Jazz Singer"
with Al Jolson

The plot of the 1927 film is thus: Jakie's father (Jakie is played by Al Jolson), Cantor Rabinowitz, is troubled and upset because his son Jakie has no desire to carry on the family's traditions and heritage. For five generations, the Rabinowitzs have been Cantors in the synagogue, but his son Jakie would rather sing jazz and ragtime songs. Jakie's mother senses this.

Thirteen-year old Jakie is to supposed sing "Kol Nidre" at the Orchard Street synagogue in place of his father on the eve of Yom Kippur, but he does not show up for services. Where can he be?

An Orthodox and powerful man named Yudelson, from the neighborhood where the Rabinowitzs live, hears Jakie singing at a bar-cafe and drags Jakie by the ear back home to his parents.  Jakie tells his mother that he wants to be on stage, but Cantor Rabinowitz, angered by what has transpired, prepares to whip young Jakie with his belt. Jakie says that he will run away if he is whipped--he is and he does. While his father is at the synagogue, Jakie sneaks back home to retrieve a photo of his mother, then runs away.

Jack (no longer Jakie) continues his pursuit of a show business career. One night before Jack is to open on Broadway, Cantor Rabinowitz becomes very ill.  The next sundown happens to be the evening of Yom Kippur. The question is asked, "Who will take Cantor Rabinowitz's place at the synagogue?"

Mother Sara has faith in her son Jakie: "If Jakie knew his father was so sick - he would come." Yudelson then looks for Jakie, hoping to convince him to return home and take his father's place at the synagogue for Yom Kippur. He finds Jakie during a backstage rehearsal, and he implores him: "Tomorrow, the Day of Atonement - they want you should sing in the synagogue, Jakie." Jack responds: "But my father - he doesn't want me to sing, does he?" Yudelson tells Jakie that his father is gravely ill and that his father, the Cantor, cannot perform on the eve of Yom Kippur, the most sacred of holy days. Yudleson wants Jakie to take over for his father: "But Jakie, your singing would be like sunshine to your Papa...Jakie, remember --- a son's a son no matter if his Papa throws him out a hundred times!"

This proves to be a great dilemma for Jakie. This request forces him to make a terribly difficult choice--does he goes on opening night, or does he become dutiful to his father and sing "Kol Nidre" at the synagogue during Yom Kippur?  Jack is  bewildered--he has waited for this show business break for years, and now he is being asked to give it up. Jack feels Yudelson's words even more when he says, "Would you be the first Rabinowitz in five generations to fail your God?"

The next afternoon is the dress rehearsal for the show. Back on the Lower East Side, on the eve of Yom Kippur, Yudelson tells the Jewish elders that they have no Cantor on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Meanwhile, Cantor Rabinowitz is very sick and is seen lying in his bed. He tells his wife that he cannot perform at the synagogue on Yom Kippur eve.

He says to her,  "My heart is breaking, Mama. I cannot sing. My son came to me in my dreams - - he sang Kol Nidre so beautifully. If he would only sing like that tonight - surely he would be forgiven."

Yudelson returns to the theater with Mrs. Rabinowitz, once again to implore her Jakie to take his father's place that evening at the synagogue. Jack realizes that he has a very big decision to make. "It's a choice between giving up the biggest chance of my life --and breaking my mother's heart - -I have no right to do either." Mary repeats the words that Jack once said to her. She asks, "Were you lying when you said your career came before everything?"

Yudelson tells Jack that he must sing tonight. Jack says that he hasn't sung Kol Nidre since he was a small boy. He is reassured by Yudelson that he can never forget what he learned as a child. His mother leaves the ultimate decision up to him.  The show producer tells him that he would be a fool to give up this big chance to become a Broadway star.

Jakie and his father Cantor Rabinowitz


When the curtain is about to go up, the audience is told that there would be no performance that evening. This one time, Jack returns to sing in his father's place at the synagogue, becoming Jakie Rabinowitz once again. The opening night for the Broadway show is cancelled and Jackie  sings "Kol Nidre" in the synagogue.

From his bed, his father listens to Jakie lead the Yom Kippur congregation and sing "Kol Nidre." Cantor Rabinowitz believes his son has returned to his roots, so to speak, and he forgives him. His last words are, "Mamma, we have our son again." In a super-imposed image, we see the spirit of Jack's father at his side in the synagogue. Mary describes Jack perfectly: "- a jazz singer - singing to his God."

Hear Jolson sing "Kol Nidre" beautifully by clicking on the earphones icon here .


Copyright 2007-9. Museum of Family History. All rights reserved. Image Use Policy