Interview With Noteworthy Individuals
Conversations with Noteworthy Individuals ... A Series.
Conversation with Ha Rav, Ha Chazzan Dr. Phineas Schmeisenbach ... whom I have known for more than ten years and yes, he really does says such things as you will read in the italics!
(An important aside from the interviewer: Reb Phineas is such a “mazik” that I feared the idea of sitting down and having a civil conversation together would be quite simply beyond the pale. I was not wrong.)
*Reb Phineas's remarks are italicized.
Rabbi, I wish to thank you for finding time, given your demanding schedule, to sit down and meet with me for a few minutes.
Busch, what do I know? I’m from the “kleiner mentchen”. Tell me, … how does it feel to be a descendant of the burning bush?
Huh? Oh yea, well … aglow I suppose. (Why does he insist upon saying I’m a descendant of that fiery shrub, hmmmm?)
Rabbi, seriously speaking, I have never had the opportunity to really thank you for chanting Kel Mole Rachomim at the funeral of my son Ben, olav ha shalom, and on a much happier note serving as chazzan at my recent wedding.
No problem Busch. Don’t thank me. I’m from the kleiner mentchen. What do I know?
(Indeed Reb Phineas derives much enjoyment from his oft-repeated claim that his “lineage” is from the kleiner mentshen, the "little people", a self-deprecating characterization. In this way, it allows him to exploit his remarkably mischievous sense of humor as a way to avoid being taken too seriously. Should you not know this clever little truth about him, you might entertain the exceedingly wrong-headed notion that he hails from the much maligned chachomim of Chelm, hmmm?)
Rabbi, you are actually a scion of a much heralded rabbinic dynasty in Yerushalayim, are you not?
A what? Busch, what do I know? I’m from the kleiner mentchen. Mein Henglish is not so good!
And that you have a doctoral degree in pastoral studies from Chicago State University, isn't that correct?
That makes you a Rabbi Doctor. I thought to appeal to his considerable but well concealed ego.
Technically yes it does though I owe much of the credit to Reb Louie. He did most of the work.
What do you mean?
You do not want to know.
I guess you’re right.
So tell me Busch, how is your father?
Considering his age, he’s doing well. Hey, I’m asking the questions here.
Reb Phineas, you are known for the rapidity with which you stand Shmoney Esrei. How can one daven with kavanah at that pace?
Busch, He and I are busy men.
(Reb Phineas points straight up with his index finger. As a matter of fact, he recites the prayers so fast that he is already taking his three steps backward on “Yehi ratson” before you have finished your responses to his Kidusha.)
Rabbi, I have always loved your chazanus, especially Kol Ni …
(He arose from his chair running to the kitchen.)
Betcha he’s going for that leftover tuna fish!