Cantor Jacob Ben-Zion Mendelson is the subject of the documentary film A Cantor’s Tale directed by Erik Greenberg Anjou, currently playing in film festivals throughout the world. In reviewing the film, The New York Times called him, “a voice that heralds a culture… a documentary filmmaker’s dream.” Cantor Mendelson is also featured in the films: “Deli Man,” “Theodore Bikel: In the shoes of Sholom Aleichem,” and “Journey of the spirit,” the film on the life of Debbie Friedman.
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, he witnessed the dwindling days of the Golden Age of Hazzanut. Now, as both an international performer and one of the leading cantorial masters of today, he is passing on his art to a new generation of cantors. For over 25 years he has taught at the Hebrew Union College School of Sacred Music, and the H.L. Miller Cantorial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Cantor Mendelson has the unique honor of receiving honorary doctorates from the Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College.
Cantor Mendelson is a graduate of the Hebrew Union College School of Sacred Music and the American Opera Center at the Juilliard School. He is the composer of Weekday Mincha and Maariv and Improvisations on Shabbat Shacharit published by the Cantors Assembly, the organization in which he served as president in 2003 and 2004.
Mendelson created the role of Shabtai Tz’vi in the world premiere of Richard Teitelbaum’s Scenes From Tz’vi held at both Bard College and La Biennale in Venice. After a Carnegie Hall concert, the New York Times raved: “Mendelson’s performance was stunning….emotionally unguarded.” In January 2006, he sang the memorial prayer at the United Nations General Assembly, on the occasion of the first international day to Commemorate Victims of the Holocaust.
Cantor Mendelson’s discography includes Cantorial Recitatives by Legendary Masters, The Birthday of the World Part I and Part II, A Taste of Eternity, narrated by Leonard Nimoy, Jewish Music and More, recorded with his wife, cantor Fredda Mendelson, Hazonos, called “…jazz album of the year” by Wired Magazine, recorded with Frank London and his son, Daniel Mendelson, and most recently, Further definitions of the Days of Awe, with the Afro Semitic Experience, also featuring his son Daniel.
Having retired from the full time pulpit, Mendelson is busier than ever, performing “The Cantors Couch” all over the country, presiding over his New York City independent minyan: “Nachalah,” Scholar in resident weekend’s, and appearing at showings of “A Cantors Head,” the long awaited sequel to “A Cantors Tale”. The American premiere will be held at the Miami Jewish Film Festival January 12, 2020.