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The philosophical and theological gap between Christianity and Judaism is unbridgeable, contended the late Prof. Yeshayahu Leibovich, but Israeli cantor Chaim Adler seems to disagree, at least on the practical level.

As part of his first trip abroad as pope, Benedictus III will be making a historic visit to the synagogue of Cologne, in his homeland of Germany. Adler will be performing for the pope tomorrow at noon, singing cantorial works and chanting from the Torah, which he feels may help to bridge the gap between the faiths.

"I will start off singing verses from the book of Genesis about the creation of man, with cantillation," says Adler in an interview in his apartment in Tel Aviv. "There were not yet any religions then, and man was made in the image of God, meaning that everyone is equal."

Adler will not abandon the theme of human brotherhood in the rest of the program. "Afterwards, I will sing the 23rd Psalm, `The Lord is my shepherd,' which is also recited by the Christians. After all, they also consider Psalms a holy book. And I will end by singing the prayer `Sim Shalom' (Bestow peace), set to a melody that I myself composed." In accordance with a request by the congregation, Adler will perform in a cantor's headdress and elegant robes. "I'll really look like the pope," he jokes.

Adler has abundant experience performing around the world. He spends a great deal of his time as a virtuoso classical music soloist on airplanes and in hotel rooms on five continents - from the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow to the rebuilt synagogues in Poland, from a cantorial cruise to Alaska to cantorial sorties in the United States. Nevertheless, tomorrow's performance has him more than a little nervous. "I simply mustn't botch it," he says. "I hope that I do not embarrass the people who asked me to perform. The Holy One blessed be He will give me whatever He has to give and I am confident that I will rise to the occasion. The main thing is that the pope will hear a few prayers. Who knows? Maybe he'll come again," he adds with irony.

Debut at age 4

Adler grew up in the southern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, and made his synagogue debut already at the age of four helping his father, whom Adler says was an excellent leader of prayers. As a young cantor, he toured synagogues throughout Israel, singing those prayers that are permitted to children before their bar mitzvah.

Today he is a charismatic performer who has a special sensitivity to the text, with an almost infinite vocal range, perfect intuition and full control of a variety of voice production techniques.

How did you prepare for singing before the pope?

Adler: "First, I scrupulously learned the verses, this Shakespearean Hebrew. In general, the words and their meaning are more important to me than the tune. They contain in them all of the cantillations, and the sermons, and the hints and the secrets. I am praying first, and then only after that I am singing, so it comes from the depths of my heart, and that speaks to people."

Adler learned some important aspects of his singing technique from Italian opera. "I love the poetic culture of opera. I go to the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center to hear opera," he says. "Every opera is a voice development lesson for me - spotting that exact place from which the singers produce their voice. Many cantors sing from the throat and are unaware that the sound box is located in the upper part of the head; this is taught in opera. I love to listen to Pavarotti. He is an authority when it comes to singing." Adler says that, like Pavarotti, he too has a hard time singing from notes.

Adler not only sits on the benches of the opera house. He also sings there. Last season, with the Be'er Sheva Sinfonietta Orchestra, he demonstrated an impressive concert aptitude, including parts of Haydn's "The Creation" oratorio.

Who taught you all these techniques?

"I had a few teachers: Rachel Adonilo, who was a wonderful musician and singer. I had lessons with the soprano Netanya Dovrat and also with the cantor Leibele Glantz. Each of them gave me something important. And Glantz said: `Don't try to imitate other cantors. Don't be the second Koussevitzky or the third Kwartin; be the first Adler."