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Marching to His Own Tune

Shlomi Gil

For Chilik Frank, a virtuoso whose concerts are more like lessons in chassidus, playing around the clock in Meron on Lag B'omer is his ultimate prayer

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

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In Jerusalem, some people still know him as Reb Yechiel Meir Frank, but here he is simply Chilik — and they’ve come to hear him play, but they also know that behind each song is a story and behind each tune is an entire Torah (Photos: Ezra Trabelsi)

I f you’re anywhere in Meron when the sun is about to set at the end of Lag B’omer, you can’t escape that special sound rising over the surrounding cacophony — closing the holy day of dancing and music and prayer with notes and niggun that somehow rise above the din. It’s Chilik Frank’s clarinet, and he’s about to launch the final hadlakah — the holy bonfire of the Toldos Aharon Rebbe.

Frank has been playing pretty much straight since the night before, starting with the hadlakah of Boyan and then moving onto the main stage at the tziyun of Rabi Shimon, where for years he’s had the chazakah of playing the first shift in the morning once the music restarts after the haneitz minyanim.

“This is the day I give back, when I basically play 24 hours straight,” he tells Mishpacha. “In between I try to find time for a few kapitlach of Tehillim, but the truth is that on Lag B’omer I daven through my clarinet more than with my mouth.”

But it’s this final podium where Chilik seems to transcend the day with his music. Thousands of travelers to Meron won’t miss the famed Toldos Aharon hadlakah; but what’s the connection between this world-class Breslover clarinetist and the Toldos Aharon Rebbe, leader of Meah Shearim’s most insular community?

“A few years back there was a group of Yerushalmi kano’im who made the Rebbe’s life miserable, attacking him over the subject of the hadlakah in Meron,” Frank relates. “They couldn’t fargin the success of the chassidus in holding this traditional hadlakah that draws tens of thousands of people.

Chilik Frank playing at Toldos Aharon's Simchas Beis Hashoeivah

“I’d heard that the Rebbe was planning to cancel the hadlakah that year, so I went in to him. I told the Rebbe that I personally know of hundreds of people who are able to connect to the hilula of Rashbi only in the merit of his hadlakah. How many tears have been shed, how many prayers offered, during this elevated event! I told the Rebbe that rabbanim in Am Yisrael need to lead the tzibbur even if an evil campaign is being waged against them. I told the Rebbe that if he gave up on the hadlakah, it was like he was giving up the leadership. The Rebbe liked my honesty and I think I was able to give him a bit of chizuk in this battle.”

Frank speaks like an ardent chassid, despite the fact that he’s one of the few so intimately associated with Toldos Aharon who aren’t part of their closed kehillah. But the connection between Frank and Toldos Aharon is long-standing and deep. He accompanies many of the community’s events — including the famed Simchas Beis Hashoeivah and the hakafos sheniyos that draw thousands to the large beis medrash at the end of Rechov Meah Shearim.

“They aren’t quick to bring new people in,” he admits, “and that includes musicians.” The community has its own musicians, but from the first time Frank stood on the stage in their beis medrash, he says he felt connected, a special bond formed between him and the Rebbe. “He’s a gadol b’Yisrael, and there is more concealed about him than revealed.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 708)

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