T

here’s a song on Shimmy Engel’s newly released album, Sheinis, that’s a bit of a mystery. It’s a Yiddish song called “Munkatch” — but doesn’t mention Munkacs at all.

“The song was inspired by Munkacs, and in Munkacs, but it’s not confined to Munkacs,” Shimmy explains. “It reflects a nostalgia for thousands of simple shtetlach of old.”

As a devoted Munkacser chassid, Engel has traveled to the shtetl of Munkacs (today Mukachevo in western Ukraine) twice recently, together with the Rebbe. The towering presence of the Minchas Elazar and the throngs of Yidden are long gone, but the very streets of the shtetl inspired him. They seemed to reflect the simplicity of a happy, pious life.

“I wanted to recapture that world in musical form. I went to Heshy Weinberger and told him what I felt, and he wrote the song. Then we realized we needed an old-time klezmer feel for the musical arrangements, not something contemporary. I turned to arranger Hershy Ginsberg from London, a fellow Munkacser chassid who had been with me in the shtetl, and he did a phenomenal job. His setting uses clarinet, a single violin, an accordion — no one really uses accordion today — and it creates a real klezmer feel.”

The fast-paced Yiddish ballad, with several parts to the melody and interlacing snatches of traditional songs like “Ivdu es Hashem B’simchah” and “Tov Li Toras Picha” between verses, is an interesting blend of styles, and does relay a generous sprinkle of shtetl charm.

Another Munkacs connection is the album’s third track, “Lesheim Yichud,” a composition by Yossi Green, who often sends niggunim as gifts to the Rebbe of Munkacs. This song was sent in honor of the marriage of the Rebbe’s grandson. The Rebbe liked the niggun and added his own touch to it, and it now features at every Munkacser wedding before the Rebbe’s mitzvah tantz, sung by Shimmy Engel. “I’m very connected to this song. The opportunity to stand before my rebbe and sing it before he dances is a genuine inspiration and a real gift,” says Engel, excited to share the inspiration further. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 724)