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Endnote: Side Notes

Riki Goldstein

Most Jewish music industry entertainers have side professions

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Beri Weber

My Second Self: I’m the rosh yeshivah in Yeshiva Kochvei Ohr in Monsey.

 

Staying in sync

When you sing, you’re like the driver. You’re leading the crowd, taking them somewhere. That’s what I’m doing for my talmidim in yeshivah too.

 

Keeping the harmony

There is some conflict between my two roles when it comes to traveling for performances, and it definitely affects the yeshivah when I’m not there. This summer I was finishing an album, so I had to give my boys a week and a half off. It was an unplanned bein hazmanim.

In general, though, I compartmentalize my life into three: family, business, and the yeshivah. I don’t like to combine any of those, so I don’t have bochurim over in the house. And I don’t travel for business over Shabbos because I’m with the family. I’ve had offers to create music videos with my boys, but I try to keep the two separate — I just let each role make me be better at the other.

Singing came first. A lot later, I was invited to sing and speak to the Kochvei Ohr bochurim. It drew me in and I became involved with the yeshivah and eventually took it over. Yeshivas Kochvei Ohr is a chassidishe yeshivah that exists to offer a second chance. We accept only boys who have been thrown out of a yeshivah or have not been in yeshivah for at least two months — and who want to be in a yeshivah again.

 

Music and my other life

Music is a major part of my life, but singing is very much a nighttime business, and I had the day to fill. I now spend six hours a day in the yeshivah. It’s busy, stressful sometimes, but very rewarding.

 

Singing moments

Sometimes it all comes together. Like singing at a wedding at the Baal Shem Tov’s tziyun, or davening in Uman for 3,000 people, or singing at Rabi Shimon on Lag B’omer.

 

Off-key

I had promised my boys ice-skiing if we finished a masechta. They came through, and we went on the trip — and I broke my leg. Baruch Hashem I didn’t have to cancel a single gig, and I didn’t miss yeshivah either. I went everywhere on my scooter, but I wore that cast for half a year.

 

Rabbi Shloime Taussig

My Second Self: I’m the rav of the Beled Beis Medrash in Boro Park.

 

Staying in sync

Some people hire me to sing specifically because I’m a rav. Music is easily affected by outside influences, and they feel confident that as a rav, I will stay away from questionable music. But in actuality, nothing’s really changed. I’ve always been careful to have my selection of songs reflect a heimishe, chassidishe simchah, and mostly people hire me for the style of singing I’d become popular for before I took on my “other calling.”

 

Which came first?

The singing came first and I consider it an honor that I’m able to use my voice to be mesameach Yidden. The rabbinic role kind of fell on me abruptly when my father passed away — but I consider that, too, a zechus to be able to continue my father’s legacy. Although my father’s shoes are ones I will never fill, I try to give him nachas by continuing his lifelong struggle to maintain kedushas beis haknesses, and by being there for the many mispallelim who considered him their rebbe and moreh derech.

Incidentally, when I asked my father for his advice about the idea of starting out as a singer, I asked him, “Do you know any sons of rabbanim who are singers?” His reply was full of encouragement and blessing for me to go out and earn a parnassah through music. Later, he told me he wanted me to lead the beis medrash after his passing, but instructed me not to give up my parnassah — my singing career.

 

Keeping the harmony

Our shul has become famous for phenomenal singing every week at Shalosh Seudos, and singing is also a major feature of our Yamim Noraim davening, held at the Renaissance Hall, so to a certain extent both of my callings come together then.

The only real potential for conflict is Shabbos. I used to travel more often to sing at Shabbos events, but now with my additional responsibilities, and shiurim to give over Shabbos, I’m a lot more selective since I can’t just go away all the time. Yes, the kehillah knows that my father supported my singing and they try to be understanding if I travel, but I always have to weigh it carefully.

 

Off-key

When I took over the beis medrash, people assumed I’d stopped singing since I became a rav, but I don’t find the two a contradiction at all. Singing is in my blood and my musical voice is as much an extension and expression of my soul as the voice of avodah I lead during the day.

 

Music and my other life

Mostly, learning and beis medrash duties are what keep me occupied by day, and the singing takes center stage at night. My father had made a request of me not to miss zeman Krias Shema and to be his morning chavrusa, so while he was alive, we learned at 7:00 every morning. After he passed away, I kept up the schedule, which means that although I naturally go to sleep really late, I’m in the beis medrash at 7:00 for a chavrusa. There is a daf yomi shiur in the beis medrash during that time, and then we daven at 8:00. I do get a nap most afternoons so that I can perform at night, since a well-rested voice is a well-tuned one.

 

Elie Schwab

My Second Self: I’m a commercial real estate attorney, although music is my calling.

 

Staying in sync

Real estate law and music don’t have all that much in common, but I like having the balance of these two very different disciplines in my life. The creativity involved in song-writing is a healthy foil to my business/legal side. But it can be surprising to many people at first. My associates in the corporate world are always taken aback the first time they learn of my music hobby and can’t understand how I can relate to what they imagine to be bohemian and eccentric artists. And the entertainers I hang out with have trouble picturing me cooped up in an office all day.

 

Music and my other life

I typically compose, record demos, and meet with singers when I have time on the weekends. I also find some time for music while traveling to and from the office. I composed “Simchas Beis Hashoeva” (on Lev Tahor 5) riding home at 2 a.m. after a late work night. You might be able to tell from the song that I was running on adrenaline at the time. Actually, I had been squeezing in time for compositions long before my current employment. The first song I sold, “Yalla” (on Yaakov Shwekey’s Libi Bamizrach) was written while I was walking home from yeshivah.

 

Keeping the harmony

When I applied to law school and interviewed at law firms, my music background was much more interesting to them than legal or other work experience. I would enter an interview expecting to discuss coursework, a judicial internship, or even my yeshivah background, and the interviewer would invariably jump to the music section of my résumé.

I explored a bit of music law while in law school and conducted pro bono work for recording artists, relating to copyright law and royalties arrangements. In fact, I once worked on an appeal to the US Supreme Court for a landmark music-sharing case. (Don’t tell my singer buddies which side of the argument I supported!) More recently, I have been working with other Jewish music industry professionals on streamlining the process of royalty payments for songwriters, performers, and arrangers so everyone is treated fairly.

 

Singing moments

I was once at a social event hosted by a major private equity firm. At one point, someone brought up my side profession (“Did you know Elliot is an undercover DJ?!”). After some Google searches against my desperate pleas, the group was staring in amazement at music videos of chassidim dancing on rooftops. At the end of the evening, the head of the organization insisted that I send him a mixtape of my compositions. When we met again several months later, he confided that his children — who had almost certainly never heard chassidic music before — couldn’t get enough of it.

 

My most well-known compositions

There are many, but I would say these are the most popular: “Sechar Mitzvah,” “Chizku,” and “Lecha Hagedulah” (Mordechai Shapiro); “Tefillat Kallah,” “Yalla” and “Rabi Nehoroy” (Yaakov Shwekey); “Yachad” (Beri Weber); “Simchas Beis Hashoeva” (Lipa and Lev Tahor); “Echad Yachid” and “K’sheatem Mispallelim” (Ohad); “Tavoi” (MBD and Tzvi Silberstein); “Naseh,” “Meraked” and “Ten Li Siman” (Simcha Leiner); “Al Tishlach Yadcha” (Benny Friedman); “Am Yisrael Chai” (Eitan Freilich); “Kuk Arain” (Eli Marcus); “Mi Von Siach” and “Shooting for the Moon” (Michoel Pruzansky); “Birchas Ha’av” and “Ma Sheyesh Lo” (Uri Davidi); and “Osim Teshuvah” (Dovid Gabay).

 

Country Yossi (A.k.a. Yossi Toiv)

My Second Self: I hosted a weekly radio show and publish a monthly magazine.

 

Which came first?

In the early ‘70s, while still in yeshivah, several of us, including Rav Shmuel Brazil, started a group called Ohr Chodosh, which was very popular (think “Shmelke’s Niggun” and “Bilvavi”). We performed extensively and released three albums. After we all got married, the group stopped performing and I went into hibernation — only to reemerge several years later, with the help of my good friend Heshy Walfish, as Country Yossi.

Our first album caused quite a stir and we got calls for concerts and interviews. One such interview with Larry Gordon led to me subbing one night, which in turn led to a steady weekly radio show. The show was a huge hit and was a great vehicle for our music sales. At the time I was a diamond dealer on 47th Street, but during a lull in the business I decided to start a magazine, building on the growing popularity of our brand. Baruch Hashem, it took off.

 

Staying in sync

With Hashem’s help we parlayed our triple-pronged marketing strategy into a successful parnassah for almost 40 years, so I guess it worked. Besides our 15 albums, hundreds of radio shows, 206 magazines, concerts, and jingles, we also found time to produce a board game, a Kivi and Tuki children’s book, the Kayla Kuchleffel collection, and to write songs for other performers.

 

Music and my other life

Inspiration can strike at any time. I’ve composed songs while walking home from shul on Friday night, while driving up to the country, and even while eating a bowl of cholent. But when you’re not struck by lightning, you gotta sit with your guitar and grind it out. Sometimes it takes weeks, months, or, on occasion, even years.

 

Keeping the harmony

The success of the radio show and magazine allowed us to continue producing and performing in a self-perpetuating cycle of creativity. Songwriting and music were always my first love, but Hashem has a plan for each of us and one has to be on the lookout for opportunities when they arise. Had I not done that radio interview, or had listened to the naysayers who tried to dissuade me from starting a magazine, I might still be selling carats on 47th Street.

 

Off-key

During a concert, in the middle of a song, I once forgot the English lyrics. In a near panic I started banging on the microphone like it was broken and made believe I was mouthing words. Eventually the words came back to me and I was able to complete the song. The producers later apologized to me for the sound failure. Fiasco averted!

At another concert, someone backstage stole my ten-gallon cowboy hat. I quickly improvised and borrowed someone’s yeshivishe wide-brimmed black hat (those were the days), put a big rubber band around the sides to turn them up, and no one knew the difference. Another time our drummer didn’t show up — good thing Heshy plays many instruments — and at yet another concert, the crowd didn’t show up.

 

Singing moments

MBD opened for our Ohr Chodosh group back in Brooklyn College in 1971. Dudu Fisher opened for us at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. We’ve done Madison Square Garden, Town Hall, Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center — and there have been many other highs!

 

Rabbi Yisochor (Suki) Berry

My Second Self

Although music is a major part of my life, my passion is to inspire and help young adults work toward reaching their personal greatness. As such, I am humbled to have been “in chinuch” for over 25 years, currently as menahel ruchani of Yeshivas Imrei Binah in Yerushalayim.

 

Staying in sync

To me, chinuch aligns with music in an indirect way. My function as both a producer and an arranger is to focus on the individuality of the singers and the songs being developed as well as the special character of each instrument. Each song deserves its own fitting treatment to help its message shine. In the same way, every rebbi, and every talmid, has his uniqueness and virtues, and it’s my privilege to help each shine and grow toward developing and revealing his personal gadlus.

 

Which came first?

By far, the music came first. I grew up in a home full of music. As a child, I sang in choirs and accompanied some of the great chazzanim, and from the time I was a teenager, I had the privilege to play with several bands including Freilach and Neginah orchestras. This was even before I met Ding (David Golding), my friend and partner of over 40 years. 

 

Music and my other life

The only time there’s a clash between chinuch and music is when various “crunch times” fall out the same week. For example, if I have to record music for an organization’s dinner video at the same time I’m needed in yeshivah, it becomes a balancing act — but doesn’t every person juggling different responsibilities go through this?

 

Keeping the harmony

I have been taught to see our entire lives as opportunities to spread kevod Shamayim. Therefore, like in the old Yiddish favorite “Mizrach Du, Maariv Du, ” wherever we look we see Hashem and whatever we do, we see Hashem. We Yidden see through the masks that hide holiness — we’re able to see G-dliness in every single Yid, and so too, we can join the song that all Creation constantly sings to the Creator.

 

Off-key

I once recorded a music track for Rabbi Elie Teitelbaum a”h called “Dimensions in Jewish Music.” Due to some miscommunication, the singer began two bars too late, causing just about every chord in the song to be… let’s just say “unique.” In the end, it wasn’t what I had in mind, I came to surrender and appreciate the chords that Hashem chose. I stood corrected and enjoyed it.

 

Singing moments

Bringing the world such classics as Just One Shabbos, Around the Year, and Uncle Moishy & the Mitzvah Men has been a tremendous zechus. But probably the greatest feeling of all is to accompany tzaddikim on occasions such as Succos and Purim.

On Chol Hamoed Succos, for example, I have the zechus to accompany the mashgiach Rav Don Segal in the succah, built on the roof of his beis medrash in Yerushalayim, where hundreds participate in his Simchas Beis Hashoeivah. The atmosphere is surreal and the entire oilam is hanging onto the Mashgiach’s coattails. As he weaves through divrei Torah, words of chizuk and song, I’m sitting right next to him, and with the simple sound of a piano, help inspire the crowd. The Mashgiach has his own collection of niggunim, some well-known, others not so much, but they are all full of dveikus and emunah. There’s a late-night Purim version of this as well, and I’m ever grateful to Hashem for the talents He gave me and the opportunities to use them in great ways. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 728)

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MM217
 
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