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Empty Bottles and Full Hearts

Yisroel Besser and Dovid Sussman

It may be a yeshivah, a chassidic court, or just an ordinary Jewish home: if it’s Purim, there is joy … and music. So let’s turn to those who make the music, the singers and musicians who stand for hours, investing their energy and heart into ensuring that the Shoshanas Yaakov continues to experience that euphoria, the simchah that always was and ever will be — even when the world is filled with the Ultimate Light.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

accordianThe most popular Purim song? The answers are fairly predictable, with “LaYehudim,” “Mishenichnas Adar,” “Shoshanas Yaakov,” “Chayav Inish Livsumei,” and “V’nahafoch hu” as standard first-placers.

Singer Yaacov Young had his own unique choice: the Lubavitcher tune to the unexpected words of “Vayehi bimei Achashveirosh,” which was sung at the Purim farbrengens of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Zev Zions, Lakewood’s veteran accordion player, has been playing Rav Meir Shapiro’s niggun to the words “Utzu eitzah v’sufar” to happy audiences.

Yussie Lieber, one of the original members of Ohr Chodosh, loves the niggun that epitomized Purim to him. His rebbi, Rav Shlomo Freifeld, would sing “A gantz yahr freilich” on Purim with tremendous emotion. Rabbi Lieber understands his rebbi’s kavanah, which was in line with Rav Hutner’s teaching that the avodah of Purim is meant to create a lasting simchas hanefesh, to bring the Yid to a situation where he’s “a gantz yahr freilich.”

Composer Abie Rotenberg has composed some of his best songs on Purim, during those heightened moments of the seudah. The problem, he says, is that he never remembers them the next morning.

Baruch Levine has developed a minhag of singing “Maoz Tzur” on Purim. “I know it’s a Chanukah song, but the stanza of ‘K’ros komas b’rosh bikeish Agagi ben Hamdasa’ refers to Purim, yet it gets forgotten. But of course, ignoring the traditional songs at a Purim seudah is like not singing the traditional ‘Od yishama’ after the chassan breaks the glass.”

Srully Williger has one of his own: “Eisa einai el heharim mei’Yayin yavo ezri.”


Nothing Like Yeshivah

Popular Flatbush bandleader Ari Baumann recalls playing at a yeshivah and noticing his seven-year-old son, who’d accompanied him, removing his costume hat for a moment and taking off his yarmulke.

The child approached a teenager who had just walked in from the street and handed him the yarmulke. The boy accepted the gift, and, obviously distraught over losing his head covering somewhere along the way, he visibly eased up, approaching his rebbi with a huge smile.

Rebbi and talmid — a child-sized yarmulke on his head — danced with abandon as the musician looked on and played....

The entertainers love their work, appreciating the opportunity to bring joy on such an elevated day. Yet they describe the challenge of singing for an inebriated crowd, when everyone wants to hug then, do harmony, pull away the microphone, and touch their equipment.

Yet, Nochi Krohn tries to see past the chaos.

He recalls being flown out one Purim to play at the home of a prominent philanthropist. There were representatives of all sorts of tzedakos from around the world, who had come to make their pitch.

The band’s performance wasn’t their best: the trumpet player walked off the job, since he was being bombarded from all sides by happy bochurim. The guitarist had problems focusing, as he was bewildered by the scene of a wealthy man sitting in a crowded backyard tent and handing out money to whomever offered a good vort, grammen, or pitch.

But the bandleader rose above the challenges. “Even with all the rowdiness, I couldn’t help but take in the greatness of what was I was witnessing. This gvir — who gives tzedakah generously all year long — can go anywhere he’d like to, spending Purim with his family in peace and quiet, yet he chooses this: to help make others successful too.”


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