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Soul Singer

Rhona Lewis

It took a few years for Yehuda Menashe to find his niche in the Jewish music world. Who was that black young man singing Lipa songs in Yiddish? A chassid? Or just a gimmick? Today, he’s learned not to judge himself by externals

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

soul singerFour years after Marcquez Orlando Patterson became Yehuda Menashe and transformed himself into a chassidishe bochur learning in New York, he attended the tisch of the Skulener Rebbe, Rav Yisroel Avrohom Portugal, in Boro Park.

Menashe comes from a musical family and it was in the form of song that he most easily connected to his newly acquired Judaism. He asked the Rebbe’s attendants if he could sing for the great sage, but his request was denied. So he came again. And again, until one Friday evening, he inched his way to within the Rebbe’s reach. The Ohio native, who was soon to return home, knew this would be his last chance to honor the Rebbe, so when a moment of silence fell, Yehuda Menashe opened his mouth and began to sing.

He sang the famous Stropkov niggun, which he had learned by listening to a recording by Lipa Schmeltzer. He not only learned the tune, he had decided to learn Yiddish as well, all the better to understand they lyrics describing the days of Mashiach. Within moments, the Rebbe reached out to touch Yehuda Menashe’s hand, and when he began banging on the table in time, everyone joined in.

“I’d be singing 24/7 if it didn’t disturb people,” says the 23-year-old Jerusalem resident, who has lately turned heads as a singer and baal tefillah. “I need to sing more than I need to eat.”

Today, Yehuda Menashe has become a fixture in the music scene of the Old City. Pesach and Succos find him performing with other singers in an outdoor concert that draws up to 2,000 people outside the Churva Synagogue. Even closer to home, every Thursday night, Yehuda Menashe sings at Kever David, carefully matching his repertoire to the audience. “Chassidic, Ashkenazic, or Sephardic, I have something for all of them,” he says. “There may be singers that are better than me, but I’m the best I can be. When I’m singing, I focus on the words and put my heart into them.”


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