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Mizmor L’Duvid

Yisroel Besser

Some people are called back to the World of Truth amid great martyrdom and human sacrifice, while others have another mission — to continue living with simchah even within that mesirus nefesh. That was Reb Duvid Werdyger’s destiny. Through his pioneering efforts to bring holy music to a postmodern world, he showed generations that the timeless ideals of the spirit can overcome the darkest horrors.

Monday, June 02, 2014

On the first Motzaei Shabbos of Nissan this year, just after Maariv and Havdalah at the main beis medrash of the Gerrer chassidus, there was a moment of total silence. Gur, defined by precision and decorum, isn’t a place of spontaneity. Things run a certain way, every detail scheduled and planned to perfection. Yet the Rebbe’s gabbai made his way over to the kapelye head, leader of the celebrated Gur choir. The chassid listened and turned to the members of his ensemble. Together, they started to sing Hamavdil in perfect harmony. They had planned to use one tune, but at the Rebbe’s directive, they sang another. It was Reb Duvid Werdyger’s niggun, popular in shuls everywhere to the words of “Lo Seivoshi.” The Gerrer Rebbe — and the glorious army stretching across the cavernous beis medrash — were paying homage to the departed chazzan, singing his rousing niggun, a fitting tribute to a man who, like the song itself, lived with enthusiasm, spirit, and indomitable character. If you are familiar with the Skulener niggun to the words Lulei Soras’cha sha’ashu’ai (Cantor David Werdyger, Skulener Niggunim, 1969) you’ve likely been moved by its yearning, the poignant ode to Torah. But the song is only half the story. Reb Duvid relived the memory in his autobiography. This is the other half: The Unterscharfuehrer approached… reviewing columns of living skeletons… “Jewish pigs, with no sense of discipline,” he would bark. He would then hit the man ferociously, beating him almost unconscious. The rest of us had to stand at attention… if there were no kapos nearby, I would quietly review mishnayos I knew by heart, whispering to my friend Shulem, who tried to stand near me at roll call for this reason. Sometimes we would tell each other the Rashis we remembered on the weekly parshah, or chapters of Tehillim we had memorized… As soon as the kapo approached, we broke off and stood stiffly at attention again. If it had not been for these surreptitious Torah thoughts, I don’t think I would have survived the ordeal… it gave us strength and determination to resist the tyrants… I often recalled the posuk, “Lulei Soras’cha sha’ashu’ai — without Your Torah as my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” Even in the great concealment of Mathausen, His word sustained us. (Songs of Hope, p. 188) That’s the whole story, and that’s what makes the music of Reb Duvid so unique: not just a voice singing of timeless Jewish ideals, but a person having lived them.

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