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Shuli, Where Are You?

Shlomi Gil

Israeli stage-and-music celebrity Shuli Rand, now a Breslover chassid, takes his secular audiences along for the ride that never ends

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

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NOT JUST ROCK & ROLL During musician Shuli Rand’s sellout concerts, on stages in Tel Aviv and Caesarea, he quotes to secular audiences from the chassidic masters, opening Jewish hearts to a world of thought so distant from their own lives, but their legacy as well.

I

conic Israeli entertainer Shuli Rand might have thought he was leaving the Torah world to become an actor, but when he returned as a Breslover chassid, he realized the detour was just another leg in the ongoing journey to a higher place. Although his reeling financial woes have become public property in the Israeli media of late, that hasn’t stopped the Breslov baal teshuvah and creator and star of the emunah-inspired film Ushpizin from tapping into his own wellsprings of faith to weather this latest storm.

For Rand, 54, it’s actually been a harrowing summer of storms — he was evicted from his house, lost both of his parents within a week, and then as a flip side to all that trauma and angst, he became the first chareidi figure to win the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for Israeli Culture.

Even if you don’t follow Israeli stage entertainment, you might know Shuli Rand from his Nekudah Tovah album, a self-released collection of original personal-journey songs based on teachings of Chazal and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. The album went gold just months after its release in 2008, featuring such popular compositions as “Ben Melech” — about a man thinking he’s conquered his eternal nemesis, the yetzer hara (and realizing he hasn’t), and “Ayeka” (“Where Are You”) — about a troubled man looking for his Creator (“It’s the question we ask when looking for Hashem, but it’s also the question Hashem asks us: Where are you?” Rand tells Mishpacha).

Or you might know him from his internationally award-winning film Ushpizin, about a Breslov baal teshuvah whose faith is challenged when criminals from his past show up unannounced as guests in his succah.

In Israelat least, Shuli Rand is a man of headlines. But more than that, he’s a man of spirit who, with his bushy beard, broad hat, and large woolen tzitzis, has managed to take audiences from across the religious spectrum along with him on his own journey of discovering what each of us — as a “ben melech” — is really all about.

 

Collecting Pebbles

It might surprise you that Shuli (it’s a nickname for Shalom) Rand, the quintessential Israeli artist-turned-chozer b’teshuvah, actually grew up in a religious-Zionist family in Bnei Brak with roots in the chassidic courts of Vizhnitz and Sadigura, had a solid Torah education and attended Yeshivat Or Etzion and Yeshivat Nechalim before he joined the army and left mitzvah observance behind. It was more of a social convenience than an ideological decision,Rand admits.

“Yiddishkeit was a very significant component of my childhood and the world of song attracted me from a very young age. I come from a family of baalei tefillah, and my father z”l was a chazzan as well as a professor. Some of my earliest memories are of standing next to my father in the Bamberger shul where he would daven from the amud.”

Shuli is still in shloshim for his father Professor Yaakov Rand, a doctor in psychology and winner of the 2001 Israel Prize for Education Research. Professor Rand specialized in special education research, especially for children with Down syndrome. While Shuli was in the week of shivah for his father, his mother, Bilhah Rand, passed away as well.

NEKUDA TOVA The album went gold just months after its release in 2008

Today whenRandthinks of how he abandoned his parents’ teachings for a chunk of his life, he chalks it up to youthful passion for fame at all costs.

“I can’t really say that I chose to leave everything and abandon the world of tradition,” Randsays. “I didn’t leave because I was grappling with philosophical questions in emunah. It was just where I was, what I fell into, a comfort thing. I don’t think I actually chose it, just like my chazarah b’teshvuah was not a conscious choice. It was a process that HaKadosh Baruch Hu orchestrated, just like He leads every Jew along different paths to help him reach a higher place.”

 

 

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