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Endnote: It’s All for the Good

Riki Goldstein

“When you work on a piece of music, you never know who will listen and who will be affected” – Yoeli Dikman

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

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The Story Behind the Song

It’s All for the Good

“Hakol Letovah” kept Mona’s friend upbeat through the hardest times

Mona Rosenblum’s energetic and upbeat album Mona 7 was the sound of Succos for Mishpacha readers who received the complimentary disc in their Yom Tov package. Although it was released with a bang, Mona says that these songs were actually composed and recorded over a ten-year period. “To bring out my own album I had to have complete yishuv hadaat — and I’m so busy with other projects that my own album was pushed to the back burner every time. Now that this material finally crystallized into Mona 7, I see I have almost enough for another full album.

The opening song “Hakol Letovah,” sung by MBD, was inspired more than a decade ago by a special neighbor.

“A rav who was also a chazzan moved into our neighborhood, and we davened in the same shul,” Mona explains. “He used to sing at chuppahs, and over time we became friendly and discussed music as well as many other common interests. One day as I walked home from Maariv together with this neighbor, he told me about a very difficult experience he had just been through. His wife had just endured life-threatening complications that had resulted in a stillbirth. The words ‘Chayav adam lizkor shekol mah she’oseh Hashem hakol letovah — a person must always remember that whatever Hashem does is for the good’ were his, and he began to sing them in this niggun as we walked along together. The fact that these words and tune were his reaction to such a distressing event gives the song extra depth. And then my neighbor added another thought: ‘You know, the very fact that we’re walking along uneventfully is also part of Hashem’s never-ending goodness.’ ”

For the past decade, Mona says he himself has been singing the song at various difficult venues, such as a sheva brachos held in a hospital where the chassan’s younger sister was wheelchair-bound after a terror attack. “The chochmah is to recognize that Hashem is always good to his creations even when to us things look black,” he says. “And even during a moment of ‘nothing’ — hakol letovah.” 



Arranger YOELI DIKMAN’s classic interlude catches a conductor by surprise

“When you work on a piece of music, you never know who will listen and who will be affected. I learned this at the very beginning of my career,” Dikman reflects. Seven years ago, the young musician was in America conducting a concert at Brooklyn College with Yosef Chaim Shwekey. “We went to daven Minchah, when an elderly man came and asked me if I’m Yoeli Dikman. In broken Hebrew, he told me how he had been a conductor of classical music many years ago, but left it when he became a baal teshuvah. Since then, he could rarely bring himself to listen to music. His grandson had shared the song ‘Kol Yisrael,’ which I arranged for Yosef Chaim on the Chavivim album, thinking that the classical style arrangements might just be to his taste, and this old man was so overwhelmed that such arrangements actually existed in chassidic music. He couldn’t stop thanking me for my work. It was a very moving encounter.”

Singing for the Times

YOELI GREENFELD keeps the flame alive “At this time of year, you can hear me singing any song that has the word ‘latkes’ in it (just kidding). But I’m a big latke-lover, which is a pretty standard item all year round at the Greenfeld residence. Of course, I won’t sing ‘latke’ songs at events, but I do love to sing the original “Al Hanissim” — most people don’t know where it came from, but it was in the Chassidic Song Festival in 1974 — it’s a great leibedig song that gets everyone into the Chanukah spirit.”

New Light, Old Favorites

It all started when Back in September of 1967, Shmuel (Shmelkie) Brazil from Boston, and I (Yossi Toiv), from the Bronx, had the hashgachah to end up as roommates in a basement in Far Rockaway when Rav Shlomo Freifeld zt”l opened his yeshivah Sh’or Yoshuv. Shmelkie played guitar and was always composing niggunim. Over the next few years he had written such classics as “Bilvavi,” “Shmelkie’s Niggun,” “Eileh Varechev,” and “Shir Hamaalos,” while I had written a few English and Yiddish songs (“Oh, The World,” and “Aleh Yidden”)


Ready for our own At that time, The Rabbi’s Sons and Simchatone had released best-selling record albums. Shmelkie’s songs were really catching on and were starting to be played at weddings, and everyone began telling us to put out a record of our own. 

I remember when the leader of a top orchestra at that time came to our yeshivah one day and offered Shmelkie $400 for the rights to “Shmelkie’s Niggun.” He refused, but that’s when we realized we had to cut our own album.

Seeing the Light

I came up with the name Ohr Chodosh while davening one Shabbos, and then we got the two best voices in the yeshivah, Yussie Lieber and Nachum Deutsch, to join us. We had no money, so Shmelkie and I each borrowed $1,000 from our parents — eventually paid back — and enlisted Josh Goldberg, who led a popular orchestra, to arrange and produce. The album was released in 1971, became a smash hit, and led to calls for concerts. Reb Shlomo discouraged Shmelkie from performing though, so Yussie, Nachum, and I hit the road.

Our first performance was at the Pioneer Country Club. Over the years we were on stage at Carnegie Hall, Town-Hall, Felt Forum/Madison Square Garden, Queens College,Brooklyn College, and in Toronto at one show, MBD even opened for us!

Those great compositions

One afternoon Shmelkie came running breathlessly into our room humming a song. He grabbed his guitar and started singing as he tried to figure out the chords. A few minutes later, he sang me his new niggun — it had no words and no name, but I was blown away.

He introduced it to the yeshivah and everybody loved it. Whenever Reb Shlomo wanted to hear it, he would tell us to sing “Shmelkie’s Niggun” — and the name just stuck. By the way, we heard that it was banned from being played in a certain yeshivah summer camp because they felt it was an “Afrikanisheh niggun” — they felt the rhythm was too much and made people “vild.”

One night, an older beis medrash bochur came into our basement apartment while Shmelkie was playing guitar. He pulled out a small, folded piece of paper with some hand-written Hebrew words on it and handed it to Shmelkie. He said, “Why don’t you try writing a tune to these words? I heard them from the Rosh Yeshivah (Rav Yitzchak Hutner ztz”l).”

By the end of the night, Shmelkie had composed “Bilvavi”— a song for the ages.

Old Days, New Ways

Rav Shmuel Brazil became a maggid shiur in Sh’or Yashuv and is now the beloved rosh yeshivah of Ziv Hatorah in Givat Ze’ev, outside Jerusalem. In 1983, together with Abish Brodt, he produced the first Regesh album (they’re now up to Volume 11), and over the years he’s composed hundreds of songs.

Rabbi Yussie Lieber is a popular rebbi at Hebrew Academy of Long Beach. He still strums a mean guitar.

Nachum Deutsch is a successful business executive and much sought-after chazzan in Monsey.

And me? Well, I still write funny songs, make people smile, and along with my lifelong country-compadre, Heshy Walfish, am working on some exciting, new projects. Stay tuned!

Country Yossi shares memories of his first musical venture: The Ohr Chodosh record album, in which he sang alongside Rabbi Shmuel Brazil (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 688)

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