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Endnote: Dreaming of Redemption

Riki Goldstein

“He said, ‘A new guy by the name of Yaakov Shwekey.’ I was a little upset. ‘Can’t you sell it to someone a little more well-known?’”

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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B aruch Levine’s “Chasof” soared far beyond the beis medrash

As Chanukah evening descends on Jerusalem, the chilly streets fill with the sounds of song and prayer, as the glass-boxed menorahs outside many homes and yeshivos are lit. Baruch Levine remembers going outside to light the menorah at shkiah during his years at Yeshivas Toras Moshe, then located on Shmuel Hanavi Street.

“That was the first time I realized that while the first four stanzas of Maoz Tzur depict the exile, the last one is different — it’s a plea for Hashem to remove us from the final galus. That realization made me think. After lighting our menorahs outside, we would go back into yeshivah to finish second seder, and then there was mussar seder before supper. On one of those nights, with the Mesillas Yesharim in front of me, I composed ‘Chasof.’ I guess the Rosh Yeshivah assumed I was learning mussar….”

A year later, when Levine was learning in Yeshivas Mir, someone sent “Chasof” to producer Yochi Briskman.

“When Yochi got back to me that he wanted to buy the song, I asked ‘Who do you have in mind for it?’ He said, ‘A new guy by the name of Yaakov Shwekey.’ I was a little upset. ‘Can’t you sell it to someone a little more well-known?’ But Yochi was absolutely confident in his new artist. ‘Don’t worry, he’s going to be good. The song will be famous.’ ” The song was featured on Yaakov Shwekey’s 2001 debut album, Shomati.

“Chasof” took its place as a favorite Chanukah and kumzitz song, and Levine has never looked back.

Mic Drop

For RABBI ELIEZER KALISCH, there’s nothing more
meaningful than his MAOZ TZUR 
by the Rebbe


“For me, a highlight of Chanukah is the zechus of hearing the Belz choir sing my Maoz Tzur tune after Chanukah lecht are lit by the Rebbe,” the Belzer chassid and composer relates. 

His Maoz Tzur is a long and complex melody with different parts for the four different sections (Belz omits the final stanza) and takes around 15 minutes to sing.

“The beginning of the piyut is about offering korbanos and praises for our salvation, and then we sing about the harshness of galus. I tried to reflect the meaning of the words in each part of the accompanying tune, which is probably why it’s been so well-received.”

Maoz Tzur for a New Generation

The Maccabi victory marked the triumph of kedushah over tumah, the victory of our people’s dedicated spiritual standard-bearers over Hellenist philosophy and way of life. It’s therefore fitting that Acheinu (the kiruv arm of Dirshu) — an organization that reaches out to help Jewish youth fight the pull of those secular values by placing teens in mosdos Torah throughout the country — would celebrate its 20th anniversary with the release of a new version of Maoz Tzur. The tune, composed by nasi of Dirshu Rav Dovid Hofstedter, has become a popular Chanukah choice. A lilting melody and beautiful harmonies — which somehow connect the listener to the power of the Chanukah lights throughout the generations — lend this song to the ruach of any Chanukah get-together.

Singing for the Times

Composer and choir leader YITZY BALD still hums the vintage classic


I'm still singing the classic yeshivish ‘Yevanim’ that Rabbi Shmuel Brazil wrote when he was a bochur almost 50 years ago. [It’s on a vintage album called Shmelkie’s Nigunim, and it’s the “Yevanim” on Avraham Fried’s Around the Year II —Ed.] I absolutely can’t stop listening, dancing, and being elevated by that amazing Chanukah song. It’s got such leibedikeit, such energy, such meaning… and so much neshamah.” 

Standing Ovation

Veteran producer Dovid Nachman Golding hosts a walk down musical memory lane

Just for the Record

Chanukah is always a busy time in the music industry. First of all, CDs and DVDs make great gifts, so it’s a great time for artists to come out with a new CD or DVD. Then, of course, there are all those Chanukah parties, and almost every city that has a Jewish community has some sort of Chanukah concert arranged. In fact, one year, on Sunday of Chanukah, I crossed three different state lines for Uncle Moishy concerts: I did a morning show in Elizabeth, New Jersey, took a flight from Newark for an afternoon show in Milwaukee, and then drove to Chicago for an evening concert.

So, what was my favorite Chanukah recording? When I was learning in ITRI back in 1979, making a phone call to the United States was no easy task. For those of you who recall, you had one of two choices: Either you went to a public kiosk and kept feeding the phone asimonim (Israeli phone tokens) literally every 5 seconds, or you went to the central post office on Rechov Yafo, waited in line for a long time, and then had the opportunity to make a three-minute phone call, which cost you about $10 (or if your parents were willing to foot the bill, you could call collect with operator assistance). Hard to believe, but there was no Whatsapp calling, no cell phones, and no Google Earth.

Suki and I decided to find a piano, bring along a tape recorder (for the younger generation, ask your parents what that was) and get two other people to sing with us. We recruited our good friends Gideon Goldberg and Moishe Weiss. And so, we found an old piano; some of the keys were broken and it was as out of tune as an old piano could be. But that didn’t stop us. We pushed “record” on the tape recorder, and we started to sing Chanukah songs, accompanied by Suki on the piano. We also told a few funny stories about our Chanukah experiences in Israel. I actually remember that we began the recording with original lyrics, to the tune of “V’chol Maaminim”:

Happy Chanukah to all,

it’s so expensive to call,

So we decided to send you this cassette

So listen to us sing —

Moishe, Gideon, Suki, and Ding

You can walk out if you really get upset...

We made four copies of our masterpiece and found someone going to the States to take it to America for us. You cannot imagine how much joy this simple recording brought to our families. Although we had spent no money on it, to them it was priceless. We were told later that our families listened to them over and over again… they loved it.

So let me humbly make a suggestion to all those reading this: This week, when you light your candles, take a camera, take your smartphone, take whatever you have, and video your candlelighting and the singing afterward. Keep that camera rolling as you sing Maoz Tzur and play dreidel, add a personal message, and send it or e-mail it to someone you love who couldn’t be with you this year. Maybe your grandparents living in a different country, a cousin you lost touch with, a relative who’s laid up; it doesn’t matter who you send it to. This will be a gift — as Mastercard keeps telling us — that is truly priceless.

Before I sent in this article, I called my old friend Rabbi Gideon Goldberg, who is now the menahel of Yeshiva Ketana of Manhattan, and asked him what his parents’ reaction was to receiving the cassette so many years ago. He replied: “They said that it was the first time they were able to actually feel what I was experiencing in Eretz Yisrael, and it was also a way for me to introduce my friends (the three of us) to my family.” Of course, when I asked Suki’s family about their reaction to the cassette, they said they listened to it all the way to Purim.

When I asked my family if they enjoyed the cassette, I got an answer I will never forget. “Nu? You couldn’t call?”(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 689)

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