Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

All Part of the Song

Yisroel Besser

With the release of his new album, Shmueli Ungar gives his listeners the most important lesson of all — to “mach a brachah” of thanks

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

 Mishpacha image

“There’s something about Shmueli singing that makes you feel like he’s performing just for you, like he’s letting you in a secret. His voice, like him, is refreshingly straightforward” (Photos: Amir Levy)

T here are two kinds of smilers: the ones who wake up expecting a sunny day, beaming in anticipation of all the good things coming their way, and those whose smile is borne of the toil in finding that lone ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.

One smile comes naturally, while the other is a choice.

And Shmueli Ungar’s smile is both.

Shmueli (pronounced Shmili) is a smiler and a laugher and an embracer. He has also, in his relatively young life, endured the loss of his beloved father, the death of the grandfather who stepped in to raise him, and a divorce.

The two tracks — blessed optimist and determined warrior — meet in his music. He can cry out to the Rachamana d’ani lisvirei liba, the Merciful One who answers the pleas of the brokenhearted, but also exult and urge listeners to “mach a brachah.” Life is good. Even for those with broken hearts.

Shmueli’s story starts with his mother — and her music.

“I grew up in Monroe, in Kiryat Joel, but the music we played was different than most of the neighbors. My mother was raised in Melbourne, Australia, in a very musical environment, and to her, music wasn’t just noise to fill the house, it was art. She was very specific about what we could listen to.”

Little Shmueli came home from cheder one day eager for her to purchase a popular new album. “All the boys were talking about the songs, so I wanted it too. I asked her to buy it and she said ‘no.’ I was surprised. ‘Why not?’ I asked her. She looked at me. ‘Because it’s not good music, that’s why.’”

Mrs. Ungar would play Miami Boys Choir for her children — and point out the complexity of the harmonies. “I’m not sure how many homes in Monroe played JM in the AM every morning, but we did and she made sure we appreciated good music.

“There are a million reasons to thank the Ribbono shel Olam, always. I saw grief in my life, but I never felt differently”

“I was a heavy kid,” Shmueli stops suddenly and shrugs. “Fat — why use other words? I know, looking at me now you can’t imagine it, right?” He winks. “But my mother always told me I was a star. When I sang, I believed it.”

Weight issues notwithstanding, it was a relatively happy childhood — until a few months before Shmueli’s bar mitzvah, when his father got sick.

It was a painful time. After being diagnosed with a serious illness, Reb Yaakov Aryeh Ungar was moved to the hospital and was often there for long periods of time.

“After a few months in the hospital, they let him come home for a few weeks,” Shmueli remembers. “Then he had to go back. I remember one of those nights when he was home; I was supposed to be sleeping but he came into my room and kissed me on the forehead — it was very unlike him, he didn’t generally kiss us. I felt that kiss. I still feel it.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 699)

Related Stories

The Will to Win

Binyamin Rose

Billionaire Elie Horn has set the bar high. Fighting the battle against assimilation is not enough, ...

Winner’s Circle

Esther Ilana Rabi

Owner Gal Wiener is happy to share the stories behind every piece in the Winner’s Auction House show...

On Site: Brewmaster for a Day

Yosef Zoimen

We rolled up our sleeves, chopped wood for the fire, stirred the mash, added the hops, barreled our ...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"