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Endnote: Simchas Hachaim and Dented Silver Pieces

Riki Goldstein

In many families affiliated with Maimonides, secular music is the norm — so why would the kids be so excited to sing along to “Aleh Katan” and “Forever One”?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

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ic Drop

Avrumi Berko sticks to Purim tradition with another Simchas Hachaim release

Blasting from the speakers on cars and vans all Purim night long, it’s one long song of joy. “People have been coming over to me months before Adar, asking for updates on the new Simchas Hachaim album,” says musician and producer Avrumi Berko, the face behind the annual Purim release. The Simchas Hachaim series has been running for seven years — and has become an Adar tradition. While some songs are new releases — leibedig chassidish music that has made it onto the playlists of the season’s weddings — Berko also includes some older songs.

“I want everyone to enjoy and relate,” he says. Simchas Hachaim 7 includes oldies like “Rashi’s Niggun” and “Samcheim,” plus a generous sprinkling of wordless niggunim.

Avrumi received an interesting voicemail message in the wake of this year’s release. “A guy left me a message that he’s left Jewish ways behind, but can’t stop himself buying the Simchas Hachaim CD every year. He says it still strikes a chord within.” 


I’m Never in the Studio Without..

“A bottle of water. And I always make sure to say a few kapitlach of Tehillim.”
—singer Shulem Lemmer 


The Story Behind the Song

For Yitzchak Fuchs, the dented silver pieces joined the chorus of “Hallelu”

Fifteen years ago, Reb Yitzchak Fuchs worked as a silversmith in Meah Shearim during the day, and as a musician at night. Customers trickled in with their dented Kiddush cups and broken candlesticks, and as Reb Yitzchak mended their cherished silver pieces, he forged a genuine connection with the customers and with the holy articles he restored and polished. It was during this period of his life — fixing menorahs, bechers, and other pieces that would be used to sanctify Hashem’s presence in the world — that he composed his buoyant “Hallelu,” a passionate pronouncement of praise from the words of the final chapter of Tehillim.

“The tune just burst out one day, and I knew that people would sing and dance to it with tremendous joy. The words of Tehillim seemed to attach themselves to the tune immediately. It was as if all the objects in my shop were joining the chorus of the shofar, the tof, the nevel, and kinor.”

“Hallelu” was the lead song on Fuchs’s 2004 album At That Time (Ba’eit Hahi), but the vibrant chorus and uplifting rhythm have, over the past decade, made it a favorite in many circles way beyond the album’s reach.

Joining in the Niggun

A day after last week’s “Many Voices, One Song” concert in Los Angeles’s Wiltern Theater celebrating 50 years of the Gindi Maimonides Academy in L.A., the performers couldn’t get over how the hall came alive with the energy of authentic Jewish song as children and adults got up and danced. In many families affiliated with Maimonides, secular music is the norm — so why would the kids be so excited to sing along to “Aleh Katan” and “Forever One”?

With dynamic Head of School Rabbi Aharon Wilk at the helm, niggun has found a home in the Maimonides students’ hearts.

“This is a Modern Orthodox day school. Culturally, a lot of families here are exposed to non-Jewish music, but in the last ten years we’ve started to introduce our students to genuine, uplifting Jewish music,” he says. “Every Friday afternoon, when we get together for Shabbos Assembly, Rabbi Ouriel Chazan and I teach an authentic Jewish song. We started with old MBD songs, with Baruch Levine’s ‘Vehu Keili,’ and other classics.”

As the repertoire increased, Rabbi Wilk’s goals expanded too. For the past two years, Rabbi Wilk’s old friend and neighbor from Waterbury — Baruch Levine — has been traveling to L.A. for a kumzitz at Maimonides during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah.

“There’s an unbelievable atmosphere there. The kids and parents come and sing with this great energy for a few hours straight,” says Levine.

As the school’s 50th anniversary approached, Rabbi Wilk and Director of Development Shana Fishman reviewed their options. “The standard celebration is a gala dinner, but Gindi Maimonides is a very homey and creative place, it’s like a family. A dinner seemed too staid. We wanted to celebrate by creating a special moment with the L.A. community.”

In Eretz Yisrael for his son’s bar mitzvah last summer, Rabbi Wilk met up with Levine and brought up the idea. “I asked him, ‘Is a concert doable in Los Angeles? And what would it take?’ He said ‘You need a top producer. Get Yochi Briskman involved.’ ”

Yochi got into gear, planning a glittering event with 60 musicians and an all-star lineup, headlined by Avraham Fried. But Rabbi Wilk still felt nervous. “I called up Baruch again and asked him how many people we need to have in the audience for it not to be embarrassing.” At the end, tickets were sold out a week before and the day of the concert saw frantic parents seeking tickets on social media.

Avraham Fried, Simcha Leiner, Chazzan Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, Nachum Segal, Yuval Stupel, and Baruch Levine were on board, and Israeli singer Shlomi Shabat was due to join them. But a week before the show, Yochi Briskman got a call that Shabat was out of commission due to pneumonia. Ticket holders didn’t lose out though — Yaakov Shwekey took Shabat’s place.

“This wasn’t a typical concert,” Rabbi Wilk says. “It had a real intimate feel — thousands just singing and dancing together.”

A duet of Carlebach’s famous “Mimkomcha” piece sung by Chazzan Helfgot and Simcha Leiner wowed the adult members of the audience; Shwekey sang his mega-hit “Et Rekod” and other favorites.

“I was surprised the kids all knew my songs — the theater erupted,” Shwekey says.

“Birkas Habanim,” sung by Avraham Fried, Baruch Levine and Simcha Leiner was another highlight. “The kids in the audience just took it up and sang along with us — it was easy work,” says Levine.

It was a kiddush Hashem for the local musicians and technicians too. One violinist approached Rabbi Wilk with tears in her eyes. “You know, I wish I were Jewish too.”

Yochi Briskman shies away from the spotlight, but the expanded arrangements for 60 musicians who accompanied each song, as well as the flawless running of the show, was to his credit. According to Simcha Leiner, “The amazing amount of structure and perfect timing made the evening’s music stand out.”

Some parents at Maimonides are involved in Hollywood productions. One mother had said to Rabbi Wilk, “A concert? You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into!” Afterward she came over and said she couldn’t believe the level of the production.

“Other parents were expecting maybe a five-piece band. It was a revelation that Jewish music can produce this kind of evening, on par with whatever else is out there,” says Rabbi Wilk.

Benny Friedman’s surprise appearance for a performance of “Ivri Anochi” perhaps summed up the whole evening’s atmosphere, says Rabbi Wilk. “We very much showed that Yiddishkeit and real Jewish music and pride is here and going strong.” (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 700)

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