Hundreds of spectators brought their blankets and lawn chairs to Cunningham Park last Thursday to hear Shulem Lemmer in the first outdoor Jewish concert in Queens since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. “It was difficult to set up, and it looks like we have 300 people here,” said Queens Jewish Community Council Vice President Judy Rosen, whose organization sponsored the concert. “He sings in Yiddish and Hebrew, a combination of acts in one show.”
Billed as Jewish Music Under the Stars, the annual concert series is a tradition for Queens Jews as they sing along on the park’s sizable lawn while the sun sets. In typical years, the series involves three concerts of Ashkenazi, Israeli, and Bukharian music, but with the limitations of the pandemic, a single show deserved a renowned headliner who could sing in many languages and genres.
“It feels like a temporary relief to be here,” said Heshy Greenberger. “We first heard him sing at the Chai Lifeline dinner.”
A native of Borough Park, Lemmer is a fifth-generation Belzer chasid whose musical career began with performances at family events and as a choir member. In his home, his mother played contemporary Jewish music while his father recited chazanus, and his older brother Yanky is a chazan. Lemmer’s musical interests outside of the chasidic world started with opera and pop stars such as Elton John and Billy Joel. In turn, when his voice became known to listeners outside of the chasidic community, opportunities arose.
In 2018, at age 28, he was the first chasidic-born singer to sing with a major label, Decca Gold, which is affiliated with the Universal Music Group. That record, “The Perfect Dream,” had Broadway hits and popular Jewish songs with the Royal Philharmonic Symphony of London playing the music to his voice.
At the Cunningham Park concert, he recited the anthems of this country and Israel, Hebrew and Yiddish songs, and the hits of Billy Joel and Leonard Cohen.
“He is a world-class performer. I’ve heard his brother sing, and my zeide was a supporter of Belzer chasidim,” said Jacob Fiskus, who attended the concert with his wife, sister, and daughter.
As his star continues to rise, Lemmer has not wavered from his personal observance, which is written in his contract. “I’ve heard his amazing voice before,” said Bob Gropper, who attended the concert with his son and grandchildren. “How does someone who looks like him have a voice like this? This is why he has a following.”