It was an evening of remembrance, and also an evening to remember, surely not to be forgotten by the nearly 2,000 attendees. It was an evening to see and hear moments that may have receded into our subconscious, to be awakened with the same degree of happiness, or, perhaps, to an even greater degree of joy than the first experience. So many of us in the audience, were delighting in — and for an all-too-brief time — returning to childhood memories, replete with adolescent obsessions with songs and, possibly also with the then young, enthusiastic, performers, whose glowing joy and spirituality echoed our own searching, tumultuous youthful fervor!
More than three hours passed like moments. I closed my eyes and heard my father singing the Melaveh Malkah songs of the late Rabbi Benzon Shanker, as my father played the new records (yes, those vinyl discs) that echoed the Melaveh Malkah tunes he’d heard in the European shtetl of his youth. The adult me was charmed by the appearance of the now-mature gentlemen whose youthful images flashed in the larger-than-life display in the screen above them, “Welcome Simchatone, Regesh, the Rabbis’ Sons …” to name just a few of the stream of iconic names of my adolescence and that of so many of those in attendance.
As for the somewhat (or much!) younger attendees, children, and even grandchildren of those of us walking memory lane … I wonder, hearing the songs that pound out their wild circles of celebrating a chassan or kallah at a wedding or that they routinely chant at their family Shabbos table, did they realize that these songs were not part of a heavenly gift, deposited, like the mahn on Bnei Yisrael, to feed our moments of joy and simchah with spiritual melodies. No, these traditional songs, part and parcel of every event in our communal life as Jews, “Eishes Chayil, Kol Ssoson V’simcha, Ka Zidmrokon,” a list too lengthy to enumerate here, were, in fact, the creations of these very men, now standing with their guitars, or perhaps in pictorial collages on the screen in front of us. Created by these talented and spiritually motivated young men, to reach out to their fellow Jews, to share their devaikus, their drive to reach out to the fellow Jews, both those who recognized the Ribbono shel Olam and for those who had not yet done so. Their youthful love of the music of the society in which they were growing up, folk music, the rhythms and world in which we were growing up but lehavdil, were vehicles to bring the eternal words, their message of a life in the glory of Torah and mitzvot to the world from their hearts and through their talent.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: I don’t need images; the seemingly simple tunes that I first heard with the guitar chords of a much younger Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach that gripped my teenage soul but which, at a much later stage of life, that created a shared joy with my son Akiva a”h, as he excitedly informed me of a Carlebach davening at a local shul and, though on opposite sides of the mechitza, it was our special shared experience. Later, Akiva chose “HaNeshama Lach” as the song to accompany him to the chuppah.
The London Boys Choir: Their charming accents won my heart as they did for so many; the tunes of its founder, Mr. Yigal Calek; and, of course, in my own memory lane, my son, Saadya a”h standing in front of a mirror, as he learned to perfection the fancy footwork of Miami Boys Choir and clearly mimicked the motions its enthusiastic director, R’ Menachem Begun, as he conducted and performed.
Country Yossi and Mr. Abie Rotenberg: taking the stage and sharing the moment of memories with their fellow musical pioneers — so many sweet memories, and is it not the music of our memories that evoke the warmest of moments of the past.
I have to mention that the talented new generation that picked up the gauntlet shared their seemingly boundless energy, as well as talent, and the evening became the bridge that carries across time and generations. Rabbi Boruch Levine, Benny Friedman, Joey Newcomb, Uri Davidi, Sruli Unger, among the succeeding generation who were performing, elicited the wild applause of the many younger Jewish music enthusiasts, accompanying their parents and, yes, grandparents. Music, the ultimate unifier, generational, spiritual, joyful!
But, wait, what drew us all together, in this state-of-the-art venue? Makor Disability Services, originally called Women’s League Disability Services,” was the initiator of this event.
It was the need for the dissemination of the message of the value, of awareness of the critical value of this organization to Klal Yisrael that was the motivation for the famous producer of Jewish musical events, Mr. Sheya Mendelowitz, to suggest staging this groundbreaking musical event.
Close to four decades ago, Mrs. Jeanne Warman planted the seeds for an incredibly extensive organization with help for parents with children whom Hashem gave us, children who needed a level of care that parents were hard-pressed to provide on their own. As did the creators of our Jewish music heritage, she recognized a vital need, and met the challenge of a child who required care beyond the capabilities of his loving family. She broke the social and emotional barriers of those who thought this was the wrong approach, rather than negating, ignoring, and closeting those individuals in Klal Yisrael with disabilities!
Still today, the motto, remembered and practiced by every staff member: “No child should be left behind.” But that is such an inadequate description, just as using the term “Jewish music” cannot begin to even remotely describe the impact, importance, and critical value of the enrichment of our lives resulting from the tunes and songs of the artist represented on the stage of last night’s event.
By Ahava Ehrenpreis