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Thursday, September 18, 2008


Reb Shlomo Carlebach Visits Prague

Today is the 18th of Elul, and the 399th yahrzeit of the Holy Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yehuda Loewe, who passed away in 5369 [1609]. He was born in Posen, Poland, on the night of the Pesach Seder, to a distinguished family of rabbis that traced its ancestry to King David. Rabbi Kook stated that the "Maharal was the father of the approach of the Gaon of Vilna on the one hand, and of the Baal Shem Tov, the father of Chassidus, on the other hand." He has been described as a Kabbalist who wrote in philosophic garb.

You can find more at last year’s post, The Patience of the Maharal.


The following story is actually a combination of two different accounts of what appears to be the same story. One is Reb Shlomo Carlebach himself speaking, which was adapted from a previous post, OD AVINU CHAI. Therefore, it contains shifts from first to third person in its presentation here. However, most of Reb Shlomo’s account is in the first part, and most of the other account is in the second half of the story. So without further ado:

“Anyway, I want you to know, in the year 1964, two days before Purim, I gave a concert in Frankfurt [Germany]. And on Purim itself, by the feast of Purim, I was supposed to give a concert in Lyon, in France.
And suddenly I had this crazy idea - why shouldn't I go to the Reading of the Megilla in Prague? You know, some of you - a lot of people today are - but my family also - we are descendants of the Maharal of Prague, the one who made the Golem. And I thought, gevalt, I gotta be there! The only thing is, people tell me in Frankfurt, it's not so simple. At that time, 1964, to go to Prague was the heaviest thing! Even more heavy than Russia. You need a visa at least two months in advance. And, I'll take a chance, it's Purim, right? The Ribono Shel Olam's performing miracles. So I said, "Ribono Shel Olam, what do You care, one more miracle?"
…in Frankfurt … I'm boarding the plane to go to Prague. When I boarded the plane, they told me, "Do you have a visa?"
I said, "No."
In those days it was difficult enough for an American citizen and nearly impossible for an obvious observant Jew to get an entry visa.
They said, "Listen, the plane is there for two hours. If they don't let you in, you [can] come right back." Good.
Prague was the first "iron curtain" city that Reb Shlomo visited in the Sixties.
"Arriving in Prague, two days before Purim, and you know in Prague - you think [it's] like today, when you come to the border, you show the passport and you go through. No, the person who's supposed to look at the passport is out, and you end up sitting there for two hours doing nothing. It wasn't the 'good old days' in Prague. And we, of a modern kind of society...and you wait. Finally he comes. The man looks at me, he says, "Do you have a visa?"
Turning the pages of Reb Shlomo's passport, the police inspector asked Reb Shlomo, "Where is the Visa, where is the Visa?"
"Don't waste your time looking," answered Reb Shlomo, "for I must confess, in truth I have no visa."
"Well, why do you want to go to Prague? And if you have no visa, then please turn back," the guard replied, "for you are leaving on the next flight out."

The statue of the Maharal in Prague

I don't speak Czech, but they all speak German. I said to him, "I want you to know something. I don't know if you know this, but, about 400-500 years ago, this big Rabbi, in German they call him the High Rabbi Loeb [the Maharal]. And I'm one of his descendants. You know in Prague, in the middle of the city is the monument of the High Rabbi Loeb." I have come to visit my holy ancestor's grave and pay him my respects.
The guard turned white as a sheet and looks at me and says, "What?! You are a descendant of the High Rabbi Loeb? Do you know something? We're not Jewish, but from the earliest age, from the age 2,3,4,5 - whenever my parents put me to sleep, they would tell me stories of the High Rabbi Loeb." He says, "Here, I'm giving you a visa for five days." Not so simple.

Reb Shlomo grabbed a taxicab and headed straight for the Alt-Neu Shul in the center of the old city of Prague. Here, in the ancient synagogue, a tour group was in progress. Reb Shlomo listened intently as the Intourist leader, an outstanding Communist Party member, lectured the group about the world class landmark, historical sight and house of worship.
"Imagine the superstitions of a medieval primitive barbaric society, and of its leader, the esteemed Rabbi Loeb. It is said, this legendary Rabbi created a Golem, a Frankenstein, if you will. To this very day silly fools claim that a Golem still lurks in the attic of this medieval synagogue. Even the fascist horde feared to enter, let alone touch, this place. Ha! But we socialists are a strong people, a modern people of the twentieth century. Alone, we vanquished the forces of reaction and fascism from this Earth. For we are believers in the truths of Science, of human progress. And we who did not fear fascism, also know no fear of the barbaric beliefs of medieval religion ... nor of its Golem!"
Reb Shlomo asked the guide, "Please forgive me for interrupting, but have you yourself been up to see the attic? If you are so sure there is no Golem in the attic, then why do you fear to enter it? Please, lead us there now so that we may all see this truth ourselves." The tourists all nodded their heads in silent agreement.
Shaken, the guide refused. "But the ladder is very old. It may break. Therefore, the attic is not suitable for public entry. It is verboten, strictly off limits to tourists."
Reb Shlomo answered, "I understand your fear to enter the attic of the Golem of Prague. I, Shlomo ben Pesya, am not afraid. In the name of my holy great grandfather, Rabbi Loeb, the heiliger Maharal of Prague, I offer you a gift of fifty American dollars -- in cash -- to allow us into his attic."
The guide fled in panic, as Reb Shlomo fearlessly led the tourists up the ladder into the attic of the Golem of Prague. Reb Shlomo never said what they saw or what he did in that room.

Zechuso yagein Aleinu - May the Maharal's merits protect us!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


From Hornosteipel to Cherkassy...and Back!

This Shabbos is the 13th of Elul, and the 132nd yahrzeit of Rebbe Yaakov Yisrael of Cherkassy, one of the eight sons of Rebbe Mordechai of Chernobyl, and ancestor of the famous American Twerski family [of the Hornosteipel dynasty].

Previous posts: The Cherkasser and Saving Souls and
Rebbe Yaakov Yisrael of Cherkassy - and Twerski niggunim

The following story was translated from the sefer, "Admorim L'Beit Sanz", by R. Avraham Yitzchak Bromberg. An added feature of the story is that it includes the Cherkasser’s grandson, Rebbe Mordechai Dov of Hornosteipel, whose yahrzeit is just over a week later - 22 Elul.


One day in the year "Kesser" [crown], 5620 [or 1860], Rebbe Yaakov Yisrael, one of the "eight candles of the Menora," as the eight sons of Rebbe Mordechai of Chernobyl were known, had his household items packed up, and announced, "We are moving to Cherkassy." As the news circulated, the town of Hornosteipel was full of commotion. How could this be? After thirty years, all of a sudden the Rebbe is packing up and leaving us?
The town's elders and leaders went to the Rebbe to try to dissuade him from his plans. When all words failed, they began to beg him: if the Rebbe leaves, not only will his spiritual influence be missing, but their source of livelihood will dry up as well. For in these thirty years, most of the Jews earned their living from the Chassidim who came to visit the Rebbe. Now, what would they do?
But can one really comprehend the depths of the Rebbe's intentions? Only he is aware of this. If he has decided to leave Hornosteipel, it must only be because the people have sinned, and no longer deserve his presence amongst them. Now, they must absorb their punishment and shame. Amidst cries and wailing which pierced the Heavens, they escorted their Rebbe out of town.
An eyewitness to that bitter day described it: "That day will forever be etched in my memory as one of tragedy, which I'll never forget. It was an awesome sight to see the Rebbe and his family leave town, and all of us - men, women and children - escorting him whilst crying and wailing. The cries were heard in the neighboring towns, until even the Gentile farmers came out and joined the escort of the holy Rabbi. We escorted the Rebbe's wagon for several miles, crying, until we reached the river bank and could continue no longer."
"Then the Rebbe stood up in his coach, turned to us and said, 'I promise you that Hornosteipel will be neither embarrassed nor shamed.' We understood these words only three years later..."
After settling in Cherkassy, many of the Chassidim began to come there. Hornosteipel emptied out, its roads forsaken. Three years passed. The Rebbe's grandson, R. Mordechai Dov, who accompanied his grandfather to Cherkassy [he lived with him after his parents died], was totally absorbed in his Torah learning...
In the year 5623, Rebbe Yaakov Yisrael of Cherkassy fell ill and was bedridden. His youngest grandson, R. Mordechai Dov, was at his bedside day and night, out of his great love for his grandfather.
One day before daybreak, the Rebbe sat up in his bed and said to his grandson, "I'm not really sick. The doctors don't know what they're talking about. I know more about myself than they do. Just like one has 248 physical limbs, he has a similar amount of spiritual ones. When one harms a 'spiritual limb,' it affects the physical one as well, and that's what we call 'sickness.' I began to contemplate; perhaps I have harmed a spiritual limb. I was informed from Above that I have harmed my connection to the Oral Law - Torah she'baal Peh - and I have therefore undertaken to learn 18 chapters of Mishna a day, between Mincha and Ma'ariv." With that, he got out of bed.
Then he continued, "My son, your time has come to be a Rebbe, and your place is Hornosteipel. It is time to leave me and to take your rightful place."
Bursting into tears, R. Mordechai Dov responded, "But I'm so young, how can I take on such an awesome task?"
"Our Sages say, 'One kingdom does not overlap another, even by a hair's breadth,'" responded his grandfather. "It is time for you to become a Rebbe. If you want me to live a long life, you must depart from me, and go to your designated place."
"I will obey my grandfather's wishes, and take leave immediately," responded R. Mordechai Dov, shaking with fear and humility, and realizing his fate.
R. Mordechai Dov and his grandfather remained attached to one another throughout life. There was no matter for which Rebbe Yaakov Yisrael did not consult his grandson, who was a scholar and tzaddik, even after R. Mordechai Dov left for Hornosteipel to become Rebbe there.
Zechuso yagein Aleinu v'al Kol Yisrael - May the Cherkasser's merits protect us all!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz - QOTD

In honor of his Yahrzeit today, we bring this quote from Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz, found at the Two Tzaddiks website.

Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz said: “… in the name of the Arizal [Rabbi Yitzchak Luria zt”l], that he [the Ari] attained his lofty stature because he was the shaliach tzibbur [the one who led the prayers], and he sang beautifully. The entire congregation was attached to him through his Negina, and since he was attached to Hashem, he was able to uplift them all up to Hashem” [357].

Tuesday, September 09, 2008



Last week, I was privileged to attend an amazing tribute to an amazing musical personality: Moshe - better known as Musa - Berlin. I would like to share a few aspects of his talents with you below. Much of the material was adapted from a Hebrew article which appeared in the HaTzofeh website called Manginas Chayav, the Melody of his Life.


The Niggun [Melody] of his Life
Musa Berlin is celebrating his seventieth birthday, together with the celebration of the Jubilee [fiftieth year] of his performing as a musician, and this is an excellent reason to pay tribute to the man who has been described as "the greatest Klezmer musician in the world."


In 1958, a young soldier, Musa Berlin, arrived at the wedding of a good friend. After the chupa, a moment before the traditional Seuda [festive meal] of burekas and chicken, his friend, who knew that one of Berlin’s hobbies was to play clarinet, convinced him to play a bit in front of the group, to add to the simcha. Embarrassed and shy, Musa found it difficult to refuse his good friend’s request. So he got up onto the table and began to play, accompanied by the enthusiastic applause of the group, who wouldn’t let him descend.
Fifty years later, says Berlin jokingly, he is still standing on the same table and playing, non-stop. After fifty years, many now see Berlin as the greatest Klezmer player in the world, and as one who radically changed the face of traditional Klezmer music. In honor of his fifty years of fruitful and widespread work, on 2 Elul at Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem, there was a concert of special tribute to Berlin, with the participation of many artists, public figures and family members. Among them were his Talmid Muvhak [distinguished disciple], Klezmer musician Chilik Frank; his daughter Odelia, who plays keyboard; his son Elyashiv, a drummer; Chizkiya Sofer, an up-and-coming Carlebach singer and guitarist; and many other outstanding musicians and speakers.

"I do not feel any difference between then and today, thank G-d", says Berlin, "these fifty years passed totally fine as far as I am concerned. As long as I breathe, I will continue to create. I don't have any special sentiments, perhaps except for the feeling of knowledge and experience that I have accumulated during the years, which I did not have when I started out on my way."


This year, Berlin is not only celebrating fifty years of creativity, but his seventieth birthday as well. He was born in 1938 in the Shapira neighborhood of South Tel-Aviv, into a Chassidic home that identified with the HaPoel HaMizrachi. Its ambience was Chassidic. He testifies that he received his musical background from his home. To this day, at times Berlin can picture scenes from his youth that were filled with Chassidus, Shtiblach and Chassidic Rebbe’s courts. "I used to go to Tishes on Leil Shabbos [Friday nights], there were amazing prayers on the Yamim Noraim [the High Holidays], and chazzanim [cantors] of renown who came [to pray] almost every Shabbos," he recalls.


In the heady days of the 1960s, one of the people that influenced Berlin, as well as many other religious musicians, was the great Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who even became a good friend of his. "I was one of his original followers. The moment he arrived, my friends and I chased after him, and from year to year, we learned his melodies. Initially he did not know who we were, but later, a connection was made which continued until his death," recounts Berlin. "He came from a pure place, and succeeded to get to the youth in a way that even other great Rabbis did not. After his concerts, we would go with him to the homes to which he was invited.

Bo’i Kalla Shabbos Malch’sa is a new album by the well-known Klezmer artist, Musa Berlin. It brings us the special music that typifies the many years of Musa Berlin’s work. The new album contains nineteen melodies around the theme of Kabbalas [welcoming the] Shabbos, featuring many various melodies from the Lecha Dodi prayer. The album can bring a wonderful Shabbos ambience into one’s home, especially during the hours just before Shabbos, when preparations are at their peak intensity.
"The present album is a collection of thrilling melodies as they were performed - live. In contrast to studio recordings, it's possible to hear in these melodies, the feelings that the musicians had at the time that groom and bride were before them, and from the thrill and excitement of those moments, the musicians allow themselves to give extra embellishment or to burst out with a tone or harmony that is not routine – and this is its beauty" – says Moshe (Musa) Berlin.

Distributed in Israel by Gal-Paz, one can hear Musa’s rendition of Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s Hisna’ari niggun here. A discography of ten Musa Berlin albums can be found here.


But perhaps my favorite Berlin album is a recording that was made in 1992 called Sulam, which means Ladder. Musa’s clarinet is vividly enhanced by the wonderful flute playing of the late Roman Kunsman z"l, as well as the lovely violin of Gregory Lev. Here is a brief review, adapted from the Klezmershack website.

[Sulam, L-R: Leib Rigler, Gregory Lev, Musa Berlin, and Roman Kunsman]

Moshe [Musa] Berlin & Sulam / Klezmer Music from Tel Aviv, 1992.
It is mind-blowing that this is Moshe [Musa] Berlin's first recording. It has certainly been one of my favorites for a lot of years. Recorded in Germany with a versatile ensemble that includes the late Rafael [Roman] Kunsman on flute (leader of Israel's most famous 1970s jazz band, Platina) and others equally stellar, the real star here is Berlin, whose clarinet soars through traditional melodies that often sound just a bit different from what we are more used to in the United States. The repertoire also ranges from traditional Eastern European to klezmer to modern Chassidic. Some of that has to do with the concept of the "Meron" tradition. Meron is a town near Tzfat (Safed) in Israel's north. During the 16th century, the world's major Kabbalists - men like Rabbi Yitzchak Luria [the Arizal] and Rabbi Yosef Karo - shaped much of what we now know as Jewish spirituality in Tzfat. Today's Meron tradition likelier harks back to the Chassidic influx of the 19th century, but even so, these tunes, as played by Berlin, embody a spirituality and grace that is seldom captured - or even understood to be part of klezmer. Even when the band plays familiar tunes, as on the "Yiddish Niggun and Dances" with stitched-together melodies from "Belz" and "Oifn Prepetchik", featuring solos by Kunsman, there is a grace and skill to this playing that is rare. Sadly, Berlin is not only the extraordinary klezmer from Israel, but possibly the only klezmer from Israel worth listening to. Given skill and soul this deep, that's enough [GRADE: A+]

Musa, what is your opinion about your being called 'the greatest Klezmer musician in the world?'

A. "From the technical aspect of [playing] the instrument, without a doubt, there are musicians with a better technique than mine, like Giora Feidman. From the aspect of presentation, maybe I have something exclusive. You know, the melody that really excites me most is the melody of Rebbe Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov. This is a melody of the departure of the soul, and you really see the soul leaving. I played this at a memorial for Rav Shagar zt"l recently, and the audience was stunned; people were moved to tears.
"Looking at my life in retrospect, I can say that the Almighty guided me, to meet all sorts of people. Every time that I met someone, I tried not to contradict him, but to listen to him. This is secret of my success. If one of the young musicians wants advice from me, I would say: don’t oppose Hashem, allow Him to lead you, do not be obstinate. Take care to be open-minded and not contrary. This is secret of success."
Wise words from a very wise and talented man. We all wish Musa another fifty years of wonderful music and success, till 120!

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