Michoel Schnitzler discovers another Michoel to his right
It was a few days after Succos last year, and beloved chasunah performer Michoel Schnitzler was tuning up for the spate of post-Yom Tov weddings. Except that he hadn’t been feeling well, and his usual energy and exuberance just wasn’t there. “I hadn’t been feeling good for the past few months, and then, over Yom Tov, things began deteriorating fast: I couldn’t walk properly, I couldn’t speak, and I couldn’t eat. That day, I was rushed to the hospital, and the scans revealed that one artery had only 30 percent blood flow, while the rest were all blocked. According to the doctor, my chance of survival was just 30 percent — I was almost in the Olam HaEmes. I bentshed my children and then went into a quadruple bypass surgery. But I went into the OR with a smile. I said to the Ribbono shel Olam, ‘I have never in my life knowingly cheppeh’d another Yid. If You want me to continue to be mesamei’ach Klal Yisruel, please send me a full recovery.’
“Baruch Hashem, He granted it. So, I had to do my part. As soon as I was able, I went to visit and be mechazek and sing to other Yidden in the hospital — and I worked on another album, which is being released this week.”
The title song, “Mimini Michoel (The Angel Michoel Is at My Right),” was composed and written by badchan and lyricist Motty Ilowitz, paraphrasing the doctor’s words to Schnitzler after his successful surgery: “I did the operation, but an angel helped me.”
Photo: Amir Levy
You’re listening to 8th Day, and there’s an instrumental sound you just can’t identify. But don’t worry, you’re not the only one — Bentzi Marcus himself can’t tell you what it’s called either.
“On our latest album, Slow Down, we came up with a song in the studio on the spot,” Bentzi recounts. “We called it “A Better Me.” It was one of those magical Hashgachah pratis moments where everything just clicked. We needed a fresh sound for the song’s intro, and the producer, Bruce Witkin, pointed to a strange-looking stringed instrument on the wall. I tried it out, and voilà, it worked perfectly! I don’t even remember what it’s called.”
You don’t have to be musical for music to have a special place in your heart. Even the tone-deaf will associate an event with the song that was playing at the time. There’s the album that played in the car during the rainy ride home from Shimon’s wedding, and the song that everyone danced to at Chaim’s bar mitzvah during the blizzard. Sometimes music becomes associated with a tragedy, or serves as a glimmer of hope to those who have fallen on hard times. Singer Yisroel Werdyger says he speaks for other singers as well when he notes how appreciative he is over people who share what the music means to them.
“One particular example stands out in my mind. I once got a letter from the mother of a very sick child, who wrote that she used to listen to my song ‘Zara Chayah Vekayamah’ while traveling back and forth to and from the hospital, and daven along to have healthy children. It gave her tremendous chizuk and hope. Of course, I saved the letter.
“Davening together brings down all boundaries”
Last year I was invited to the Holy Law Synagogue in Manchester UK for the Shabbos Project, with a Sunday night concert in London following. I’d never sung in England before — in fact, I had never set foot there, and I was nervous about how the crowd would participate. At the event, there were 1,500 people in that cavernous shul for Kabbalas Shabbos. When we started “lechu neranenah,” the place seemed to light up, the atmosphere ignited. The entire shul was dancing up a storm — no British reserve here. I felt such a sense of connection. I saw how davening together brings down all boundaries. We had an unbelievably moving Shabbos experience, and the Havdalah concert felt like the warmest of farewells.
“Nothing like the ruach of a Shabbos seudah in a football field”
They’re the band who met in shul on Shabbos. At the time Yoni Lipshutz was a day trader, Eliyahu Reiter a part-owner of Tzfas’s candle factory, and Yonatan Zarum played in a wedding band. All members of the Breslov shul on the mountainside just above the steep graveyard of the city’s tzaddikim and kabbalists, they knew each other from Shabbos davening. In 1998, Lipshutz was out of a job, and a friend loaned him a violin. Reiter had sold his candle factory and was seeking another career. The two teamed up for some informal kumzitzes, with Yoni’s classical violin engaging Eliyahu’s Carlebach-style acoustic guitar. The sound was a hit locally, and soon they asked Yonatan Zarum, who plays classical guitar with a jazz influence, to make up a trio. Since then, Simply Tsfat has been giving a new sound to both traditional chassidic niggunim and their own compositions — both wordless niggunim and ballads — thrown in to the mix.
Communities across the US have enjoyed the five US tours the band has made, with more planned for the coming year. “We were in Atlanta for the Shabbos Project last year, and in Scottsdale, Arizona, the year before,” says Yoni. “Both places gave off a terrific feeling of achdus as we sang and danced with the crowds at the huge communal luncheons. You can’t beat the ruach of hundreds of people from all walks of life joining for Shabbos lunch on an outdoor parking lot or football field. Just gevaldig.”
“It was a privilege to make Kiddush for them”
Carlebach shul chazzan Yehuda Green has participated in several Shabbos Project events, most notably at the Agudas Yisrael of Flatbush. He waxes enthusiastic about their effect. “It’s an amazing idea — not just for those who don’t know about Shabbos, but for those who do. Everyone grows from sharing Shabbos.”
Green reckons these Shabbos gatherings are the largest crowds he has ever led in Kabbalas Shabbos and Kiddush. “Kiddush is actually an announcement of Shabbos. The 1,000-strong crowd was silent and listening as I announced ‘Yom Hashishi,’ even those who had never kept Shabbos before. It was a privilege to make Kiddush for them.”
On Motzaei Shabbos, Yehuda led the traditional Yiddish “G-tt fun Avraham” prayer composed by Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev and then sang an English translation of the prayer, which enabled the crowd to connect and join him. He also sang his popular “Hashiveinu” and “Nishmas Kol Chai.”
“I believe the participants in these beautiful Shabbosim will never forget the feeling of connection and warmth, and as for myself — I’m one lucky person to be able to take part.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 682)