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OHEL 5770 Concert Review

Like most of you, I missed this year’s OHEL concert and was pleasantly surprised to hear that the concert DVD was going to be out only one month after the concert took place.   I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.   Given how fast it was released, I wasn’t convinced that they were going to do all that professional a job on the DVD.  And the format of this year’s concert had me concerned.  A bunch of guys doing a play, interspersed with songs from Lipa, Ohad and Abie??

Okay, you can all yell at me for being so negative and pessimistic.  The concert was clearly very enjoyable and the DVD looks a lot better to me than some other DVDs I have seen recently that took a lot longer to put together.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me tell you a little about OHEL 5770.

This year’s concert was not typical in any way shape or form.  Sure, it featured Lipa Schmeltzer, Ohad and Abie Rotenberg singing some of their best songs.  But they were just one component of what appears to have been a very entertaining evening.   Titled “Musical Inspirations…Let The Journey Begin”, the concert told the story of one man’s struggle coming to terms with the realities of having a special needs child, interspersed with related songs from the musical performers.  While the musical performances were all live, the story itself unfolded on a video screen on the stage.  And what a stage it was!   Designed by concert director Bernie Dove, who is listed in the credits as “Chief Wizard and Magician”, it was a very modern looking multi level construction, which gave the performers several different vantage points on the stage, without in any way taking away from the action on stage.  The concert itself was produced by Avram Zamist while the film portion of the evening was produced by Chananya Kramer, with the screenplay written by his sister, Malka Leah Josephs.  Arrangements were done by Shai Bachar with music by the Shloime Dachs Orchestra.

Musical Inspirations…Let The Journey Begin is the story of Bernie Kaufman, a hard working Americare worker who is trying his best to cope with the pressures of a demanding job and his family life, made all the more difficult by the fact that Bernie’s son, Daniel, is a special needs child.  It is obvious from the beginning that Bernie is unsuccessfully trying to come to terms with the fact that his son is different than the average child.  As the story unfolds, Bernie meets many different people, all of whom encourage him to open his heart and his mind and to learn to accept Daniel for the unique individual he is.  From the moment the story starts you know that the story is going to end with Bernie having an epiphany by the Kosel and will finally realize that not only does he have nothing to be embarrassed about but he should be proud of the unique individual that is his son Daniel.  Woven into the story are some beautifully done songs and many, many blatant endorsements for the concert’s sponsors.

I should mention right here that this review isn’t going to say much about the songs.  With the exception of the opening number, a change of words on a Poshiter Yid and the appearance of Dovid Dachs, there was nothing new and groundbreaking in the music.  It was Lipa Schmeltzer, Abie Rotenberg and Ohad singing some of their best songs and doing it very, very well.  Clearly, what was new and noteworthy was the story that linked the songs together and the way the story and the songs were woven together.

The opening number, “Open Your Hearts” begins as  a music video showing the singers getting ready to come to the concert.   Abie Rotenberg is loading his suitcase into his car in Toronto while Ohad is shown first singing in Israel, then in a taxi on his way to Ben Gurion.   Lipa Schmeltzer is apparently at home, going through a colorful assortment of bekeshas and glasses but then appears center stage, with an armload of costumes and all three performers finish the song on stage.  After a few opening words, Bernie Kaufman himself (or actually Dan Brody, who plays Bernie) is introduced and he comes onstage, looking somewhat embarrassed and introduces his story, which is shown on video.  And with that setup, the evening really begins.

The first scene shows a very harried looking Bernie in his Americare office, trying to juggle work and a phone call from his special needs son, Daniel, all while trying to leave the office for a business trip to Israel.  Prominently displayed on Bernie’s desk are both Tums and Pepto Bismol, showing us just how pressured poor Bernie really is.

Dan Brody does a great job playing Bernie as a hard working guy who is trying  to cope with the stress of both his personal and professional lives, instead of portraying Bernie as an obsessed workaholic.  Mitch Cohen plays Bernie’s ditzy assistant Leonard with just the right comedic touch.  Americare boss Elly Kleinman puts in an appearance, advising Bernie to be open minded on his trip and reminding him that success is about changing the lives of the people you meet and allowing them to change your life for the better.  Leonard counsels Bernie to relax, telling him “stop, don’t think about it” and you know that line is a lead in for the Ohad song, which is introduced by Nachum Segal,  shown in his studio, about to play the song on his show.  While Nachum’s listeners are presumably listening to Ohad on air, we are treated to a live rendition of the song onstage.

Bernie ends up sharing his ride to the airport with a yeshiva bochur who just so happens to be a Russian immigrant who had the good fortune to be placed in a wonderful foster family by Ohel, where he learned all about Torah and mitzvos,  loving him unconditionally, much the way he is sure Bernie loves his own son.  Bernie looks embarrassed and the yeshiva bochur continues on telling Bernie that thanks to Ohel, his life has been elevated and he can go to Israel and see the kedusha that is there.  This leads us into the next song as Abie Rotenberg and Dovid Dachs sing Lulei Sorascha.  The audio and video aren’t quite in sync on this song, but it sounds so good it doesn’t matter.  Lipa Schmeltzer appears on stage next in a gold bekesha, singing Torah Shebichsav and Shelo Asani Goy.

At the airport, Bernie stops for a coffee and you know he is going to meet more people who will change his life forever.  The first is Rabbi Pesach Krohn who gives Bernie an armload of CDs to listen to and upon learning that Bernie is going through a difficult time, he implores Bernie to go to the Kosel and daven with all his heart both for himself and for others dealing with the same difficulties in life.

Ohad appears onstage, singing the touching Mispallilim, accompanied by beautiful footage of people davening.    Back at the coffee shop, Mayor Bloomberg is on the news, speaking about the Ohel concert and all the good that Ohel does.  When Bloomberg tells the viewers that it is time to “wake up and smell the coffee”, you can almost see the lightbulb go on in Bernie’s head.

The next person Bernie meets in the coffee shop isn’t concert producer Avram Zamist who plays a barista in the café, but an older man named who tells Bernie how Ohel’s mental health services reached out to him when he was suffering from depression and encouraged him to fulfill his lifelong dream of moving to Israel and putting a kvittel in the Kosel.  He goes on to tell Bernie that there is no shame in letting others help you and that if we believe in G-d, a better future is right around the corner.

Next up is the Emunah Medley, beginning with Abie singing Ani Maamin joined at the end by Ohad.  The mood shifts from touching and poignant to upbeat and hopeful as Ohad sings V’eyrastich and is joined at the end by Lipa, this time wearing a light blue vest and a red cap.  Lipa sings his hit song Hentelach and there are lots of shots of the audience “haibing oif” their “hentelach” amid rotating colored lights.

It wouldn’t be a concert if we didn’t have Nachum Segal thanking all the sponsors would it?  This time it was footage of Nachum Segal on air in the studio, thanking all the sponsors of the Ohel concert, just in case you couldn’t tell who the sponsors were even though they were worked into the script at every possible opportunity.

Though we don’t see video of the flight, presumably Bernie is on the plane and having trouble sleeping because Lipa comes on stage wearing a royal blue nightshirt and a white satin shluff kappel, singing Chalom Cholamti featuring an absolutely gorgeous opening violin solo.  Bernie stands center stage, his back to the audience, swaying back and forth to suggest that he is sleeping as both Lipa and the violinist circle him as they are singing/playing.

Obviously the next song is going to be Wake Up and Bernie turns around and faces the audience.  Lipa leads him across the stage, sitting him down on the side of the stage.  Bernie seems to really enjoy Lipa’s message but as the song ends, he tells Lipa he knows he needs to make a change but doesn’t know how.

Enter Abie Rotenberg who tells Bernie that only he can find the answer, but assuring him that there is a time and a place for everything, segueing into a Dveykus Medley, leading off with Lakol Z’man.   Bernie asks Abie how he is supposed to change and Abie tells him to let his son be the reason he changes and goes into Hinei Anochi, reminding Bernie “v’hayshiv lev avos al banim”.  Bernie agrees that Abie is right, lamenting that he gets home so late his son is already in bed.  Anyone want to guess the next song?  You got it, Hamalach Hagoel, with Dovid Dachs joining Abie for another beautiful duet.

Next, we see Bernie arriving at his hotel in Yerushalayim, which is also hosting a wedding.   The Israeli desk clerk is played to comedic perfection, though I have no clue why they felt the need to add in a sitcom style laughtrack.  The clerk handles Bernie as only an Israeli desk clerk can when he finds out that his reserved suite has been given to the wedding party and tells him to put business aside and to share in the happiness of the wedding.   If there is a wedding, there must be wedding music.  Enter Lipa in a top hat and gold vest, singing Binyan Adei Ad, followed by Ohad singing Bo’ee Kallah.

Things start building to a climax when Bernie accidentally takes the wrong suitcase in the lobby, which turns out to belong to his old friend, Boruch, from yeshiva, who just so happens to be making a Bar Mitzvah for his special needs son at the Kosel tomorrow.  Boruch tells Bernie that he had difficulty coping with his son, until Ohel stepped in and helped them out and Baruch Hashem, his son has blossomed into a wonderful young man.   Boruch continues, telling Bernie that he too was overwhelmed by the demands of life, but because of his son, he got his life back together, because he had to figure out who he was and what was really important.

Spotlight on Lipa on stage, wearing the simplest of costumes:  a pair of plain white tzitzis bearing the phrase “mit a poshiter yid” in red.  Lipa sings a special concert version of A Poshiter Yid, encouraging Bernie not to try to be a Tzaddik, but to just be a poshiter yid and to learn from the lessons that come into his life.

A montage of clips plays on the screen showing Bernie all the people he has met on his trip and all the lessons they have given over to him, telling him he just needs to be the best Bernie he can be.  He doesn’t have to be the smartest guy out there,  he just has to work the hardest to do right.  Then we see Bernie at the Kosel at night, davening,  sending a mental message to his son that things are going to change and he loves him.

Everything comes to a head the next morning at the Kosel, where Bernie joins Boruch for his son’s Bar Mitzvah.  As does the old man from the coffee shop.  And the yeshiva bochur who shared Bernie’s ride to the airport.  Bernie meets the Bar Mitzvah boy and it is evident that he is overjoyed to see that a special needs child can grow up to have a happy, productive life.  Bernie finally seems serene and at peace as he introduces everyone around and you know that Bernie has finally gained the confidence he needs to deal with the challenges he faces.  Final video clips show the yeshiva bochur learning in yeshiva, the old man finally putting his kvittel in the Kosel and Bernie buying his son a personalized menorah at the olive wood factory in Meah Shearim.  One by one, all the characters emerge on stage, joined by all the singers, as they reprise the opening song, “Open Your Heart”.

I am probably the only one who actually watched the credits at the end, so I am probably the only one who caught they hysterical clip of Lipa and Elly Kleinman going into Lipa’s dressing room, and emerging later with Kleinman in a gold bekesha and a yarmulke with Lipa payos while Lipa is wearing a simple jacket and hat.  And just in case you wanted more, the bonus features include a twenty six minute video entitled “The Making of the Film”, a fourteen minute “Making of the Concert” video, bloopers, footage of crowd reaction after the concert and, of course, video clips showcasing the corporate sponsors.

All in all, I enjoyed the DVD, which gave both me and my kids a chance to see a performance that I would have otherwise missed.  There are only two things that I feel obligated to mention.  First, I would have liked some sort of insert in the video with a list of the songs being performed and the names of the actors.   There just wasn’t as much information as I would have liked listed on the back of the case.  Second, while I know that sponsors pay money to be recognized, it could have been done with a little more subtlety.  But don’t let either of those very minor concerns stop you from enjoying a very entertaining concert!

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