Endnote: The Story Behind "Let My People Go"

September 07, 2017 5 min read

ENDNOTE: The Story Behind "Let My People Go"


“Thousands shouting ‘No, let my people go! Enough of your bluff and your hurting…” This powerful, evocative song, released back in 1991, is far more than a nostalgic memory; it is testimony to a painful yet heroic piece of modern Jewish history — and Mordechai ben David cannot forget how he came to write it. 




The Story Behind the Song

“Let my People Go” 
MBD put his pain into words 

“Thousands shouting ‘No, let my people go! Enough of your bluff and your hurting…” This powerful, evocative song, released back in 1991, is far more than a nostalgic memory; it is testimony to a painful yet heroic piece of modern Jewish history — and Mordechai ben David cannot forget how he came to write it. 

“In 1984, Avital Sharansky approached me. She’d been working tirelessly for the release of her husband Anatoly, who’d been imprisoned by the Soviets since 1978 for the crime of wanting to live as a Jew in Eretz Yisrael. She asked me to write a song about his struggle and situation. I was on the verge of releasing a new album, and so I wrote the song “Hold On” about Sharansky and the other heroic Prisoners of Zion, and that became the title song on the album with the same name.” [Sharansky was released in 1986, and subsequently became an Israeli minister and political leader.] 

A year later, in 1985, “Let my People Go,” — the title song of his next album — brought additional hope and encouragement to those trapped behind the Iron Curtain, creating MBD’s own genre of activism through his songs. 

“Like all Jews around the world, I felt personally entwined with the horrible plight of the Prisoners of Zion,” MBD says. “The songs were simply an expression of that deep pain for our brothers.” 

Singer without a mic

SIMCHA LEINER remembers singing at a chuppah in Rosemont, Illinois, one summer in 95-degree weather — and there was a power outage. “There was a crowd of 800 people and a large orchestra waiting to play, but with no amplification, it was decided to do the entire chuppah just on string instruments. It was candlelit, of course, and we played and sung with all our hearts — the chuppah ended up being absolutely beautiful, despite the heat.” (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 676) 


As in any business, preparation and advance planning are integral to getting the job done. But in the music business especially, there are so many variables over which we have no control, and at least twice we came close to disaster — showing us Who really makes the plans. 

One time, Suki & Ding were invited to Baltimore to do an Uncle Moishy concert for Ptach. Our hosts were thrilled that the concert was already sold out a day before the show. 

We arrived at the venue — a large public school auditorium — about two hours before showtime, but when we tried to get in, we found the doors were locked. I guess we’re early, I thought, but the lady from Ptach told me the doors were supposed to be opened by now. An hour went by, but still no sign of a custodian. We finally got through to someone from the school district, who said the custodian had had a bit too much to drink and was unable to come down to open the door. It was now half an hour to showtime and the people were arriving. 

What’s a producer to do? “Guys,” I said, “we’re not getting inside. We’re doing this concert on the lawn.” Baruch Hashem it was a pleasant sunny October day. The only problem was that we had no electricity. Our keyboard player, Shabsi Parnes, noticed an open window, and we were actually able to thread down an extension cord, connect it to an outlet beneath the window sill, and plug in our instruments and mics. 

The concert might have been our greatest ever. Just picture it: 1,500 people, sitting on the front lawn outside a Baltimore public school, singing “Hey dum diddly dum” with gusto. 

Nothing tops this second story, though — for us, at least. It was Chanukah time and we had just done five Uncle Moishy concerts in two days. When we woke up Tuesday morning in St. Louis, we received a call from Rabbi Kasovitz of Des Moines, Iowa, where we were scheduled to perform that night. He told us it was snowing heavily in Des Moines and the airport was shut. No problem, I told him; we’d just head back to New York and enjoy a hard-earned day of rest. But Rabbi Kasovitz wasn’t ready to let us go so fast; he was hoping the airports would open soon. So we stayed put and waited. 

The airport did eventually open and we arrived in Des Moines at 6 p.m. for a 7:30 show. The rabbi had arranged for two station wagons to meet us at the airport and take us to the show, so we decided we’d put all the equipment in one car and the five of us would travel in the other station wagon. 

The station wagon with the equipment pulled out. The second driver assumed that we’d all gone into the first station wagon together with our stuff — so he left, too. 

There we were, stranded in Des Moines International Airport in a snowstorm. These were the pre-cell phone days, and we had no idea where to go or what to do. The only thing we knew was that the auditorium was about 45 minutes away from the airport, and by the time our hosts would figure out that we were missing, it would be too late for them to send us another driver to fetch us. We considered driving to the Chabad House — maybe there’d be a sign or a flyer hanging there with the address of the show’s venue. So we got into a cab and were on our way. 

Inside the cab, we listened as the radio broadcaster announced a long stream of local closings due to the weather. And, I kid you not, the broadcaster said, “and the Uncle Moses concert will go on as planned.” We jumped up, hoping he’d mention the name of the venue, but no such luck. 

When we got to the Chabad House, it was already 7:05 p.m. We looked all over for a poster but to no avail. We were about to give up, when one of the people in charge of the Chabad House returned because he had left something in his office. Our prayers were answered. We made it to the hall at 7:30, and the show started pretty much on time, much to our joy. 

So remember: Even when your plan doesn’t go “as planned,” Hashem has a better one.