By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Yoni Z is on a mission. Intent on upping the game, he hopes to change the landscape of Jewish music forever and is well on the way to doing so. Personable, polished, and possessed of a gorgeous voice and charismatic stage presence, the multitalented singing sensation has been performing professionally for the past 13 years. Chances are, you have experienced the musical magic of a Yoni Z concert firsthand; if so, you will certainly understand why he has established an ever-expanding following throughout the global Jewish community.
Daring to tread where no other Jewish music performer has before, Yoni has set the bar higher still, with the release of Ahava, his much-anticipated second album. Produced by Yoni and arranged by Shloimy Zaltzman, the album is a world-class production, setting standards of excellence in Jewish music. Featuring 12 tracks—each a standout in its own right—the album is truly representative of this gifted artist. Reaching across the rich spectrum of genres, including Bollywood, African, country, Mizrahi, Jewish pop, and cantorial—Ahava is a groundbreaking achievement in Jewish music.
Ahava represents the artist’s dream brought to fruition. “I wanted to leave my footprint and release an album that would express what the world wants now, to inspire and uplift after COVID. That conveyed my message,” Yoni shared. Rather than following the conventional route favored by many performers in the Jewish music arena and collaborate with a producer to select songs from among myriad submissions, Yoni produced the album and wrote 11 of the 12 musical gems. “Yedid Nefesh,” a breathtaking ballad, was composed by the 5TJT’s own Yochanan Gordon.
“Yochanan has a knack for writing beautiful ballads. He is a gifted composer and I’ve wanted to work with him for quite some time,” Yoni explained. Exquisite in every aspect, the track features a 60-piece symphonic and a stunning touch of chazzanus by Yoni, who is also an acclaimed chazzan.
Released on Lag B’Omer, Ahava had originally been scheduled for post-Purim release. “Respecting Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt’l, who was niftar on the Friday after Purim, we felt it would be appropriate to wait until after Shloshim, and Lag B’Omer seemed the perfect day to release Ahava.
Seamlessly orchestrated, with meticulous attention to every detail, Ahava is a musical masterpiece. “I wanted to create magic,” the artist told the 5TJT, and that is precisely what he did. “My objective was to create an authentic Jewish pop album. I felt that this generation needs something genuine, something that would truly speak to people of all ages and express their feelings as well.
“So often I am approached by adults who tell me they can’t wait to hear authentic Jewish pop. There is a huge audience that left since the 1990s and we want them to come back to Jewish music. We’re continuing to raise the bar, creating music that will inspire everyone.”
Determined to reach as wide and diverse an audience as possible, Yoni is making his music available to everyone. “Ahava is available for purchase at stores and we would like to sell as many albums as possible; however, it is always available on streaming so that everyone can experience and be inspired by its message,” he says.
Blessed with an abundance of talent, Yoni Z is a Five Towns favorite. He has headlined multiple Concerts Under the Stars at Cedarhurst Park, each performance drawing an unprecedented crowd. “The Five Towns has a special place in my heart,” he shares, and the feeling is mutual. Indeed, he played to a most appreciative audience of over 2,000 last summer. An internationally celebrated musical artist, his career is exploding—and success could not have happened to a more deserving and nicer person. Yoni’s videos and concert performances are sheer magic, with more to come, and he will be traveling to Israel and Europe, including Rome and London, impacting audiences at destinations near and far. Yoni touches the hearts of all: Jews of all stripes, as well as non-Jews. “Thank you so much; for the first time, I found G-d in music,” many have told him.
Gifted with the ability to stir souls and touch hearts with his dynamic performances, Yoni shared a heartwarming experience. After headlining a Chanukah concert, he flew to another state to headline at a second venue. Performing on the runway on a particularly high stage, he had just finished singing “Crown,” one of his many favorites, when he heard someone say, “Happy Chanukah, Yoni Z!”
Looking into the audience, he spotted an African-American little girl. Inviting her to join him on stage, Yoni asked, “What’s your name?”
“Rachel,” she replied.
“Let’s all wish Rachel a Happy Chanukah,” Yoni instructed the audience and, in unison, they did, to Rachel’s delight.
Soon thereafter, in the course of an especially frenetic week, Yoni received an e-mail from Rachel’s mom, expressing her gratitude to him for lifting Rachel’s spirits and making her feel so special. She shared that her daughter suffered from an autoimmune condition and was undergoing debilitating medical treatment. Being invited to join Yoni Z on stage, and hearing the lyrics of “Crown”—“You are royalty; you are Queen Esther’s legacy”—infused the precious child with pride and with the stamina and will to withstand her medical treatments.
Kind and compassionate, the congenial Crown Heights resident, who is a member of the Chabad community, demonstrated patience and perseverance, talent and tenacity. While composing and co-writing, he has created an international following with his high-energy performances and emotional connection to his audiences. “Even as a teenager performing on stage, I could feel the adrenaline,” he says. “I’ve always been inspired by my audiences. You have to connect to your audience and give them what they want. Often, I will see people walking into a concert or at a wedding looking bored. I try to connect to them. It’s not just about performing, but rather inspiring them—getting them involved and excited so they are laughing and impacted when the concert or wedding is over.”
“I want to bring a sense of pride back into the [music] industry. We’ve stepped up our game in other areas—the culinary arts, for example. What I am trying to do is to provide a wholesome and appropriate outlet for our youth to express their creativity. If you want to bring about change, it isn’t about you—it’s about your audience. You have to anticipate and deliver what they want.”
For Yoni, music is much more than performing. It is a way of inspiring his audiences, touching their hearts, and connecting with them. “I want to instill our youth with a sense of pride in themselves, in our identity, and I want to do it through my music. Music is a universal language. It is a uniting force that brings people together. I want to encourage young people to express themselves through pure, quality music. So many kids leave the yeshiva system early because they have no way of expressing themselves; music is such a wonderful means of self- expression.”
Encouraged by his rosh yeshiva to “make his own box” and pursue his dream of expressing himself musically, Yoni recalls working many day jobs before his music took full bloom. “When I started out in the music business years ago, it was like a dream. I encourage everyone to follow their dream and never give up.”
During the course of our interview, Yoni discussed the diverse cultural, religious, and ethnic categories, each an industry in and of itself, represented at the annual Grammy Awards and within the music business at-large, and opined that it was time for Jewish music to be represented in its purest form, undiluted and devoid of secular influences. “Shouldn’t we have something of our own that emanates from within, that speaks from our hearts?”
Available wherever music is sold and on digital platforms, Ahava is an exemplar of Jewish music at its finest for us to proudly call our own.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at HYPERLINK “mailto:Rochellemiller04@aol.com” Rochellemiller04@aol.com. Read more of Rochelle Miller’s articles at 5TJT.com.