In our continuing effort to produce The Five Towns Jewish Times in a variety of formats, we have launched a podcast that explores the inside scoop and backstory about people of note, their accomplishments, and the projects they are working on today.
The podcast is featured here on our website and is also being transmitted over a variety of platforms including Yeshiva World News, Matzav, and a number of others.
In the first three broadcasts, I had a great time exploring the work and psyche of singing star Benny Friedman; the founder of a Jerusalem seminary, Rabbi Dovid Refson; and Rabbi Aryeh Zev Ginzberg of the Five Towns. Each of these men is making significant and fascinating contributions to contemporary Jewish life, and we took advantage of the opportunity to share a wide-ranging, unscripted conversation on the issues that today’s Jewish community is dealing with.
Our first profile was with Benny Friedman on the occasion of the release of his latest album, Kulanu Nelech. Our conversation, which runs about 40 minutes, is not just about promoting a new album, although that might have been one of the reasons that Benny agreed to appear on the program.
The conversation traces the evolution of Jewish music as we know it today. And even more, how does a young man like Benny Friedman manage to break into a field filled with talented singers and make his way directly to the top?
Additionally interesting are some of the comments that Benny made about his uncle, Avraham Fried, and the contributions made in his field by the inimitable Shlomo Carlebach. Regarding his success in the Chassidic/Jewish music industry, he says the only way he can explain it is just “mazal.” I suppose that is a fair assessment of one’s own success, but we plumb a bit deeper and explore a singing talent that runs through the family. For instance, his first cousins are the Marcus brothers of 8th Day, so while mazal is certainly essential, the kind of talent exhibited by Benny makes all the difference.
There are some other things that you will have to absorb on your own when you watch the podcast. Benny Friedman exudes a confidence in his craft. He recognizes the potential of a hit tune that will grab the community’s attention and sustain its place in the musical consciousness for somewhere between a few years and forever.
And who in Chassidic music can deny the impact of Shlomo Carlebach and his great song-writing and performing talent? Benny Friedman says Carlebach created an inescapable genre in music. He explains that there isn’t a song that anyone can write that is not judged by its Carlebachian influences.
We also talked about the popularity of and demand for concert performances, particularly in Israel. On the morning that we met, Benny arrived directly from the airport. The night before he sang at a wedding in Toronto, and the day before that he arrived in Canada from Israel where he spent a week performing at various venues.
There’s a lot more in the podcast, so check it out here.
Our second program changed course a bit with Neve Yerushalayim founder and dean Rabbi Dovid Refson. Seminary is simply a standard fixture in a young woman’s education. We discussed with Rabbi Refson, who founded the seminary in 1969, that in our communities, often a young lady seeking a shidduch is characterized by the seminary in Israel that she attended.
As is the case with many great ideas, sowing the seeds for the creation of a number of such seminaries that would educate thousands of women was not the original intent, Rabbi Refson told us. Back in the late 1960s, Rabbi Refson started a small yeshiva and was interested in attracting more students. He placed an ad in the Jerusalem Post, and, lo and behold, most of the inquiries were from women in their twenties and thirties, when there was a movement of marginally observant or nonobservant men and women thirsting for Torah knowledge on a myriad of levels.
Today, 60 years later, Neve has seen more than 25,000 women pass through their doors, enrolling and taking classes as they evolve Jewishly and educationally with the studies at the Neve seminaries playing an integral role in their higher-education process.
Rabbi Refson is personable and talks openly about challenges that face young frum women today. The seminaries he has founded and runs today cater to all segments of the Jewish community, from Bais Yaakov girls to ba’alei teshuvah. His 50 years of work run the gamut through Jewish communities around the world. Rabbi Refson is celebrating the 50th anniversary with reunions around the country focused on communities where many of his students currently reside.
Neve Yerushalayim is today part of the Jewish community vernacular, and it is a cause to celebrate — for the extraordinary mark they have left on the community and indeed their continued success that we all look forward to.
Our third podcast turned to the Five Towns community with a project that is having impact around the world. Rabbi Aryeh Zev Ginzberg, rav of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center in Cedarhurst/Woodmere, is in Israel this week observing the fourth yahrzeit for his daughter, Sarah, known to her family and friends as Sarala.
Our conversation was far-ranging, dealing with issues that plague our frum communities in these modern times. It seemed that we were moving in the direction of concluding that our communities these days can only be united if we are under threat or facing some kind of similar communal pressure. Whether it’s drug abuse, sexual abuse, or problems earning a living or finding shidduchim for our children, it just seems that much of Jewish life these days is viewed in that context and from the perspective of nonstop problems and crises.
Then we moved away from that theory because there is a great deal of good news out there and, no, we don’t need an emergency to come together, though it is at those times in communal life that we are more unified than at other times.
Regardless of what adversity brings, there is some good that can be done in order to neutralize and then hopefully reverse whatever difficulties or negativity we may be dealing with.
Then our conversation shifted to the project the family adopted as a z’chus for the neshamah of their dear Sarala, a’h. Ohel Sarala had Rabbi and Rebbetzin Ginzberg join forces with Rabbi and Rebbetzin Shlomo Bochner of Bonei Olam and devise a breakthrough method that might have partially broken the Divine secret code.
The premise behind the joint venture is what our sages tell us about prayer—that one who prays for his or her neighbor is zocheh to have his prayers answered first.
So this was the plan. Couples dealing with infertility, which is Bonei Olam’s area of expertise, will pray for young women and men who are in need of a shidduch. At the same time, the singles will daven for the couples navigating the course of fertility treatments and hoping for a pregnancy.
Several years later, this is not just a good idea but rather something that has evolved into a proven formula. To date, under the rubric of Ohel Sarala, 700 shidduchim have been made and 250 couples have had a child, many after waiting for years.
In the next few days we have a number of programs on the drawing board. Up next is an interview with Republican candidate for Congress from Westchester County, Josh Eisen. Mr. Eisen is seeking the seat of longtime Congress member Nita Lowy who is retiring. If you have an idea about an interesting personality who should be interviewed, write to me at editor@5TJT.com.