Up Close With Gershon Veroba
By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Gershon Veroba has spent much of his professional career bridging the gap between Jewish and secular music. A consummate professional and perfectionist, he has consistently delivered, both in the studio and on stage, a high level of passion, spirituality, and soulfulness, while retaining the elements that have garnered him praise from music aficionados the world over.
Born into a musical family, Gershon discovered his passion for “the family business” at a tender age. His father, Abraham, a’h, was a child prodigy who was discovered and trained as a chazzan by the legendary Yossele Rosenblatt, a’h. Gershon’s mother was a New York City opera singer, radio host, and solo artist who prioritized her religious home life over fame and fortune, and relinquished her seat on the opera (which was later given to Maria Callas).
Gershon’s history is as unique as his talent. As a child, he performed as a soloist in his father’s choir; as a teenager, he enjoyed displaying his musical acumen to audiences large or small. Blessed with a charismatic stage presence, he achieved success as a bandleader, recording artist, and producer in the ensuing years.
Raised in Larchmont, New York, Gershon was influenced by a unique spectrum of musical genres and styles, including radio, Broadway, and Hollywood. TV personalities like Dean Martin, Glen Campbell, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, and Matt Munro; composers like Mancini and Bacharach; singer/songwriters like Carole King, Elton John, James Taylor, and Stevie Wonder; groups like the Beatles, the Eagles, Bread, the Carpenters, and Steely Dan–these are the musical influences that left a mark on Gershon and shaped his professional life.
Having earned a multigenerational and diverse fan base that includes so many of the leading artists in contemporary Jewish music, his appeal is not surprising. Gershon has evolved from the beginning of his career, breaking old barriers and creating exciting performances with his signature style and charismatic stage presence.
Seamlessly introducing sounds and styles as he records, produces, and performs throughout the global Jewish community, Gershon continues to be the industry’s gold standard, elevating Jewish music by utilizing the many talents with which he has been gifted.
Nowhere is this talent more evident than on his long-awaited latest album, “Ani Yisrael.”
It has been nearly a decade since Gershon last recorded an album of solo songs, which is precisely why it was already generating buzz months prior to its release. For most of us, this represents an unexpected side of Gershon–including those who have been fans since the early days of his career.
“This is really what I have wanted to do for some time,” Gershon reflected. “I decided that the time was right to jump into an original, creative project, accepting no compromises, putting aside the good for the great, settling for only the absolute best.”
A music masterpiece worth the ten-year wait, “Ani Yisrael” fuses Gershon’s strong ties to Israel with the rich pop influences he introduced years ago. Embarking on an exciting musical venture, he collaborated with Jewish music’s A-Team of superstar guest artists and gifted composers–each blessed, like Gershon himself, with an abundance of talent. Working in tandem, these creative geniuses orchestrated the project to fruition.
Featuring Israeli superstar Gad Elbaz, composer/singer Ari Goldwag, Brazilian phenomenon Micha Gamerman, and Israeli Mizrachi performer Elikam Buta, “Ani Yisrael” is an enchanting fusion of the unique signature styles of these outstanding talents. A production of Town 6 Entertainment Corp., the album features ten amazing new songs, two written by Gershon himself, others composed by Ari Goldwag, Eli Schwab, and four by Gershon’s composer discovery Simcha Kranczer, who has been garnering acclaim since the album’s release.
With impeccable arrangements masterfully crafted by such arrangers par excellence as the dynamic duo from Israel–Yitzy Berry and Eli Klein–Leib Yaacov Rigler, and the late, incomparable Larry Gates, “Ani Yisrael” is a work of art that is destined to become a classic.
As he observed the landscape of contemporary Jewish music, Gershon realized he had to release major music videos from the new album, including the title track, “Ani Yisrael,” which he knew had to be filmed in Israel.
“The message is quite simple,” Gershon says. “Israel is part of us. Ultimately, it’s where we’re from, and where we live, no matter what our backgrounds have been or where our homes are.” With this solid message in mind, he teamed up with hit video producers Aaron and David Orian of Olam Media. After six months of collaborating, recording, and filming in Israel, often in locations as hot as 105Â°F, he says, “We created a fun, exciting video everyone will enjoy, and we had a blast shooting it!”
Gershon adds, “My goal here is to help us return to a logical understanding of music’s importance in our lives and to look at ourselves personally and as Jews. We need to appreciate what we have, what we can accomplish, and what music we can make and call our own. We are provided with effective platforms from which to serve humanity; we can’t squander those opportunities. Music has the proven power to influence religion-based lives as much as books or even prayer.”
“Gershon has always used his music as a vehicle to inspire, to express the ideas that he considers most important, and even to bluntly call out some of his pet peeves on occasion,” said Eli Schwab, who composed “Ani Yisrael” and “Libi BaMizrach.” “His music has a distinctive ’70s/’80s pop—rock bent, which is his signature mark within the Jewish music genre. You’ll hear these nostalgic elements of his musical style on this new album, but he has also brought his music up-to-date a bit, in terms of both arrangements and some of the melodies.”
I asked Eli to discuss his thoughts about the album as well as the inspiration for each song he composed.
“I composed ‘Ani Yisrael’ with no particular singer in mind,” he said. “The song’s roots are in the Gemara in Masechta Berachos that states that a Jew must make three berachos every day, and the first is ‘She’asani Yisrael’–‘that You made me a Jew.’ Over the years this evolved into ‘shelo asani goy’–‘that You did not make me a gentile.’ I connected to the positive formulation of the original berachah, and decided to compose a simple, upbeat anthem to that lyric. I also thought that my four-year-old son Yisrael would be excited to see a song written to his name, and I brought him in for a studio session to sing ‘Ani Yisrael!’ in my demo.
“Melodically, I think the song is influenced by the work of the late Israeli artist Arik Einstein. It was a new style for me, and after I finished composing it, I could not think of any current singer who could do it justice. Two days later, Gershon called me and told me he was looking for new material for what would be his first album in years. During that phone call it hit me that the song was made for Gershon, and when he heard it, I think he agreed.
“‘Libi BaMizrach’ is a Middle Eastern chant, to the timeless words of Yehuda HaLevi. The song’s message is a sentiment that I know Gershon feels deeply.”
Eli adds, “Gershon is a class act. I grew up on his cover music, so it has been a treat getting to know him personally over the last few years. He has been a wonderful source of musical inspiration, counsel, and guidance to me. He frequently critiques my songs and provides thoughtful insight. On several occasions I have implemented his advice to polish and perfect a composition, long before it reached the singer, who then presented it to the world.”
“Gershon’s versatility and multidimensional talents enable him to make an impact on a huge array of projects, and on a vast range of listeners,” said Simcha Kranczer, the talented young composer who has achieved celebrity status since the album’s release. “He has enjoyed affiliations and managed to forge strong connections with many very pivotal personalities in Jewish music and entertainment/media, as well. While Gershon has lent his vocals to enhance a project on many occasions, to refer to him as merely a ‘singer’ is unjust. Aside from being a unique personality and being a diligent student of all types of music, he has showcased his prowess in composing and producing, as well as playing multiple instruments.”
Simcha adds, “The fact that he pulled off a ‘mainstream’ album and stuck to the script better than some mainstreamers would have is not surprising. The composer, musician, and student in Gershon knows that when there are sincere, purposeful, well-thought-out melodies, it’s unnecessary to incorporate shtick or distractions to make a song more appealing. There’s a place for wit, a place for covering your favorite secular songs, a place for mimicking a specific style/genre, and a place for experimenting with ideas and having fun with buttons. To me, however, ‘Ani Yisrael’ is about presenting genuine, original, kosher music in a tasteful, organic manner. It’s about allowing the verses and lyrics to express themselves with melodies that befit them. By my standards, that’s an enjoyable listen, not only immediately following the release, but it remains an enjoyable listen even as the trends come and go.”
Acclaimed for his talents, Leib Yaacov Rigler did the musical arrangements for “Im Eshkocheich” on “Ani Yisrael” and worked closely with Gershon. “Gershon is both Jewish and American,” he says. “What makes him unique is his ability to naturally meld both of those qualities in a fashion that is honest and true to himself. His music is instantly recognized as Jewish, while done with an American flavor.”
I asked Reb Leib Yaacov what inspired him to become involved with the album and to discuss his beautiful arrangement. His response was compelling.
“This pasuk from Dovid HaMelech has kept our love for and commitment to Yerushalayim alive for almost 3,000 years,” he explained. “It is recited under the chuppah at every Jewish wedding, reminding us of our longing for rebuilding Yerushalayim and the Beis HaMikdash. Living in Israel, I can testify that this (sense of) longing is real and heartfelt, to the point that some chassanim actually choke up and cry when they recite it under the chuppah. The commitment is so central to Jewish thought that Rabbi Marvin Hier quoted this verse in his benediction at the inauguration of President Trump last January.”
He added, “The beautiful melody of Reb Ari Goldwag is simple and straightforward. I wanted to keep the simplicity and let the listener concentrate on the feeling the words convey. Gershon and I decided to have the song start in piano only, in order to keep it intimate. Only when Gad Elbaz enters with harmony will the discerning ear hear a plaintive cello added. I wanted listeners to feel it more than hear it. I marvel at how Gershon and Gad work together and complement each other on this performance. While both singers convey heartfelt emotion, their approaches are different. Gershon is more straightforward, whereas Gad is more plaintive. Longing is an emotion that can be expressed in many ways; whispered and soft to shouted out to the Heavens. I think Gershon and Gad accomplished both and I tried to have the arrangement reflect that dynamic range.”
Rabbi Eytan Feiner, mara d’asra of Congregation Kneseth Israel in Far Rockaway, says he listened to the CD twice. “The songs radiate a boundless energy, exciting creativity, and display a beautiful synthesis of meaningful lyrics and spirited, inspiring music,” he said. “‘BaYom HaHu’ is something special–that is the song that engendered in me the great response. It inspires me.”
“As Jews who serve Hashem, music remains a tool with which to express ourselves for our Maker,” says Reb Leib Yaacov. “Gershon has chosen to express Jewish concepts through song. By remaining true to his neshamah, his music remains authentically Jewish. I am impressed with the variety of styles and collaboration on this album. Gershon has branched out and given us quality original material. The productions are world-class and listeners are in for a surprise to see a new side to the Gershon Veroba they have known in the past.”
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative-media consultant, lecturer, and educator who writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She can be reached at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.