S ong: “VeUhavtu” | Composer: Elimelech (Meilech) Kohn | Year: 2016

“A true musical chiddush is so hard to find nowadays,” muses Meilech Kohn’s music manager, Zevi Fried. Musical chiddush seems an apt description of “VeUhavtu” (as in “VeAhavta”) — a fresh sound that has captured the hearts of chassidim, Litvaks, bochurim of all stripes, and the national-religious crowd alike.

Born in 1969 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Kohn has experimented with many different musical genres. Once, seeking a personal blessing, he was told by a mekubal that if he composed a song that would strengthen ahavas chinam — brotherly love among Jews — he would find the success he sought. One night, unable to fall asleep, an old chassidic song replayed in his head: “Ahavas chinom vifil koach host di, Shechinah hakedoshah vi vaat bist di — how much power ahavas chinam has, how far away G-d’s Presence is… if sinas chinam [baseless hatred] would be eliminated, we would long have been redeemed.” These concise, angst-filled Yiddish lyrics inspired the composition of a niggun to the words of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha — a signature piece with Kohn’s own Yiddish, English, and Hebrew lyrics, linking the command to love our fellow Jew with hastening the coming of Mashiach.

“The tune is so creative in itself,” Zevi Fried says. “And the words, and the way they repeat back on themselves, are so get-up-and-dance catchy.” Fried, an Israeli based in Brooklyn and conductor of the Shira Choir, has been the manager for composer Elimelech Kohn’s packaging of “VeUhavtu,” which has become an unexpected hit over the past months. Gershy Schwarz is the song’s talented producer.

On Purim, “VeUhavtu” blared from buses, vans, and trucks full of bochurim on their way to collect funds for their yeshivos. Now, as these eternal words of Rabi Akiva are reflected upon throughout the Sefirah days, the song has remained on everyone’s lips and in their consciousness.

“We had an amazing call from two friends in Brooklyn, who had been partners in a business and then broke off after a fight developed into a complete rift between them. A mutual friend of theirs had been trying unsuccessfully to make peace, but nothing worked until this song came out. He sent it to them and they must have soaked up the energy of all that hugging and dancing together, because now they’re friends again,” says Fried.

While his image and videos have veered far from the mainstream chassidish community he grew up in, Kohn’s eclectic music is primarily a means of positive self-expression and a reflection of the journey he has traveled throughout a colorful life. Now enjoying the international success of his hit song, he is delighted to have been invited to perform at ski resorts in Utah and in Bournemouth, a resort on the British coast that attracts many Jewish vacationers, among other venues across the USA and Israel.

“Rafi the King,” a creative, energetic young man with Down syndrome who has made a name for himself as a popular entertainer at New York weddings by being mesamei’ach the chassan and guests night after night, loves this recent hit. “The crowd loves when I sing ‘VeUhavtu.’ Everyone starts to smile and they just love dancing to this music. Whenever I sing it, they call out to me, ‘Again, Rafi, one more time!’ ” (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 658)