Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



It's Our Song Too

Yisroel Besser

From director of the IDF Rabbinate Choir to the first Belz albums and early MBD, Mona’s decades-long career as the most celebrated arranger and conductor in Jewish music

Monday, October 02, 2017

 Mishpacha image

“The challenge isn’t when you’re in trouble — then you know to look to Hashem. It’s when you’re on top of the world and everyone is calling, to remember that we’re nothing and it’s not us doing it” (Photos: Eli Cobin, Family archives)

U ntil I met Mona Rosenblum, I was sure he’d match the cool first name. But the gentleman who comes out of the Bnei Brak apartment building to greet me doesn’t look like I imagined a “Mona” to be — artsy and casual. Instead, he looks like a rebbi or vigilant kashrus mashgiach, his hat jammed securely on his head, peyos wrapped tight around his ears, avreich-style dark suit jacket flapping in the breeze.

He leads us into the apartment in the way of someone unaccustomed to this sort of thing. He generously pulls out the chairs and places a closed bottle of water on the table, but forgets about the cups. A few minutes later, he realizes and sheepishly hurries back to the kitchen.

There is kind of a silent laugh in his eyes and he chuckles audibly and often, seemingly amused by his own story. He’s generous with stories and commentary, but it’s when this celebrated conductor, arranger, and composer of modern chassidic music is seated on the dark bench near the large piano that he’s most natural, words flowing as easily as the fingers that dance across the keyboard. Music, in his retelling, isn’t an escape, or even a passion. It’s an identity: The moment he learned about self-expression, the music started playing and it’s never stopped.

Niggun of Tears

The Rosenblums, Reb Ephraim and Bluma, arrived in postwar Eretz Yisrael broken, like so many others. They had two sons, Yitzchak and Moshe Mordechai, but the house was largely defined by its quiet.

“My father,” says Mona, “wasn’t a big talker. He was very much a Gerrer chassid in the way he kept things inside.”

 

It was a song, a niggun, which was the lone vehicle of expression. Mona begins to sing it, a well-known chassidic slow tune, with no words. “It’s a Vorka niggun. My mother never cried, not a single tear — but whenever my father sang this niggun, she would weep uncontrollably.”

One morning, Bluma was carrying little Moshe Mordechai through the streets of Ramat Gan, and suddenly, inexplicably, she began to talk. And talk.

“She told me about another three-year-old — the same age as I was — her daughter, a sister about whom I’d never known. My mother had been in the process of handing her child off to a sympathetic non-Jewish neighbor when a waiting Nazi lifted his gun and shot the baby, killing her.

“I know,” Mona pauses, “I know that today, people would question my mother for sharing that with a child, but that’s what happened. And I remember it as if it were today. I heard what she was saying, I got it. I felt like I couldn’t cry, that if she was being so stoic, I had to be tough for her sake. I fought it off for a few minutes, choking back the tears, and then, suddenly, it came out in a gush, tears and pain and powerful emotion.”

That day, three-year-old Mona effectively started making music, even if he didn’t know it yet. “Something had opened inside of me, a new channel of feeling, and it found expression in music. Whatever opened that day has never really closed.”

He closes his eyes. “Baruch Hashem.”

And his mother, who inspired it, saw her son rise to the top of his profession. “Until she passed away a few years ago, she would join us for the Shabbos seudos — and she was always in a good mood, never emotional or heavy. But my children knew that during Shalosh Seudos each week, when I would sing that song, the Vorka niggun, the tears would come. That’s when she cried, then — and only then.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 680)

Related Stories

From Strength to Strength

Binyamin Rose with Eliezer Shulman and Yisrael Yoskowitz

As involved as he was with Israel before his appointment, for Ambassador David Friedman, nothing com...

No Question as Sweet

Yisroel Besser

Even as rosh yeshivah of Slabodka, it’s still about chavrusas and sedorim — and nothing brings Rav D...

Man on a Mission

Meir Wolfson

As mayor of Beitar, Rabbi Yitzchak Pindrus never waited for bureaucratic approval if the need was pr...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


MM217
 
I Also Read Perfidy
Rabbi Moshe Grylak I read it twice, and both times it kindled my rage
“Reeducate” UK’s Jewish Kids?
Yonoson Rosenblum Orthodox Jews in England face anti-religious agenda
Hold the Phone
Eytan Kobre Phew! Only one quote was something I simply hadn’t said
The Way I See It
Nathan Diament “Engagement with the policy makers is indispensable”
Pot of Gold
Yisroel Besser The Rebbetzin is gone, but the message is alive and well
More Top 5 Shiur Title Techniques
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Aside from the classics, here are five more
Bill of Rights
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman “Whether Avrumi or Allan, whether peyos or blue jeans”
Don’t Thank Me
Jacob L. Freedman “Are you a psychiatrist or a witch doctor?!”
5 Things You Didn’t Know about Shlomo Simcha
Riki Goldstein 600 meals a day for poor people
You Can Always Rely on the Rebbe
Riki Goldstein “The chassan just wouldn’t take no for an answer”
Who Helped Advance These Popular Entertainers?
Riki Goldstein Unsung deeds boosted performers into the limelight
Profession of Perfection
Faigy Peritzman He’s not just an educator; he’s a role model
Summer Clock
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Consistency is key to drama-free bedtime
How Do I Find My Son’s Bashert?
Sara Eisemann “What about this girl made you think of my son?”