Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



We’re One Big Orchestra

Yisroel Besser

Rivie Schwebel is an acclaimed singer, but he’s also a businessman and an askan who cares deeply for the Jewish people

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

 Mishpacha image

HIGH NOTES Abie Rotenberg: “I consider Rivie to be much more than a singer. Music oozes out of him. It’s a legacy he inherited from his father, who combined tefillah and melody to bring himself and his mispallelim closer to Hashem. Rivie is also an amazing baal tefillah, but he’s extended that passion to popular Jewish music. His deep, rich voice is recognized the world over — not only for its unique timbre, but for the sincerity and depth of feeling he puts into each phrase” (Photos Shulim Goldring, Meir Haltovsky, Family archives)

Y

 

ou know that thing that music is meant to do? How it kind of makes us happy, but also wistful? How we feel nostalgic for times gone by, but also inspired about the day ahead?

Rivie Schwebel’s living room has a pretty similar effect, it turns out.

About half an hour into our interview, I excuse myself to cancel the next meeting. This feels like a place I don’t want to leave.

When chatting with the man with one of the most distinctive voices in Jewish music, the music and the setting becomes the metaphor: everything else falls into place. Rivie and his wife talk real-life responsibility to family, to the community, to the older generation, and the next generation.

Rivie’s in the middle of reminiscing about the old days in Queens, Friday afternoons sitting and singing with his friends Baruch Chait and Abie Rotenberg, when he exclaims, “Those were the best times, mamesh the best days ever. We need to recreate that, give our kids that kind of comfort and security in Yiddishkeit, in the future.”

He leans back in the armchair in the corner of a comfortable living room filled with seforim and family photos, graced with a large piano and picture of the Skverer Rebbe. “I don’t mean because we were just carefree kids, I’m talking about the whole era and culture. We knew our role, every Yid understood what was expected of him.”

And I feel like Rivie Schwebel is unwittingly — or perhaps consciously — sharing the secret of his famous voice, his style. If it’s not yet a genre, it should be. He’s looking back and looking forward all at once.

Ohr Yisroel in Queens was, its menahel Rabbi Nisson Wolpin z”l used to say, “perhaps the finest cheder America has ever seen.”

Reb Shea Geldzahler created a unique institution through hiring accomplished talmidei chachamim as rebbeim and setting no limits on how much a child could learn. The rebbeim taught Queens children of the ‘60s in Yiddish, an idea well ahead of its time.

“But it worked,” Rivie remembers, “the cheder invested us with a certain heimishkeit.”

 

But the exposure to Klal Yisrael, and Agudath Israel, came on long Shabbos afternoon treks from Forest Hills to Kew Gardens.

Reb Aron Schwebel was a product of Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz’s Torah Vodaath, but he was rooted in Galicia, in prewar Reisha (Rzseszow). Nowhere was this influence more evident than in his tefillah, the nusach and nuance and spirit of that world. Shuls were jammed when word spread that Chazzan Schwebel would be davening.

A small shul in Forest Hills heard about the chazzan, and offered him the vacant cantorial position. Deeply impressed with his personal conduct and knowledge, they asked the new chazzan to serve as rav as well.

“Forest Hills was sort of lonely,” Rivie remembers. “Most of the kids in school lived in Kew Gardens. On Shabbos afternoons, my father would walk us, me and my brothers Heshy and Shea, to Pirchei and wait there, and then walk us back. I think about it now, how tired he must have been — he was rav and chazzan, he worked hard on Shabbos — but he wanted us to have a taam, a taste in Yiddishkeit, and he knew we would find it there.

“That’s where I first encountered Agudah: the stories, the heroes, the values. You felt part of Klal Yisrael, part of its history, in those groups.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 686)

Related Stories

Wings for Every Child

Barbara Bensoussan

Esther Gutwein started her career as graduate student doing psychological evaluations. Today she man...

Living Shadows in Lebanon

Tzippy Yarom

The local residents of Beirut say they miss their former Jewish neighbors. But gestures of goodwill ...

The Fire that Rebuilds

Menacham Pines

The discovery of a temporary passport issued in Vilna for Rav Elchonon Wasserman Hy”d 77 years ago t...

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
 
When the Fog Lifts
Rabbi Moshe Grylak In retrospect, we will understand everything
Coming Full Circle
Yonoson Rosenblum A final goodbye to my special father-in-law
Right Turns Left
Eytan Kobre Conservatives can no longer speak their minds
Searching for Olam Haba at Disney World
Rabbi Elchonon Zohn A distorted and perverted view of life and the afterlife
10 Questions for Eli Samuel
Rachel Bachrach “SafeTelecom really is the refuah before the makkah”
Work/Life Solutions with Fran Jakubowicz
Moe Mernick “I turn to daas Torah whenever I encounter a gray area”
A Debt of Gratitude
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman If Ina Perlmuter believed in me, others would follow
Gemara Detective
Jacob L. Freedman “Tell me a bit about the bochur behind the medication”
Tidal Waves
Riki Goldstein “Holding Back the Tide” is comforting on so many levels
Ari's Picture of Redemption
Riki Goldstein Ari Fuld’s incredible photo gives a visual to this song
Not Just for Kids Who Love Music
Riki Goldstein “Every Yiddishe kid is essentially a part of Yingerlach”
Dream Duet
Riki Goldstein “He’s been my singing idol since I was a little kid”
Nix the Nickname
Faigy Peritzman Handing down concepts through family names
Do Your Homework
Sarah Chana Radcliffe What parents really want to teach during homework time
Day of Confinement
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz If Asarah B’Teves isn’t a day of destruction, why fast?