| Standing Ovation |

Diaspora Reunion

A decade after dispersing, Diaspora brought the music of Mount Zion to Carnegie Hall

fter the successful Rabbis’ Sons Carnegie Hall reunion concert back in 1991, it was clear that everyone loved the nostalgia theme. Maybe it was time for a Diaspora Yeshiva Band reunion as well.

The late 1970s through the early 1980s were the band’s glory days. They were the soundtrack of the baal teshuvah movement, as their rhythm and harmony bounced off the stone courtyard adjoining King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion in the Old City every Saturday night for a decade. These young men seeking truth, who found their way to the Diaspora Yeshiva under the guidance of Rav Mordechai Goldstein z”l, brought their instruments with them from the secular world they’d left behind — the electric guitars, saxophones, and drums pounding out prayers for both newcomers like themselves and yeshivah and seminary students intrigued by the beat of these open hearts.

Imagine taking a group, who became famous by singing in a dark cave in Jerusalem, and bringing them to the most prestigious venue in New York City — Carnegie Hall!

I had personally never met any of the Diaspora Band members at that point, but I knew that Nachum Segal was the world’s biggest Diaspora fan. Armed with this information, I called Nachum and proposed the idea. Of course, he went berserk with excitement and gave me the phone number of former bandleader Avrohom Rosenblum, who had since relocated with his family from Jerusalem to Baltimore. I called Avrohom and the conversation went something like this:

“Hello, Avrohom, my name is Ding. I’m calling because…”

He interrupted me and just said, “Yes!”

“Yes, what?” I asked.

“Yes, I would love to do a reunion!”

I asked him how he knew I was calling about that, and he said that Nachum Segal had called him about it just moments earlier.

The makeup of the band would be the same as a decade earlier: Avrohom Rosenblum on guitar and vocals, Gedalia Goldstein on drums, Ben Zion Solomon on guitar and banjo, Simcha Abramson on saxophone, Ruby Harris on violin and harmonica, and Menachem Herman on bass. (Menachem, although not in the original group, joined the band in 1981, a few years after they began.)

What did these six people have in common? The answer is, a little bit of everything and a little bit of nothing. They were a mix of Breslov, Lubavitch, and litvish, but they all came from nonreligious homes and started off in the Diaspora Yeshiva, the first baal teshuvah yeshivah in Israel, which opened right after the Six Day War. Rav Goldstein had a vision that as people would come to Jerusalem to visit the Kosel, he would get these lost neshamos to come home. One of the ways he accomplished this was through music. Many of the students were talented musicians who ended up in the yeshivah, and the concerts next door to the yeshivah, adjacent to King David’s Tomb, were their opening — they began releasing albums and embarked on several world tours.

The sold-out concert, in December 1992, opened with the famous Nachum Segal announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen! The long-awaited reunion of the Diaspora Yeshiva Band!” An hour and a half later, they were up to their final song, when, from the audience, Rav Goldstein, along with Shlomo Carlebach, joined them onstage for the final number. Reb Shlomo and Rav Goldstein had been best friends since childhood, and he invited Reb Shlomo to sit next to him at this concert.

The morning after the concert, I left New York with the band, as we traveled to six additional cities for a reunion tour, and each hall was sold out. Everyone loves to go back to the music they grew up on. (Over two decades later, white beards and all, their last reunion concert in 2014 at HASC 27 brought the house down.)

On a personal note, it didn’t take me long to learn that these six musicians were not only musical geniuses, but they each were able to express their intense love for Hashem through their individual musical styles. May they all have many more years to continue to spread their beautiful music and message.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 695)

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Tagged: Standing Ovation