“I knew that we needed to hold on to those waves of feelings, otherwise they would fly away”
The energy of JOEY NEWCOMB’s new album is movement, like a journey to the past coursing through the Jewish soul. Actually, the gifted singer and songwriter composed several of the songs on HOW ARE YOU, REB YID? while traveling — some through the valley of tears in Poland, and others while visiting the holy places of our heritage in Eretz Yisrael.
There’s the song, “Kivrei Tzaddikim,” which came to Joey when he and a group of talmidim were leaving the kever of Rabi Meir Baal Haneis, high above the blue waters of the Kinneret. “We had spent a day davening at all the holy kevarim, and I had this overwhelming feeling of gratitude. How many people in the past could just get on a plane and a bus and be present at the kevarim of the holy tzaddikim? As we got back on the bus, I started to sing, ‘Thank you Hashem that I was zocheh to be by the kivrei tzaddikim, thank you Hashem that I was zocheh to be by the mekomos hakedoshim.’”
Another powerful song, “Moment,” was written on Reb Joey’s first visit to Poland last January. He was traveling with a group from Rabbi Mordechai Yehudah Groner’s yeshivah, Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway where he is a rebbi, and their first stop was at the Warsaw Ghetto. The old Jewish cemetery and the ghetto walls, topped with barbed wire, were their first visual evidence of the Holocaust, and emotions ran high.
“I knew that we needed to hold on to those waves of feelings, otherwise they would fly away,” Reb Joey says. “Then I recalled the famous Ramban on the pasuk in Shir Hashirim, ‘Im ta’iru… es ha’ahava ad shetechpatz,’ where he explains that one has to crystallize feelings of love for Hakadosh Baruch Hu into a ‘cheifetz’— an object. The low part of the song is this pasuk from Shir Hashirim, and the high part is ‘Hashem, please let these moments stay with me, Hashem, please let these moments change me, Hashem, please let me hold on to what I’ve seen.’”
The niggun is versatile and has caught on as a way to hold on to inspiration. “Rabbi Groner told me that his family had a most beautiful, uplifting Seder under Corona conditions this year, and at the end of the Seder, they sang ‘Hashem, please let these moments stay with me…’” says Reb Joey. “I’ve also been asked to sing the song at chuppahs. It’s about letting the special moments in our lives become part of us, not a thing of the past.”
“Gal Einai,” a song that’s really a prayer to discover the beauty of Torah, was written when the group encountered the holy atmosphere and kevarim of the tzaddikim of Tzfas — kabbalists who understood the secrets of Creation through the depth of Torah.
Another album highlight is the song “Ashreinu,” where guest artist Benny Friedman joins with Newcomb to sing a song overflowing with optimism and joy at being part of the Chosen People. The song was born in the Remah shul in Cracow, as Reb Joey contemplated the eternal nature of a people who are yet learning Torah and praying, despite the Nazis’ calculated, unbridled efforts to forever extinguish the light.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 831)