Lost the Battle, Won the Fight 

The songs are soulful, and the pesukim Binyamin chose reflect where his mind was focused, even as his body was wracked by the disease


Binyamin Zwickler a”h, a young man who passed away in 2017 at age 25, had a passion for music that helped him through the challenges of his seven-year-long illness. The Far Rockaway native, diagnosed with cancer in his senior year in high school, composed a collection of deeply personal songs that he mostly kept to himself, but a few months before he passed away, he decided to record them in a home studio and shared them with his family and close friends. And now, those friends have partnered with Madraigos, an organization dedicated to helping young people overcome their challenges, to bring Binyamin’s music to the wider world.

The album, to be released this week, is called CARRY ON, and features the uplifting vocals of Joey Newcomb, Eli Dachs, Eli Levin, Danny Palgon, Aryeh Kunstler, and the Portnoy Brothers. Its songs are songs of faith and comfort, a legacy Binyamin left so that those close to him would continue to hear his voice and feel his connection to Hashem through a medium he loved — music.

“Binyamin was at the heart of every kumzitz,” says his close friend Menachem Katz. “He played drums, piano, and guitar. Faced with pain and tragedy, his emunah was stalwart, he was always in good spirits, and music became his safe haven.” Binyamin lost his father when he was in tenth grade, and two years later, he was diagnosed with cancer. He went into remission for some years, but the disease later returned full force. Few knew that he was composing his own music during that time, but the songs he left are messages for everyone.

Last year, Moshe Marton and Menachem Katz were driving together and listening to their friend’s song, “Carry On.” Binyamin’s lyrics describe an imaginary conversation with his late father. He tells his father of the battle he is losing against his disease — “When I look around me all I see is despair,” and his father responds, “Because of the battles you’ve lost, we’ve won the big fight... Even when you’re lost I haven’t gone... Carry on, carry on.” The message of their friend’s bitachon was penetrating, and the two friends had the idea of re-mastering Binyamin’s recording in order to share it.

They gathered all his songs and made a short list. Some had been recorded by Binyamin in Aryeh Kunstler’s studio, as he was a close friend; others were left with Eitan Katz. Artists who had known Binyamin listened to his songs and jumped on board to complete the project. Since the originals consisted of only guitar and vocals, they needed musical arrangements, although Kunstler left the score simple to retain the raw flavor.

“In ‘Mi Chamocha,’ we left Binyamin’s own vocals,” Menachem explains. “The cancer had affected his vocal chords, and you can hear that, but you can also hear his neshamah speaking — ‘Mechayeh meisim berachamim rabim...’ — it was too important not to use.”

The songs are soulful, and the pesukim Binyamin chose reflect where his mind was focused, even as his body was wracked by the disease. In “Ani Maamin,” however, sung by Joey Newcomb, the mood is upbeat. Because despite it all, Binyamin refused to live a sad life, and instead bravely found the happiness in his mind and soul. His final gift, now shared with the public, can help others to connect to their own inner strength and carry on too.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 859)

Binyamin Zwickler