The immense gratitude is shadowed by sadness over the unfathomable losses
he first casualty of overturned wedding plans is usually the singer. While singers have taken a financial beating over the last weeks, some have still managed to bring simchah to the very limited crowd that has had to redefine what a joyous wedding is all about.
Benny Friedman and two other singers were scheduled to sing at an upscale wedding in Toronto the week after Purim, to be accompanied by a 20-piece orchestra and sound system. Benny arrived early that morning in Toronto, but by the afternoon the authorities decided to close the borders, which meant that no musicians or entertainers — including the other vocalists and the entire orchestra — would be let into Canada. Upon hearing this, Benny decided to go down to the wedding hall, hoping someone had arranged backup musicians. When he got there, he found out that the new ruling included no public gatherings either, and that the wedding would now take place in someone’s backyard. Benny hopped into his rented car, found the correct address, and continued, business as usual, accompanied by some quickly booked local musicians.
Another couple was planning to get married on March 23 in Marina Del Ray. Their favorite singer was Simcha Leiner, whom they hired together with a large band. Then, a day before the wedding, it was announced that no more than 50 people could attend any public gathering. So they decided to make the wedding on March 22 instead, and were able to get Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck to host it. Luckily, Simcha Leiner was still available due to another cancellation, but there was no orchestra. They began panicking, when Simcha said, “No problem! Before I started singing, I was a keyboard player, and I have a keyboard in my trunk.” He ran to his car, and in a few minutes, transformed himself into a one-man-band.
With all Pesach programs and public concerts canceled as well, there were many streaming events which generously brought a bit of Yom Tov simchah to people stuck in their homes. Yet Baruch Levine was one person who actually took to the streets: He drove around in a truck with music and stopped at over 300 homes in Waterbury, singing outside and giving a personal shout-out and words of chizuk to each family on his route. That was after he and Abie Rotenberg put out a new version of Abie’s Journeys classic, “The Place Where I Belong,” a song about an old European sefer Torah relegated to a museum as an ancient relic, instead of living in a vibrant shul. The new version, which I’m sure you’ve heard by now, is about how the sifrei Torah are in the shuls, but the people aren’t. Baruch explains how that seemingly simple duet was anything but. He and Abie live in two different countries, and with the borders shut between the US and Canada, each of them had to have four computers and iPhones to make it work.
But they’re not complaining, because baruch Hashem, they’re healthy. And so many others are grateful that, although they aren’t singing these days, they’re out of the hospital and able to breathe: Mona Rosenblum, Itche Meir Helfgot, and Yoely Greenfeld join the list of grateful folks who are, thank G-d, on the mend.
I was pretty ill myself for a few weeks, and while I’m feeling better, the immense gratitude is shadowed by sadness over the unfathomable losses. While my line is the music industry, permit me to share a few words about my good friend, Dr. Mordechai (Mark Allen) Respler a”h. Over the last month, the singers we know and love have shown us that more than anything, they want to give comfort, ease pain, and make people happy, and Dr. Respler approached his calling much the same way. For the last 25 years, I spent Pesach together with him and his esteemed wife, psychologist Dr. Yael Respler, in a hotel where I was in charge of entertainment. He might not have been the biggest concert fan, but our close friendship developed while I wore my other hat: that of a Hatzolah volunteer. Throughout my years in the hotel, Dr. Respler never hesitated to help any guest, from children to the elderly, and knowing that I’d get Hatzolah calls, he’d always tell me, “Send them to me. Let me be part of the mitzvah too.” He once told me that nothing that made him happier than bringing people relief from their pain. May he be a meilitz yosher for Klal Yisrael, and may Hashem speedily bring an overflowing of simchah back into our lives.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 808)
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