"As soon as Uncle Moishy walked into the room, the little girl smiled, and, as the songs she loved were being sung, she actually sang along"
Over the years, there have been many musical moments that have given me a sense of joy and accomplishment, but by far, the most rewarding times are when we can use Jewish music as a pathway to bikur cholim. For me, this started back when I was a kid. My mother a”h dedicated her life to visiting the sick, and even when she herself was no longer well, she would leave her hospital bed to visit other patients on her floor. After she passed away, my brother Yosef Chaim and I, in conjunction with Agudath Israel, started Simchas Chava in her memory. We would send singers from around the world to hospitals and homes to visit the sick. And there’s no limit to the joy they can receive just by getting a visit from a singer or musician who comes to cheer them up.
One of our early “bookings” was from a family who requested a visit from Dedi to their young daughter who was in a Manhattan hospital. It was Chol Hamoed and a last-minute thing, and we didn’t have time to arrange for a keyboard player. As Dedi and I pulled up to the hospital, I noticed a P.C. Richard’s across the street. We went in and bought a keyboard for Dedi to play. As we exited the elevator, we were met by a nurse, who was staring straight at the keyboard we were carrying. We were sure she would kick us out, but, boy, were we surprised when she looked at us and said, “Dedi! I’m so happy you’re here! I have a patient who would love to have you!” Dedi visited that patient, plus the girl we originally came for, who would be going through a very serious surgery the next day. After Dedi sang for her, he promised he would sing when she got married. Over ten years later, Dedi sang at her sheva brachos.
I remember a child who had come out of surgery and refused to smile or speak. Her parents tried everything. Then they called Simchas Chava. As soon as Uncle Moishy walked into the room, the little girl smiled, and, as the songs she loved were being sung, she actually sang along. The joy in the room was immense.
The mood in Israel was heavy after the Sbarro bombing in Jerusalem in 2001, and we got a request from the family of someone who was severely injured. Avraham Fried happened to have been in Israel at the time, but since he’s a Kohein, entering a hospital at certain times is problematic. So Avremel waited outside the hospital with Suki until they got the all-clear sign (Israeli hospitals do that), and went in to sing and play for the injured patients.
It always amazing me how Jewish singers and musicians manage to find the time in their busy schedules to squeeze in all these visits. I remember that after doing a concert with MBD in Detroit, I was looking for him backstage, but no one could find him. It turned out someone had approached him about a patient in a Detroit hospital, and right after the concert, he dashed out of the hall, went to the hospital, and stayed with the patient for two hours.
These days, there are many wonderful such organizations that cater to patients, including Mekimi, Mesameach, and of course Chai Lifeline, to name a few. And for many of the performers who work with them, a hospital visit isn’t a one-time thing. Sometimes, a performer will bond with a patient for a lifelong relationship, and often, that one hour spent together can turn out to be one of the happiest times in the patient’s life.
Recently, there was an amazing, but, unfortunately, very sick little girl from Lakewood named Malkie. Many singers would come to visit her because everyone knew she loved Jewish music. One evening while she was in Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, she called Simcha Leiner to tell him that her favorite song in the whole world was Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz’s “Hamalach Hagoel,” which Simcha sings. What Malkie didn’t know was that Simcha was just a few miles away, doing a concert for NCSY of Baltimore. As soon as the concert was over, Simcha jumped into his car and went to the hospital to sing the song. You can imagine how happy Malkie, who passed away shortly afterward, was to see him.
As a producer in the music business, I don’t always get the answer I want to hear when I’m booking a concert. But when I’m calling about a sick visit, in all my years, I’ve never gotten a no. So all you special singers and musicians, stand up and take a well-deserved bow.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 865)
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