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Voices from The Past

You might be surprised to discover who the real people behind the famous voices of our favorite characters actually were

WE all grew up to the famous voices of our favorite characters — whether it was a lamp post, a fire hydrant or a mitzvah tree. For the last 50 years in Jewish music, several talented individuals have been the voices of old-time zeides, clown characters, and even inanimate objects like mailboxes and traffic lights — and you might be surprised to discover who the real people behind those voices actually were.

Shmuel Kunda a”h was a master of characters. He started off doing all the voices on 613 Torah Avenue and then went on to create his own albums, including When Zayde was Young and Baruch Learns his Brachos. (It was pretty funny when he was teaching his son how to lein — mahapach pashta — and the Italian neighbor was sure he was speaking about pasta.)

Rabbi Yitzy Erps, also a favorite storyteller, did all his own voices, including fan favorites like Yanky and the Pesach Seder. Sometimes he did up to a dozen voices within one narration.

One unforgettable character, who made a cameo appearance on Journeys 2’s “The Wedding Song,” was Mr. Hershkovitz (Hoishkovitz), who called up Katz’s Wedding Consultant Agency. Mr. Katz was played by Abie Rotenberg, and Mr. Hershkovitz (“I’ll tell you de truth, I never made a chasuneh before, and I need some advice vat I should do…”) was played by Sheya Mendlowitz a”h. While Katz tries his best to sell Hershkovitz a real showstopper (“The neighbors on your block don’t have to know you’re in hock”), Hershkovitz wants to bring down the glitz a bit, telling Katz, “It’s meshugeh in gantzen, this is not vat I had in mind — I vas looking for something a little more…  modest,” to which Katz replies, “Oh, no problem, so on the invitation write, in a way that’s real polite, that the women should dress tzniyus… ‘cuz we’re dealing with a crowd that is so very proud of how we keep the laws of modesty!”

Then there was the Rechnitzer Rejects “A Meshulach in Town,” where a meshulach calls a doctor’s office for a solicitation, but Dr. Cohen is out playing golf. The cross-transaction between the soft-spoken secretary and the meshulach’s almost non-existent English is funny in its own right, but what makes it even goofier is that both the secretary and the meshulach were played by one and the same Martin Davidson.

Not all those memorable voice-overs were funny, though. Who could forget the chilling narration on Jep 3’s classic “Ani Maamin,” when Yonah Weinrib was the voice of a young man remembering his father’s last words as he was about to be gunned down by the Nazis: “My father shoved me under the bed, and with tears in my eyes, I watched in horror as the door burst open, and even as the soldier raised his gun to fire, my father screamed with his every bit of strength, ‘Ani maamin b’emunah sheleimah!’” (Gunshots, silence.) It’s been years, but I still get goose bumps every time I listen to it.

One of the greatest voices ever was Larry Gates a”h, who must have done over a hundred voices over the decades. He also had an incredible sense of humor, which he lent to Yanky Strudel, Professor Tzefloigen, The Shpy, Shlomie Spaiter, and so many more. My all-time favorite is Larry playing the German psychiatrist in the song “I’m So Sick of Racheim” (“Too much of a good thing makes something go haywire in the head….”)

Zale Newman, the actual speaking voice of Uncle Moishy, must have done close to 300 narrations, but it was his first one that set the tone for the rest (“Hi there! My name is Uncle Moishy, and, together with my Mitzvah Men, I teach Jewish boys and girls all about Torah and mitzvos!”)

Country Yossi (Yossi Tov) and Heshy Walfish, the creators of the Steeble Hoppers, had some hysterical lyrics that many of us can still recite by heart. Heshy played both Kivi and Tuki, while Yossi played Country Yossi and other characters such as the Flying Lukshin Kugel Eater and Big Bad Moishe.

Then there were Marvelous Midos Machine’s many colorful characters, including Abie Rotenberg as Shnooky, Rabbi Shmuel Klein as Dr. Midos, Shlomie Goldreich as Dizzy, Rabbi Moshe Blaustein as Shloompie, and Moshe Yess a”h as Dr. Doomshtein.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of working with world-class narrator Steven (Shlomo) Hill on the album A Taste of Shabbos, in which he infused the warmth of Shabbos using just his voice. Watching such a professional at work was an inspiration for me, and years later I had the same good fortune to work with his son, Rebbe Hill, on The Wonderful Word, Amen.

Sometimes, though, you need a little luck. For the song “Benjy” on Jep 4, my brother Yosef Chaim took the part of Benjy, Yisrael Lamm played the sentry, and Rivie Schwebel played the soldier. Everyone tried out for the drill sergeant part, which involved screaming, “Get out of bed, you lazy good for nothings! You call yourself soldiers?” Nobody had the right feel, though, until Tom, the assistant engineer, said, “Hey, can I have a try?” And in one take, he nailed it. We were shocked. Until he told us that he’d been in the Marines….


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1001)

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