Holding On To The Message of Geula
By Shlomo Even Rokeach

An interview with singer and composer Chaim Fogelman, in which he shares why it’s so important to him to include songs of Geula in his performances.


Russia 5750. The bloodless revolution is underway and people are nervous about the future. Nobody, aside from Lubavitchers, knows what tomorrow will bring. Towards evening, people return home from work and watch the news on television. What’s that, they wonder, as they see an unusual sight on their screen. It’s an American singer who came to Russia in order to perform the following week.

The viewers, particularly the Jewish ones, rub their eyes in amazement. The singer was wearing a large yarmulka and had a beard. He began singing a song in Yiddish, with the words "Zol shoin zein di Geula." Perhaps creating an even greater impact than the words of the song, was the fact that here was a proud Jew smack in the heart of the communist empire "Es kumt shoin di Geula..."

Chaim Fogelman, a Crown Heights resident, has carried out many special musical missions around the world, but that trip to Russia is one he remembers above all others. This is because of the Rebbe’s special involvement throughout the mission.

When Chaim’s father, Shmuel, told the Rebbe that his son is in Yekaterinaslav, the Rebbe smiled and said, "Ich hob dorten oich a shaichus" (I have a connection there, too). After all, the Rebbe lived there with his family from the age of seven.

The Rebbe gave a dollar for the residents of the city, and at the performance Chaim excitedly told the people that the Lubavitcher Rebbe had sent them his blessings.

* * *

Chaim began his shlichus as a singer over eighteen years ago. As a young bachur, he appeared at Chanuka and Purim gatherings he and his friends organized. In Caracas, Venezuela on Merkaz shlichus, a group of Tmimim organized a camp for the local children. Despite all the spiritual success the camp enjoyed, the boys felt they didn’t have an engaging program for the campers, especially since they were unfamiliar with Spanish.

Chaim had made a number of appearances by that time, so they decided that the camp attraction was going to be Chaim the Singer. Together with some of the locals, they composed some songs in Spanish and the round of appearances began. Every free moment in the camp calendar was used for a concert. The children were in seventh heaven, and Chaim proved that he was possessed of a most unusual musical talent.

About two years ago, a bachur with a South American accent arrived at 770. He had the eidel look of a Tamim, and everything about him said that this is a Chassidishe bachur. Nobody identified him as the boy who had spent an enjoyable time in the camp way back when.

The bachur tried locating the singer who had visited Caracas years before. He finally managed to find Chaim Fogelman and told him, "Those concerts are engraved in my heart until this day. I can repeat all the words of the songs you sang!"

One concert led to another, and Chaim became a professional performer and began composing and writing songs of his own. He resolved that he wouldn’t perform at just any gathering. It would have to be connected to mivtzaim in some way. The same applied to his songs – each song conveyed a Torah message, most of them taken from the Rebbe’s sichos.

All his songs are in English and have words appropriate for children who are not yet observant. At a later point, when he began performing around the world, he added songs in Spanish and Russian.

What do the children think of his concerts? A teacher related, "I played one of your tapes for the children in my class. When they heard the words, ‘Hashem is in my room’ (written after the Rebbe said that every room is a Beis Chabad, and that Hashem is found in every child’s bedroom), one of the children said, ‘So I don’t need to be afraid. Hashem is always with me!’"

Chaim received warm responses from the Rebbe regarding his shows. Each time he wrote to the Rebbe, he received brachos. Once, while on shlichus in Venezuela, he hopped over to 770 for a day. He joined the davening at the Rebbe’s home on President Street, and when the Rebbe went up the steps he turned around and said, "Du zolst foren gezunter heit" (You shall travel in good health). Chaim was the only one present who was traveling that day. The Rebbe went up a few more steps and said, "Besuros tovos," went up a few more and said, "Hatzlacha rabba."

After his marriage, Chaim continued with this shlichus. His job at the OK Labs does not hinder him from finding time each year to perform for children around the world, in Hawaii, England, Uruguay, etc. He generally travels around Chanuka and Purim time and during the summer.

* * *

Starting in 5751, Chaim’s emphasis has also been on inyanei Moshiach and Geula; there’s no concert without Moshiach songs. Chaim says, "The topic of Moshiach and Geula is of the utmost important in shlichus. If we teach about Yiddishkeit and don’t mention Moshiach, ch’v, what makes us Lubavitchers?

"A shliach called and asked me to come to his city to do a Chanuka concert. I happily agreed and then the shliach timidly asked me whether I mention Moshiach. ‘Of course I do,’ I said. Then the shliach said, ‘Listen, you have to understand. At this gathering the Reform clergyman will be there, as well as others who won’t exactly relate to the topic. Do you think you can leave it out?’

"I told him, ‘I don’t understand. Is this a Lubavitch gathering or not?’ The shliach suddenly realized what he had said and agreed to allow me to perform as I planned. I came and sang my songs of Moshiach as I always do, and everybody enjoyed it."

Does it ever happen that people get upset about Moshiach songs?

Never! It has never happened at any of my hundreds of concerts, that anybody has expressed any negative remarks.

The question reminds me of a story that I heard recently. It was on a trip from Boston to 770. On the flight were some Hungarian Chassidim, as well as some nonreligious Jews. Apparently, even the Hungarians realized that they had to use the opportunity to be mekarev these Jews, and one of them began telling a story:

A frum boy was an excellent law student and everybody expected great things of him. Toward the end of his studies, various job opportunities came up for the graduating students. In fact, the largest law firm in the United States was interested in employing this student. You can easily imagine how excited the school was. This was quite an honor – the largest firm in the U.S. was interested in one of their graduates!

Before being interviewed, the student was called in to see one of the school’s administrators who said, "I am certain that you are eminently capable for this job. The only thing that worries me is the fact that you wear a skullcap. I am not at all opposed to your being religious, but in my opinion you’d be better off not wearing it at the interview. It would be a shame to lose an opportunity like this, when you can simply not wear the skullcap for a few minutes."

"Absolutely not," said the boy. "It’s a principle with me, and I have no intentions of taking it off."

"All right," said the administrator, "but remember, I warned you."

Apparently he had a change of heart, for when the young man went to the interview he began to entertain serious doubts about what he should do. What would happen if he took off the yarmulka for those few minutes? he wondered.

He stood outside the door of the office where he’d be interviewed, still unresolved as to what to do, and then finally removed the yarmulka from his head. He entered the office and stood there in shock. Of the three interviewers, one of them was wearing a big yarmulka and a beard. He looked at the law student as though he understood what had happened and asked him to be seated. "We are utterly taken aback by what you did," he began. "We thought you were a man who stood by your principles, which is why we chose you. Did you think we didn’t know you wore a yarmulka? We investigated you for months. We wanted you specifically because we were impressed that you stood up for your principles. Now we are sorry to have to inform you that we will not be accepting you."

The Chassid finished telling the story and that’s when I realized how relevant the story was to us, Chabad Chassidim. Everybody knows what the Rebbe said, and everyone knows the emuna of his Chassidim. Nobody should fool himself into thinking that it’s all a secret. Everybody knows that Chabad Chassidim believe the Rebbe is Moshiach.

This is why they expect us to behave as proud Jews and to carry on. When I am invited to a non-Chabad performance, the organizers expect me to sing Moshiach songs. They know about our fervent belief in Moshiach and expect us to act in that spirit. If we don’t, not only are they not happy, but they look at us as people without principles. When we are "grasshoppers in our eyes," it results in their looking at us in the same way.

Every Lubavitcher should know: There’s nothing to be ashamed of! The topic of Moshiach doesn’t bother anyone, and when we speak about it openly, it only reflects well on us. Everybody respects a person who stands up for his principles.

We all know the Rebbe’s directive of teaching people about Moshiach in a way they can relate to. From my experience, I’ve learned that the most effective way of teaching people about Moshiach, children – and even parents – is through song.

I remember how once, at the end of a show for a shliach, he asked me to join him in a visit to one of his mekuravim. "They’ll be happy to see you," he promised.

I went along with him and had a most enjoyable visit, at the end of which the hostess thanked me profusely for her daughter’s change of heart. I thought she must mean their young daughter, and I nodded my head and didn’t realize there was anything unusual about it. It was only when we were outside that the shliach explained what she meant. It turns out that the mother was talking about her nineteen-year-old daughter, and she meant that I had actually saved her. The daughter had a gentile boyfriend she was going to marry. All the explanations of her mother and her friends were in vain. She had made her decision and that was that.

Shortly thereafter, a tape of mine ended up in their house. She enjoyed the tape and listened to it again and again. Then, without the mother understanding how, the daughter began changing for the better. She was open to hearing what her mother and the local shliach had to say, and then even agreed to leave her boyfriend. "I am sure," said the shliach, "that your songs made a big difference."

I noticed again what I had already known, that a singer has pathways to places that seem closed. If this is so for Torah and mitzvos in general, how much more so for Moshiach, which people are anxious to hear about. You have no idea how excited people get about it.

I remember I was invited to perform at a camp run by gentiles. The local shliach had organized the concert because 65% of the campers and 95% of the counselors were Jewish.

When I arrived, I saw that even if the shliach was right in his numbers, there were no signs of Jews at this concert. Many of the campers were black, and even those I imagined might be Jewish, I thought knew nothing about Judaism.

I was unsure about what to sing. I couldn’t sing Jewish songs there, because topics such as netilas yodayim, kashrus, and Moshiach would sound alien to them. Then I caught myself. What had I come here for, if not for this? I gave them a Jewish concert and sang many of my songs, especially songs about Moshiach. The next year, I was invited back directly by the camp administration!

I remember that a little girl came over to me as I entered the camp the following year and asked, "Are you the one who was here a year ago and sang about Divine providence and Moshiach?"

* * *

In more recent years, Chaim has worked on concerts for adults. When he discovered that adults enjoy his songs too, he began composing songs like "Hold On," that many people know from the satellite in 5756, a song expressing our strong faith in the imminent revelation of the Rebbe MH"M.

Other songs of his have captured the fancy of his listeners, and give chizuk and inspiration to fulfill the Rebbe’s directives. "The concerts for adults," says Chaim, "are different. People are generally interested in knowing more about what the words mean, and after the concerts we usually get into long and interesting discussions. Nearly every show ends with a long conversation about Yiddishkeit and Moshiach and their relevance to us.

"From the way people relate to the songs, you can see how the songs impact on them. I remember how once, after I sang a song about shleimus ha’Aretz, somebody got up and yelled, ‘Who gave you the right to say anything about Israel?’ He screamed and shouted, but I didn’t mind because I realized that the song had affected him."

What do you think is the secret to your success? How do you reach the hearts of your audience?

By simply singing from the heart! Often, before a concert, I am asked what I’ll sing about. I always say that I don’t know. I don’t have a prearranged program. I play it by ear, and see how it goes. This is true for concerts and for composing. You have to let the words flow, and write what you truly feel.

Of course, the Rebbe’s ko’ach accompanies us at all times. You can really feel it. If you know the song "Hold On," you know that part of it is the Rebbe speaking about Geula. When I was looking for a suitable excerpt of a sicha to include, I wanted something unambiguous about Moshiach. I took a tape of the Rebbe’s sichos, assuming I would have to go through many tapes until I found what I wanted, but I actually found it on the first tape. I felt as though the Rebbe simply sent me the right tape. The same is true for every step I take; the Rebbe always helps.

How often do you produce a recording?

You’ll be surprised to hear that sometimes it’s when all I have are two or three songs. The reason is that I express myself through song. If I feel an urgent need to convey a message, I cannot wait. This is so for Moshiach and other topics, too.

I felt the need to protest about what’s going on in Eretz Yisroel, so I produced a song immediately. My shlichus is to convey messages through song, and when I see the need, I produce a song and market it.

Is there a story or anecdote you would like to leave our readers with in conclusion?

Once, I received a very intense response at a concert at Camp Simcha, a camp for children with serious medical conditions. The administration is not Lubavitch, and neither are most of the children, but when I began a few Moshiach songs, you had to hear the roar that went up. I realized that they feel the need for Moshiach, pashut b’gashmiyus! I saw how you ask for Moshiach when you really want him. Three weeks later, I could still picture the children and their requests.

We all daven that Hashem send a refua shleima to every one of them, and that their request and the requests of all the Jewish people be realized immediately with the revelation of the Rebbe MH"M now!


Singer and composer Chaim Fogelman outside his house in Crown Heights
"If we teach about Yiddishkeit and don’t mention Moshiach, ch’v, what makes us Lubavitchers?"

Chaim in his studio
When I was looking for a suitable excerpt of a sicha to include, I wanted something unambiguous about Moshiach. I actually found it on the first tape. I felt as though the Rebbe simply sent me the right tape.


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