On To The Message of Geula
Shlomo Even Rokeach
interview with singer and composer Chaim Fogelman, in which he
shares why it’s so important to him to include songs of Geula in
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.
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..."
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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!’"
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."
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.
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?
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?’
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
it ever happen that people get upset about Moshiach songs?
It has never happened at any of my hundreds of concerts, that anybody has
expressed any negative remarks.
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
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!
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
not," said the boy. "It’s a principle with me, and I have no
intentions of taking it off."
right," said the administrator, "but remember, I warned you."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?"
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.
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.
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
do you think is the secret to your success? How do you reach the hearts of your
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.
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.
often do you produce a recording?
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
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.
there a story or anecdote you would like to leave our readers with in
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
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!