Written by Yossi Zweig
Photos by: Chaim Tuito
Thirty Seven years ago, a young Sheya Mendlowitz spent a life changing Shabbos in a special needs camp in upstate NY. When he witnessed firsthand the level of care and commitment not to mention love that the staff of Camp HASC had for these special neshamos, he was amazed. Upon hearing that the government funds for the camp were being cut and that the camp would have to close, Sheya realized that something would need to be done. In Sheya’s own words, “Hashem put an idea into my head.” What if we could hold a gala concert fundraiser, the likes of which the world had never seen before? Maybe, just maybe, we could raise the funds to keep this magical place open for those who desperately need it. And so it came to be. Mordechai Ben David and Avraham Fried starred in a show unlike any other until that time in glorious and prestigious Manhattan venues where Jewish concerts have never been.
This past Sunday, Camp HASC celebrated the 37th annual A Time For Music concert, and Sheya’s legacy lives on. Masterfully produced by Shloime Steinmeitz and his hand-picked team by Pivot group, concert goers were treated to four hours of some of the biggest names in Jewish music. How does one start off such a momentous show? How about a live marching band playing the iconic HASC intro walking down the aisles and making their way on stage to join the maestro of the night, Mendy Hershkowitz and his orchestra for the opening medley. It was a sight to behold. With our veteran MC, the one and only Nachum Segal at the helm, A Time for Unity was about to begin. Who would perform first?
When we all heard the powerful voice belt out a Lo Yisa Goy El Goy Cherev, it was evident that the incomparable Shulem would be up first. Accompanied by the HASC choir, consisting of six talented vocalists, each in their own right, the performance was electric. The medley continued with The Exodus Song, Mi Sheberach, Kehilos Hakodesh, Bring Them Home and finally Shulem‘s very own Kiddush Hashem. It seems each time I see Shulem perform, his stage presence and vocal prowess just blow me away. What a great start to the night.
Next up was Benny Friedman. He started off with his song Yehudi Ze Hachi, a song that doesn’t get performed often enough. With the theme of the night being unity, that song fit perfectly. Next Benny performed his brand new single Lo Lefached. The song has some amazing twists and turns in the medley written by Yitzchok Rosenthal. Benny performed it perfectly and those that weren’t familiar with the song were already searching for it on 24Six before the performance was over. From there it kept getting better and better. A Yid written by Chayale Neuhaus has pretty much become a staple in Jewish homes, schools, camps and… well everywhere. With the emotionally charged A Yid winding down, and closing the set with Yama one of Benny‘s newest hits, a phone appears on the screen in from of us. Benny’s seemed to be getting a WhatsApp from Ari Hill. The voice note is Ari asking if maybe they could perform something together Beyachad, special for HASC. Naturally, Benny says yes. Israeli singer Ari Hill walks on stage for his HASC debut. The two perform on of the biggest songs in Jewish music from Hanan Ben Ari, Shvurei Lev. It was a moving performance and their voices blended in “perfect harmony.” This was another HASC standout moment of the night.
Nachum then announces that he was just informed that that Stein family has graciously donated $250,000 towards a bunkhouse because of the enjoyment of the show thus far. Wow! Next up was something the likes of which haven’t been seen in the Jewish world, possibly even the secular world as well. Making his HASC debut was Israeli singer Shalom Bernholtz singing alongside a hologram; yes a hologram of Reb SHLOMO CARLEBACH!!! Everyone was in shock. It must have been AI generated, and very much lifelike. The two played off each other singing Shoma Tefilosi a new song composed by the talented young singer from Israel Shalom Bernholtz. It was definitely a memorable moment and a first for Jewish music.
It was time for a new artist who I have been keeping an eye on. Israel singer and songwriter, SHMUEL, made his HASC debut. This guy has so much chein, energy and a melodious voice that you just want to tap your foot and smile. He performed his hit pop song Nekudot. It was such a breath of fresh air. It reminded me of the HASC of old when we were introduced to some insane talent that the world has yet to discover. Though he is a relatively new artist with only five singles or so, he has a very bright future ahead of him. Shmuel continued with his hit ballad Ten Li Tefillah. What I loved most about this performance was that Shmuel had the band quiet down so we could sing with him. He then went on to translate the words to English which gave me a deeper understanding for the song and better appreciation. For his final song, Shmuel invited out superstar singer Mordechai Shapiro to perform Yesh Bi Emunah with him. Though the song was recorded together by these two artists, this would be their first time performing it live together. The crowd definitely knew this one. Fans took out their phones and the room was all lit up. It was the perfect way to end this young star’s introduction to the HASC audience.
With Shmuel leaving the stage, it was time for Mordy Shap. He started off his set with a one of his most famous singles that has never been released on an album Ein Od MIlvado. With the powerful vocals that only Mordy can deliver, everyone was dancing in their seats with this pop tune. To slow things down and to re-introduce the theme of the night, Mordy went on to sing his own composition, Achas, off his latest album. This song is always a crowd favorite. The message of togetherness was reverberating throughout the room. With everyone all mellow from Achas, Mordy invites his good friend Benny Friedman back on stage. This next performance was a mashup of Ivri Anoichi and Ani Yehudi. There was so much back and forth that the good feelings were contagious. Benny singing Mordy’s song, Mordy singing Ivri Anoichi. It was thoroughly fun for everyone. Mordy closed his solo set with B’yachad, a song about friends and togetherness.
Next, Mordy invited Baruch Levine to join him on stage and the two performed Baruch‘s hit song Zeh Hakatan off his latest album, originally performed by Baruch and Shmueli Ungar. There was great energy between the two and it was a pleasant surprise. The show continued with Baruch taking his place at the piano and performing some of his hits including; Shabbos Hayom Lashem, Ain Aroich and Bitchu together with Benny Friedman. The two really complemented each other and it was great to hear these classics. Shulem joined the duo singing Baruch‘s Lecha Dodi, Kol Haberuim and closing out the set with Touched By A Niggun. It was some great Jewish music with the nostalgic feel.
Nachum Segal was back with an announcement that surprised us all. A camper from Camp HASC was getting his wish tonight with the performance of his favorite song at the show. Shulem was welcomed back to the stage and making his HASC debut for this very special debut all the way from the Holy Land was Alex Clare. The song was titled Beautiful World. While I am not familiar with the song, I very much enjoyed the way Alex‘s raspy voice and Shulem’s silky one complemented each other. This was definitely another moment to remember.
After an inspiring dvar torah and thanks from Rav Judah, it was time for another unique multimedia interaction with the actor and the big screen. He was scrolling through a phone, playing games and then looking through music until he came to music by Avraham Fried. We all understood it was time for the headliner to make his appearance. Avremel started off with an oldies medley, called the Goodbye medley of some of his golden hits including; Golus Goodbye, Giants Shoulders, A Little Bit of Light and Forever One. The set ended with Avremel walking up the stairs and belting out the final lyric Forever One. Avremel seems to get better each time I hear him. His powerful voice with that warm tone. His energy? His was dancing and running across the stage like a young man in his 20’s. This was what we were waiting for.
Avremel then addresses the crowd saying that it occurred to him and is very humbling, that thirty seven year ago he was fortunate to be at THE VERY FIRST HASC concert. He gives thanks to the Ribono Shel Olam. Wow! So inspiring. He then asks us to join him on the next song, if we don’t know it; he will teach it to us because it is very simple. He starts singing the new hit Bekarov Mamash which was written and produced by the Thank You Hashem group. The song has an amazing klezmer feel to it and we were enjoying the performance.
When the song was done, we could already see Avremel’s demeanor had changed a little. When he asked for a siddur which Yuval gave him, he continued with the following. He asked if anyone know who produced the first HASC concert. They resounding response was SHEYA! Sheya Mendlowitz A”H, who passed away recently. The Jewish music world lost a legend. It was he who took Jewish music to a whole new level. Everyone sitting here tonight was just because of his brainstorm. They worked for many years together and brought out some amazing Jewish music. One of them was the following song, a classic by Yossi Green. It was dedicated it to Sheya, not just because of bringing HASC on to the map but for bringing himself the one and only Avraham Fried onto the map some forty two years ago. The song Retzei Hashem happens to be one of my favorite pieces. Avremel’s emotionally charged performance of the moving song really got to us. He was clearly moved and stopped once or twice, remembering his friend and music producer.
After that emotionally performance Avremel once again said that we should dance Hakofos for all of those in Eretz Yisrael that didn’t get to dance this October seventh. A then energetic Avremel jumped off stage and proceeded to sing and dance down the aisle. The audience was electrified and the choir gave the performance a whole new level of depth. After helping Avrelem back on stage, he started singing the first few notes of the hit song Abba , which was composed by Bentzi Stein. He was joined by Israeli singer, Ari Hill, for a chorus of Abba. They discussed the success of the song released five years ago and said they would perform another hit song also composed by Bentzi Stein released recently called Al Tipol. It’s a beautiful song about not being afraid and that the sun will still come out tomorrow. It was a powerful performance and the two voices enhanced each other beautifully.
Next the video turned on and it was DEDI. The video showed about how he affected everyone with love, laughter and stellar performances throughout the years. He was a critical part of the HASC family and all those who knew him. Rav Juda Mischel then welcomed Mrs. Malka Graucher ,DEDI’s wife, and children with a standing ovation to show our respect. NJPAC erupted into chants of DEDI, DEDI.
Rav Juda and some of the HASC board members called up Shai Graucher and presented him with a plaque as a token of their appreciation for everything his father had done for the world and HASC. Shai, has been doing some amazing work with his organization, Beyachad Nanetzayach in Israel, making people happy and helping those hurt or families who have lost members in this terrible war. Shai thanked HASC and mentioned how he was supposed to come with his father several times over the years but it just never happened. He thanked American Jewry for all they have done for their brethren in Israel and continue to do. “Israeli’s see it and feel it across the oceans, how much love and care you have for them.” They see the funds coming in and equipment and care packages and they appreciate it! Shai ended off saying that the family thinks it would be fit to have a new bunkhouse built with Dedi’s name on it and they need our help to complete the fundraising. When Shai was done, NJPAC erupted into applause and he took his seat… or so we thought. The music started up and Benny Friedman came out singing the low part of DEDI’s iconic song Chevron. He was joined by Shulem singing the low part of Omnom, which the two finished in harmony. Next, the HASC choir started up the low part of DEDI’s mega hit Zoche. They were joined by none other than Shai Graucher himself. Mordechai Shapiro joined them on stage for the high part of Zoche and the stage was on fire. Next, was Lecha Eten which transitioned into Hu Yigal, sung by Avraham Fried. Having these mega stars sing the most iconic DEDI hits together was my favorite part of the night. They were joined on stage by DEDI’s other song Aviel, who sounds very much like his father. All the singers continued to sing Vekovei Hashem and Kulanu Nashir B’Yachad. Even though it was a slow song, when they started singing DEDI’s song Menachem with lyrics changed to Dedi, Dedi oh Dedi, Hitasafnu Po Hayom L’zichrecho, we all got emotional. It started with Benny, then Shulem singing together with Aviel,while DEDI’s smiling face came on the screen. This was another of those very special HASC moments to remember.
Next up was an all-new exciting performance that was going to take us on a musical journey like never before. Nachum announced that we would experience the magic of a musical odyssey, weaving tale of song and drama, which captures the resilience and fortitude of our great nation. Written by the renowned Abie Rotenberg and accompanied by an ensemble of talents, we present to you “Rooted In Resilience.” Keep in mind a play of any kind at HASC was only attempted back in 1994 at HASC 7. Most concert goers then wanted more music. I was told Sheya even had to advertise the next year that the show would only be musical performances (Thanks Adam). However, with Abie at the helm, the biggest names in Jewish music joining him for songs connected to the performances. It was something amazingly unexpected. The intricate sets, makeup, digital backgrounds and actors were flawless. The two main characters we played by actors and vocalists Chaim Brown and Leiby Weider. These two were amazing. They kept in character the whole time. They are from the top actors that are in the top Yiddish Plays and it was amazing for the audience to experience this level of performance in English. Leiby even went on the perform Avraham Fried’s classic Don’t Hide From Me flawlessly, and ended with resounding applause. In between scenes were performances by Abie and our cast. Aish classics like Habeit and Rachmana together with Benny Friedman, In a Vinkele and Lakol Zman with Ari Hill, Ani Maamin by Abie himself, Memories with Avraham Fried, From The Ashes with Mordechai Shapiro, The Man From Vilna with Shulem and Little Tree the opening number and Am Yisroel with all those on stage. It was quite a performance.
With the play finished we started wondering was the concert over. Nachum Segal approached the stage. Once the words “our next performer is a globally acclaimed DJ” were out of his mouth, a responding Ahhhhhhhhhhh! Came from the audience! With hits like Adama V’shamayim and L’chai Olamim, Matt Dubb came on stage. A DJ booth was wheeled. He put his headphones on and started up the board. Immediately the beats started as did the strobing lights. He started with an Adama remix and told everyone to feel free and get out of their seats. That song flowed into his other hit V’ani Eftach Boch, originally performed by Beri Weber and Shmueli Ungar. Bochurim were dancing down the aisles and people in their seats. The kids have been waiting for this all night. Next up was the latest hit Bar Yochai, during which Benny Friedman came on stage to dance to the music. “Baruch Hashem,” Matt Dubb’s first single originally with Zusha and Pumpedisa was next. The energy was electrifying. “Who’s ready to hear a new song,” asked Matt Dubb? After a thunderous YESSSSSS he welcomed the talented Shmuel onto stage to perform their upcoming collab, Ein Ma Lidog, coming out in the next few days. The audience was loving this new song and Shmuel’s energy was contagious. Bochurim were dancing in the aisles and in front of the stage. When the song finished Matt Dubb invited Alex Clare on stage to perform Unstoppable live on stage. Matt traded in his DJ equipment for an acoustic guitar. This song was streaming extremely well even on Jewish platforms like 24Six and fans were singing along lyrics by lyric. Finally, it was time for L’chai Olamim with Mordy and Benny joining Matt Dubb on stage. It is one of the biggest songs of the last year and a half. NJPAC erupted into Li Li Li Li Li for L’chai Olamim. The music video played on the big screen and it wasn’t long before the entire cast came out to join them and sing together. Four amazing hours of entertainment, hundreds of thousands raised, and a night to remember. So ended HASC A Time For Music 37.