Zionist and Israeli songs closed out the last night of Chanukah at Congregation Machane Chodosh in Forest Hills on Sunday, December 25. “Mr. Shabbos” and his band played 17 songs, spanning decades of music.
“Mr. Shabbos” is a name given to Rabbi Josh Albert by his bass player and Jewish outreach partner, Michael Wagner. They both started a Shabbos program at Wagner’s house in Long Beach. The name stuck.
Rabbi Albert has s’michah from Zichron Akiva in Woodmere. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Vocal Performance and Music Education at Long Island University in Brookville, Long Island.
The 1941 Zionist song, “Tzenah (Go Out),” written by a Polish Jewish immigrant, opened the evening. The song “Eretz, Eretz” talks about the land in Israel taking care of the Jewish people as a parent does,” explained vocalist Nachman Siegel, who was born and raised in Israel. Many came to Israel before and after World War II without parents, he explained.
Naomi Shemer’s 1967 song, “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” and her 1980 “Al Kol Eileh” were played, as was the catchy 1973 song “Yo-Ya” by Kaveret.
The band played “Eretz Tzvi (Land of the Deer),” a song about the rescue of Jewish hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.
Arik Einstein’s songs from the 1980s were played: “Uf Gozal (Fly Away, Little Bird),” which “talks about children growing up, leaving home, and their parents’ advice,” said “Mr. Shabbos.
Einstein’s love song, “Ani V’Atah,” was followed by the song, “Shekeshenavo,” which discusses what happens to us at the end of our lives. “He was a searcher,” said Mr. Shabbos, of Arik Einstein. “He is no longer with us, so hopefully he found it.”
Ethnix, a culturally mixed Israeli band that started in 1984, is still together. The band played their song, “Shir Yashan (An Old Song).”
The only American music played was a Bluegrass song, “Jerusalem Ridge,” by Bill Monroe.
The last three “were sing-along songs,” said Mr. Shabbos: the 1957 song “Erev Shel Shoshanim (Evening of Roses)”; the 1983 Israeli song “Chai, Chai, Chai” (Alive, Alive, Alive)”; and an encore by Rabbi Yossi Mendelson and Mr. Shabbos, of the Israeli classic “Od tir’eh, od tir’eh, kamah tov yihyeh, ba’shanah, haba’ah (You will see, you will see, how good it will be next year).”
Rabbi Yossi Mendelson of Congregation Machane Chodosh said that people could have stayed home and listened to this music on YouTube, Spotify, or other venues, yet they came “to experience it together.”
“That’s such an important message about not undermining, not underestimating, the value of being in a Jewish community and gathering together.”
This is the year of Hakhel, when the Jewish people would gather at the Temple “to rededicate themselves, and to be inspired, to commit themselves to Torah and mitzvos,” said Rabbi Mendelson. “We hopefully observe the idea of Chanukah, which is re-dedicating ourselves.”
Mr. Shabbos’ goal is to uplift his audience. “My life’s message, my life’s motto, and work – is really trying to connect other people to Hashem more than anything else,” he said in an interview.
Rabbi Albert gets inspired by “great, great people. All of the fun things that Judaism has to offer. That really makes my day so, so fulfilled.”
Rabbi Albert grew up in East Meadow and now lives in Bayswater, Queens. Eitan Katz, another Jewish singer and performer from Bayswater, and Mr. Shabbos are friends. Mr. Shabbos was part of a “cantorial choir” backing up Eitan Katz at a bar mitzvah the week before the concert at Machane Chodosh.
Mr. Shabbos performs a “unique blend of chasidic, folk, Irish, and country music styles,” according to his website. He plays the guitar, piano, trumpet, banjo, mandolin, bass, and bag pipes. He has toured extensively in Israel, Italy, Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
Rabbi Albert’s brother, Pesach Albert, was on drums for the concert. Michael Wagner was on bass. On the violin and piano was Yonasan Rothman, and Nachman Siegel was a vocalist.
Having lived in Israel, Mr. Shabbos, Nachman Siegel, and Yonasan Rothman all have citizenship. Rothman served in the Israel Defense Forces.
By David Schneier