Roughly two months ago, master composer Rabbi Yitzy Bald reached out to me to distribute fliers throughout Queens promoting the launch of his localized choir for yeshivah boys. In all, 27 boys from various Queens yeshivahs signed up for the eight-week program that will have completed with a mega concert production at the Queens Theatre by the time you read this on Shabbos. Dubbed “New York Boys Choir for Everyone,” the consort included boys as young as preschoolers who all gained tremendously from the experience.
Back in the ‘90s, I was privileged to partake in Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe’s school choir, headed by R’ Eli Lipsker z”l, who untimely passed away five years ago after illness. Last Monday evening, I visited a rehearsal at the Simcha Hall of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills where I was mesmerized by song after song, all modern-day hits composed by the talented R’ Bald, who supplements his time as rebbe with being a producer, director, arranger, musician, band leader, choir leader, music teacher, and studio engineer. The room was lined with parents, all basking in the limelight of their sons, gleaming with pride.
As I glanced at the children and their parents, I took note of the handful I recognized. None stood out more than Meir Sokoloff, a fourth grader at Yeshiva Ketana Zichron Chaim U’Binah of Queens. Each Shabbos, I am privileged to see Meir at the head of my shul, the Agudath Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, where his parents Rabbi Moshe and Mindy Sokoloff are rav and rebbetzin. “The choir is a beautiful venue for the boys to be able to sing songs and appreciate their inherent Torahdike inyanim with a wonderful leader who is well-versed and talented in composing and leading the boys,” explained Rabbi Sokoloff. “It gives them an outlet to be able to sing and feel good and make them feel positive about themselves,” explained Meir’s mother.
“The choir allows the boys to collectively build their self-confidence and self-esteem, while shining in a new way and allowing their wonderful talent to emerge,” expressed Meir’s menahel, Rabbi Binyomin Kessler, who knows R’ Bald’s capabilities. “Moreover, the choir is a kosher method for the talmidim to fill their time. It’s very nice for the boys, like a camping experience, to be able to meet other community guys their age
Yisroel and Reena Kramer of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim affiliation send their son to the group. “It is the camaraderie amongst boys in this super-positive outlet that amazed us,” said Mrs. Kramer. “I appreciate that the parents are welcome to observe the program. My son looks forward all week to the next session, where he has another chance to have fun as a kid should with other likeminded boys.”
The variety of parents I spoke with consistently stated how R’ Bald makes boys feel talented and valued as members of the choir and that they matter to the final product.
Avrohom and Sharona Levitt, organizers and sponsors of the choir, find their son JJ being kind and respectful to his peers. “You do not see any of the boys calling out one another for their mistakes. The choir has become a new method for these children to cultivate as young men.” The Levitts took upon themselves the task of making the Queens choir a reality to combat the trauma experienced during Covid when the lonely winter days led to depression. “The choir helps bring our smiles and happiness.”
For Simcha and Jackie Perkal, also of the Chofetz Chaim alumni minyan, the choir has become a weekly highlight. “Yaakov and Daniel keep singing the songs, bringing joy and simchah into our home. They are both enthusiastic and excited about coming each week and we see how they now have greater confidence.” The choir has translated into the rest of life for the fourth and first graders, respectively, at Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe. “They are certainly more focused!”
Albert and Debby Shimon send their son Aharon to third grade at Yeshiva of Central Queens. “We used to drive to the Bayswater/Five Towns program,” explained Mrs. Shimon. “Having the Queens program has made the world of a difference. Aharon is no longer as introverted as he once was. The choir has given him a weekly focus for his musical talents. Beforehand, he would sing by air without any rhythm; now he has courage and finds joy in Shabbos tunes, as well as in school. He is singlehandedly bringing Yiddishkeit to our community of Whitestone.”
Simchi and Zisi Naimark find that Yosef, their YTM third grader, is now better able to apply his energies. “A choir is only good when everyone is working together,” said Mr. Naimark. “Rabbi Bald teaches teamwork to the boys who, instead of making fun of one another, lift each other up.”
“The choir has helped Eli thrive; he finally found a way to be off of the screens,” noted Avi and Cheryl Dubin of Kehilas Torah Temima. The couple spent nearly three years researching choir options to bring into Queens, ultimately settling on R’ Bald’s Bayswater program where their YTM fifth grader finally found a place to dance and sing instead of making disturbances in the classroom. “R’ Bald speaks to the kids and shares his reasoning behind why he wrote each song.” Binyomin and Shira Sassoon’s son Dovid is in class with the Dubins’ son. “Dovid sings the songs he learns as z’miros at our Shabbos table. He in turn inspires our overall Shabbos experience and our davening at the Lander College.”
Aryeh and Michal Goldman of Degel Israel send their kindergartener Yaakov to Gesher. Mr. Goldman observed, “The songs are each ingrained in our lives. By joining the choir, Yaakov has become more confident and grown into his horizons.”
Yosef and Shira Kaplowitz have three children in the choir. “Our home is filled with the beautiful songs,” said Mrs. Kaplowitz. Moshe, sixth grade, Yitzchak, fifth grade, and Yisroel, first grade at YTM, have each brought out their confidence levels and are ready to take the stage and show the world what they have to offer.
The New York Boys Choir for Everyone has changed the lives of these Queens families bringing a new sense of conviction and trust into each of these young budding scholars. I cannot wait to report on their success in our next issue!
By Shabsie Saphirstein