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Exclusive Interview With Music Superstar Mordechai Shapiro & Composer/Producer Eli Gerstner

This Chol Hamoed Succos, singing sensation Mordechai Shapiro has teamed up with the mega producer Eli Gerstner from EG productions & will be performing at the Ford Amphitheater in Brooklyn with the Yeshiva Boys Choir conducted by Yossi Newman & the Sephardic Boys Choir conducted by Jack Braha. Last week, Mordechai & Eli sat down with Ari Hirsch of the Jewish Vues for an exclusive interview.

So Mordechai, how excited are you about Chol Hamoed Succos? Please tell Jewish Vues readers all about your crazy Chol Hamoed schedule.

Mordechai Shapiro: I am super excited! I have two big shows planned; one in Brooklyn with the Yeshiva Boys Choir and the great Eli Gerstner, and one with United Hatzolah in Eretz Yisrael- Yerushalayim- with Avraham Fried and Simcha Leiner. It should be a fun and exciting packed two days. On Wednesday night I will be performing at the show in Brooklyn, and then I’m flying out right after that on Wednesday night to Eretz Yisrael, landing at 2:30 pm, running straight to my show there at Binyanei Hauma, and then taking the 1am out back to New York so I can be back for Shabbos with my family. It should be fun!

What do you have planned for Wednesday night at the Ford Amphitheater in Brooklyn?

Mordechai Shapiro: It’s really the first major show after the release of my album Hakol Mishamayim. My album came out at the beginning of the summer, so I performed at various camps, but this is really the first real theater show and the first time I really get to perform them so I’m excited! At both the New York show and in Israel I will have the opportunity to share my new songs with big crowds in a professional theater with lights and screens. Just to discuss Eli Gerstner’s show for a minute, his productions never let me down or let anyone down. When you hear an “EG production” you know you’re getting the best of the best. Just think about HASC and how he transformed Jewish concerts! So I’m very excited to work with him again. We did shows together last Succos in the Teaneck area and Boruch Hashem they were very successful. So, I’m very excited to be working with Eli again.

Eli Gerstner: Baruch Hashem EG Productions had amazing success introducing the Jewish population to the Ford Amphitheater in Coney Island this past Chol Hamoed Pesach. It’s a 5,000 seat, state of the art venue, add in the crazy lights, screens and stage which I love doing and it’s a venue that can’t be beat. This past Pesach we had 3 full days of shows over there and everyone loved it! We loved it so much that now we’re back with the Yeshiva Boys Choir, the Sephardic Boys Choir and Mordechai Shapiro doing the show and we’re super excited. Mordechai is super talented, has a great voice and is a real professional. We’ve actually gotten complaints that the shows start too late for families with little kids, so we’re starting the show a little earlier this time at 5pm. By no means is this a kids’ show; it’s a high end production, but this way families can bring their children. We’re going “all out” with the orchestra, arrangements and all the lights and screens.

Eli, how is the new Yeshiva Boys single Mi X6 doing?

Eli Gerstner: B”H great! But what would you expect me to say? It’s a song we actually held onto for a little while and decided now is the time to release it. Yossi (Newman) and I were going to make it the first track on our upcoming album, but we said that would take time. We felt we needed to share it with the public. YBC will be performing that song along with all their songs that people would expect from the past. Mordechai has his plan as well; not only hit songs from his old albums but ones from his new album, as well. And, of course, we have duets planned for YBC and Mordechai. We really have an exciting show planned.

Mordechai, how does it feel to be working with the famous Yeshiva Boys Choir?

Mordechai Shapiro: It’s always fun to perform with the Yeshiva Boys Choir. My kids love to have dance parties to their music.

Mordechai, what’s your favorite YBC song?

Mordechai Shapiro: Probably “Daddy Come Home.” I think it plays in my house every day. All my children sing it, including my 2-year-old. It’s especially meaningful to me because I am often away from my kids and family and I think that’s why my kids connect with it too. I’m away a lot, often on Shabbos and Yom Tov. When it’s family time, that’s when singers are working. So I’m usually away Pesach, Chanukah, Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur. I got lucky the past few years and have been davening in Woodmere which is about an hour walk. So at least I can sleep at home and be with my kids. I think that’s why it’s especially meaningful to me and probably also for my kids. I’m excited to get on stage with YBC!

Do you get nervous before these big concerts?

Mordechai Shapiro: No question! I get more nervous for chuppahs than I do for concerts. When I’m working with a person like Eli, there’s no reason to doubt that everything will be perfect. When I’m out there and the theater is full, I just want to make sure that everything goes well and I’ll know what to say. Once I’m out there and I do the first song and connect with the crowd, the nerves pretty much go away.

What do you prefer- concerts or simchas?

Mordechai Shapiro: Concerts. They are harder, but they’re more “geshmak.” Weddings are a whole evening with a lot of downtime. The dancing is leibidik and fun, but concerts are excitement and energy all loaded into one hour.

Please tell everyone about the tzedakah Lev LaChayal that this concert is benefiting.

Eli Gerstner: Lev LaChayal is a really beautiful organization. There are soldiers that travel from all over the world to join the Israeli army. In Israel, it’s mandatory. These are people who are doing it for themselves. They want to be part of defending our land. So they come on their own, leave their families, put themselves in danger and risk their lives. The hardest part is that they come and have no one. They have off weekends and Yomim Tovim and all of the soldiers go home to their families in Israel. These kids really have nowhere to go and it gets very sad and they get very down. This organization/yeshiva Lev LaChayal takes in these kids. It’s a yeshiva and a dorm and they give them a family. They’re connected forever and it’s really amazing! Mi Ke’Amcha Yisrael. These people are making the ultimate sacrifice and they should feel like there’s a home to come home to; that’s Lev LaChayal. It’s really an amazing organization and an amazing yeshiva and I’m so proud to be benefiting them in this show. I hope that people will not only buy tickets and sponsorships, but also give extra to them. There’s a donation link on our website egproductions.net. You can donate $1 or $100,000 and it’s all going to go to this organization to benefit and help these Jews who are mamish making the ultimate sacrifice!

Mordechai Shapiro: Lev LaChayal is very special and close to my heart. One of my best friends, Chaim Kaznet, was a lone soldier. He was Niftar a year and a half ago and I dedicated my song “Friends” to his memory. He volunteered to join the Israeli army about 12 years ago. It’s not easy for a lot of these soldiers who don’t have family in Israel. They come for their love of Israel and they love being part of something special. Standing up for their fellow brothers and sisters is not easy. When Eli told me about this cause, I thought it was beautiful and wanted to be a part of it.

Mordechai, how did you get into the Jewish music business?

Mordechai Shapiro: It all started with Yerachmiel Begun & the Miami Boys Choir. I joined when I was eight years old and I was there until I was fourteen. I had a lot of solos, so I spent a lot of time in the studio. We toured America together! I sang “Rachem” with Yaakov Shwekey in the year 2000 shortly after the song came out. Funny story: There was no YouTube at the time, but a couple years later people said to me, “There’s a video of you and Shwekey on YouTube and it’s got about a million hits.” So I said, “What’s YouTube?” I don’t think I even knew that the concert was recorded, but I went on this new site called “YouTube” and I saw that Shwekey and I had a million hits. Cool!

Mordechai, what inspired you to go into Jewish music?

Mordechai Shapiro: As I said before, I’ve been singing since I can remember and Miami Boys Choir was a huge part of my childhood. There are a number of choirs out there today, including Yeshiva Boys Choir which started at the end of my childhood. Every Sunday I would drive from Monsey to Brooklyn- two hours there, two hours back- with 2 . hours of practice. It took up an entire Sunday. So while my friends were playing in a local baseball league, I was out in Brooklyn. I did this for six years straight! It had a huge impact on my life. I never stopped singing, even in high school. I wasn’t singing professionally, but I always had a passion for singing. My whole family sings- my mother, father, and all six of my siblings. So as a kid, I think I always dreamed that I would be zoche to make it a livelihood and something I could do day-to-day, not just as a hobby at my Shabbos table. Baruch Hashem, I was blessed to do what I love and I am very lucky.

Mordechai, this past January, you performed at the Camp HASC “A Time for Music” concert at Lincoln Center. What was that experience like?

Mordechai Shapiro: I’m about to turn thirty, and as far as I know, the Camp HASC show has been around a lot longer than that! It is the biggest stage in the Jewish music industry! So to get that call from Eli Gerstner to be a part of the production was certainly a big moment for me. Sharing the stage and hanging out backstage with some of the biggest names in Jewish music was a real treat. I’ve always looked up to Shwekey as a kid, so seeing him backstage and in action was awesome! The HASC show is special; it has a name for a reason! Beri Weber has become a good friend of mine and I was excited to share a stage with him. And of course, Zusha and Pompadisa and I did a medley with Yishai Lapidot who has so much energy and is a bundle of joy. We meshed so well together. Yishai has so many songs and hits in Jewish music that I didn’t know he wrote until Eli asked me to be part of the medley with him so that was great.

Mordechai, you just had a crazy summer. Can you please share with us some of the highlights?

Mordechai Shapiro: So, the summer was hectic! Overwhelmingly busy.

I would say that Camp Rayim was definitely a highlight. The energy there was off the charts!

The past few years I was part of the Camp HASC experience day. It’s such an incredible day; thousands of people come to see what HASC is about. I was blessed to be a part of that experience. But this summer I came on a regular day and the experience was even more meaningful, more intimate. When you go to Camp HASC on a regular day you really see what it’s about. I was able to bond with some of the campers and that was a highlight of my summer. I was a counselor at Camp HASC in 2008. It’s always special to return and feel the energy, the simcha, and the love that the counselors give the campers.

I also went to Camp Simcha which is a beautiful, incredible place. Every time they call me, I’m just honored to be able to go and bring the energy to some truly special boys and girls. This summer I went once for one of the girls’ sessions. It was just another incredible place where boys and girls choose to spend their summers with these special children who need love and friendship.

I’ve been to Camp Kaylie the last few summers and they already invited me back for next summer. They revolutionized the idea of having mainstream boys and girls bunk up with boys and girls with special needs. It’s really beautiful to see.

I was lucky to perform for Camp Dina with my brother Duvie Shapiro from Israel. He just put out a track called Lech Al Zeh which has become a big hit! I hadn’t shared a stage with him since my Miami Boys Choir days so that was definitely a highlight. My sister works at Camp Dina also, so that was a nice family night out.

Mordechai, what are you working on right now besides these Chol Hamoed concerts?

Mordechai Shapiro: I think the next big thing you can expect is a music video for “One in a Million.” I’m hoping for it to be out in the next few months before Chanukah. I’ve been getting really great feedback on that song. It was written by Mordechai Brezel and myself, and it’s a very powerful song! It tells us how powerful we all are and we’re one in a million. Hashem blessed all of us and gave us all exactly what we need to succeed in this world.

Mordechai, what would you say is the number one song on the new album Hakol Mishamayim?

Mordechai Shapiro: Hakol Mi s h a m ay i m ! It’s the only one that has a video right now so it’s much easier to see the success. It has over 1.3 million views in a month. I wrote that song and the lyrics are by Miriam Israeli and Chayala Newhouse. It’s also a very powerful song and the message is clear: Hakol Mishamayim! We go through challenging moments, challenging days or weeks or longer. We think we have things mapped out and then we’re drawn into a challenging time where we don’t have clarity. The message of the song is obvious that Hakol Mishamayim- Hashem has our backs, he’s there for us no matter what and no matter when. The chorus goes “Hakol Mishamayim” it’s all from Shamayim, “Atzom Et Ha’Enayim.” Just close your eyes and trust in Hashem and know He’s there for you every step of the way.

Mordechai, how long did it take to record the album?

Mordechai Shapiro: The album took about a year and a half. I recorded most of my vocals by Doni Gross who’s become a close friend after spending so much time together in the studios.

Eli, is there anything else that you would like to share with Jewish Vues readers?

Eli Gerstner: It’s another Succos, but not just another show! Get ready for an epic concert! We are looking forward to seeing you ALL on Wednesday evening, Chol Hamoed Succos at 5pm at the Ford Amphitheater in Brooklyn. Have a great Yom Tov!!