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    Q&A With Jewish Music Legend Avraham Rosenblum


    NAME: Avraham Rosenblum FAMILY: Wife- Gracie Sons- Max, Moe, Azi, Yitzy Daughters- Shira, Gali CURRENTLY LIVES IN: Baltimore, MD

    GREW UP IN: Philadelphia, PA EDUCATION: Studied World History and Psychology – Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
    CURRENT JOB: Songwriter, Performer, Producer INSTRUMENTS YOU PLAY: Guitar, bass, piano, harmonica
    Ben Zion Solomon, Simcha Abramson, Ruby Harris, Menachem Herman, Gedalia Goldstein


    How did the Diaspora Yeshiva Band start?
    We met as talmidim at Yeshivas Toras Yisroel, aka Diaspora Ye- shiva, on Har Zion, Yerushalayim. The yeshiva was one of the first to offer an open door into To- rah learning for Anglos. A lot of us played music on various in- struments, and we would jam every opportunity we had; like weddings, and informal Melave Malkas which began to attract students from other yeshivas and seminaries. King David’s Melave became a hugely suc- cessful event, drawing over 800 students, tourists, and locals dur- ing the following nine summers. Some of us wrote original tunes and songs, and so after an offi- cial launch at a sold-out concert held at Beit Ha’am in Yerusha- layim during Chanukah of 1975, a troupe of 15 talented musicians began its first recording sessions. Our first album had everyone performing on it. That album, ti- tled “The Diaspora Yeshiva Band,” helped launch the B.T. music scene in Israel. The troupe was eventually pared down to a band of 5 or 6 players.

    What are your most popular songs?
    It depends on ‘HU’ you ask. Hu Yiftach and Malchutcha were well known early hits in the mainstream. Pitchu Li and espe- cially Ivdu remain global classics. My ballad Lulei Hemanti is still very popular too. But over time it was our genuine rocker tunes like Tzadik and Hafachta Mispedi that got a lot of the younger ye- shivish bands thinking ‘electric guitar and bass’ along with Gedalia’s heavier drumming influence, plus out- standing violin workby Ruby Harris, blue- grass fiddle and banjo by Ben Zion Solomon, and jazzy saxophone by Simcha Abramson. That’s what made us different. It wasn’t just about songs. Anyone could sing a nigun with a wedding orchestra behind them. Our legacy is that we were a great band with our own sound. Nothing generic. We could jam. There was life and sponta- neity in our playing. That carried over to my later DYB type projects and my solo albums Jerusalem is Call- ing, and Kedem.

    Any cool stories that you would like to share about the glory days of the Dias- pora Yeshiva Band?

    Zev Levin, the owner of the Israeli record label we were on, Hed Arzi, liked us very much and connected us with the producers of The Israel Chasidic Song Festival, which in 1977 was going into its seventh year. They invited us to submit an original song. Our per- formance of “Hu Yiftach Li- beinu,” a song I had co-written with another student, Yosil Rozenzweig, won 1st Prize and got us a lot of attention and acclaim. It was even more mind blowing when we came back the following year and took 1st Prize again with “Malchutcha,” a catchy tune written by a well-known Israeli songwriter, Reuven Sirot- kin. But what was really historic about that tune was its arrange- ment. I got together with a great arranger, Aryeh Levanon, and asked him to use a ‘less tra- ditional’ 70’s disco beat to make it more universally listenable – and danceable! The popularity of “Malchutcha” created a new genre of disco-rhythm based Pop-Chassidic music which last- ed for the next 30 years. Maga- zine articles and TV appearances made us a household name in Israel as the “Rock and Roll Choz- rei B’Tshuva!” Lots of concert and wedding gigs followed and we started touring internationally in 1979. On one of our flights across the US, we met HaRav Simcha Wasserman, ZL, the son of HaRav Elchonon Wasserman ZL, one of the greatest of the Gedolim of Pre-Holocaust European Jewry. HaRav Simcha and his wife were

    very interested in hear- ing about our use of rock music for Kiruv, and they blessed us to “Make Holy Noise!”

    Do you guys still play together? Our last re- union shows were in 2014, in Baltimore and at The HASC 27 Con- cert.

    Please tell everyone your Camp HASC con- cert story with Ivdu es Hashem Bsimcha. We shook the walls of Lincoln Center with our reunion performance at HASC 27 in 2014. Nachum Segal had whipped up the crowd by giving us an introduction that recognized the kiruv effect our music had on both BTs and FFBs. I don’t think we disappointed any- one. But there was one individual who wanted more and pledged $300, 000 to build a new hous- ing facility at Camp HASC – if we would come back on stage again and perform Ivdu! After consult- ing with the show’s producer I personally invited Avraham Fried, 8th Day, Benny Friedman,

    Yaron Gershovsky, and Nachum Segal to join us in an amazing impromptu vocal/ instrumental jam that brought the crowd to its feet! It was included in the HASC 27 DVD. From what I un- derstand, that gentleman made good on his pledge!

    What inspired you to become a Baal Teshuva? My full an- swer would take up the rest of the pages of this magazine, but looking back, there were a few special moments when a light turned on in my mind and I started asking questions – to both myself and to others – and I began to sort myself out. I felt the need to separate myself from the rock band scene and lifestyle that was not fulfilling my deeper spiritual needs, and where I was floundering. In short, I was in an existential cri- sis although I could only express it in terms of being “bummed out.” But The Light did turn on for me for a few critical moments that pivoted me away from a path that may have ended badly. How did you get into music? Who taught you how to play the guitar?

    I was one of those kids who always loved to sing and act in school shows (I played Yenta Claus in a 4th grade holiday show. Public school of course). I got interested in banjo and guitar after my Bar Mitzvah, in 1963. American and Irish Folk music had become very popular and I started going to “Hootenannies” on Sundays at a nearby Jewish Community Center. I met another kid there who already played guitar. Our first folk tune, “Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore” featured Paul Feldman on gui- tar and me whistling. He started teaching me chords and I caught up pretty quickly.

    Fifty years ago this weekend. Can you please tell our readers where you were August 15-18, 1969? So, this being the 50th year since I attended the original Woodstock Festival which was held on Max Yasgur’s farm in Whitelake, it’s a good time for me to share this with your readers; That despite the neo-paganistic counter culture and substance abusing behavior that was “offi- cially” sanctioned that weekend in August 1969, some of us actually sought something much higher and holier than what we found in the “Sea of Madness” of 500,000 mostly young people who settled for less in the end. What was that experience like? It was interesting. There were some great musical acts. But all- in-all it was pretty insane. That nothing terrible happened as a result of the size of the crowd and deteriorating conditions was a ness. Although there was one unfortunate accident where one young person died. Looking back, how did that weekend help you to become a better Jew? As I said earlier, it may have been hard to articulate what exactly it was that we were looking for, but the search was on and eventually brought us home if we stayed close to the path.

    “Back in the old days” I know that you use to play in a lot of hotels in the Catskills. Are there any cool Catskills sto- ries that you would like to share? Only that the waiters at The Ho- mowack were the best. They brought you as many mains as you asked for! Any cool Carlebach stories? I had the zechus to co-produce two live show albums for Shlo- mo: “Nachamu Nachamu Ami” and “Shvochin Asader.” Everyone knows that Shlomo told great stories. He also told some really funny jokes in private. He told me one about a Re- form Rabbi who with misty eyes spoke about his beloved de- ceased father, “Zaycher L’Yitzias Mitzrayim..”

    Who are your favorite Jewish musicians and singers these days? Most of the really original and most inspired music is com- ing from bands and performers based in Israel. Shlomo Katz, Jo- natan Razel, Yitzhak Attias, Ye- huda Glanz, Yehuda Katz, Chaim Dovid, Solomon Brothers. Many more. The Breslov scene in par- ticular is where I find great music too; Nissim Black, Pumpadisa, Zusha.

    What are you working on currently? I have a backlog of songs that I hope to finish pro- ducing this coming year.

    Is music your full time Parna- sa? It’s not, but it’s still my full- time passion.
    What do you do when you’re not playing music?

    Whatever it takes to keep the bills paid and give me enough breathing room to spend the time I need to be in studio.

    Do you still do concerts with or without the band? How of- ten? I keep my guitars in tune and my hands limber and I am ready whenever people call, solo or with backup.

    Any advice you can give to a young frum musician these days? Have fun but stay well grounded. Be a good Yid first, and a hot player second.