30 Sep We Can All Use a Little More Simcha These Days! Q&A With Jewish Music Superstar Simcha Leiner
Official Name: Simcha Yoel ben Tzvi Melech Halevi
Family: Wife & 3 children
Main Yeshiva: Yeshiva Ner Yisroel in Baltimore
Currently Lives: Toms River, New Jersey
Albums: 4 solo studio albums- “Pischi Li,” “SL2,” “Meraked,” and “Kol Hakavod.” Aside from that- 2 Project Relax albums with Baruch Levine, a Project Relax album (Israeli edition) done alone, and a Leiner Live concert, which contains recordings and videos from Odessa, Ukraine.
Favorite Carlebach Song: The full version of “Vezocher” from “Live at the Gates”
Favorite Avraham Fried Song: Probably “ah sheinem Chulim”
What do you have planned for Sukkos this year? Due to the current climate I will be ‘laying low’ spending time with my family.
What would you say is the secret to keeping everyone b’simcha this Sukkos during these trying times? I would say that you should surround yourself with people that give you joy and try to avoid the people that don’t give you joy. And if you find that you are not enjoying a particular person see if maybe it is you that is the reason you don’t enjoy them.
You recently came out with a new YouTube video on the Avoda right before Yom Kippur. It was filmed in the Young Israel of Woodmere. Please talk about that and why you specifically chose that venue? The Young Israel of Woodmere has been my home for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for the last 3-4 years, so when thinking of an opportunity to do something for the Shul I decided to do this. I wasn’t davening there this year yomim Noraim due to logistical reasons, and so lately I have been davening somewhere private, around 10-12 people. Aside from the fact that it’s a beautiful shul, filming the video there was an ode of hakaras hatov to the Young Israel of Woodmere for hosting me for so many years.
How has Corona affected your musical career? Obviously from right after Purim until Shavuos time, I ceased my live operation entirely. There were no live events at all; I shifted my entire business to online. I did a tremendous amount of livestreams. For every event that people saw, there were ten more done in private. I really built a product and people loved it. I still do them until this day. We just daven that we don’t have to go back to how it was during the time between Purim and Shavuos.
What do you enjoy most: Being a chazzan, performing at simchas, or giving concerts? The joy of my job is that I get to diversify. A lot of people do one or the other and being able to do a little bit of them all keeps me motivated. Although I do have to say that there is little thrill like that of being on the stage.
Is music your full time parnassah? It absolutely is. I have other side ventures that keep me busy, but my main focus is music.
What are you currently working on? I am just beginning the process of writing an album by myself. I am trying to have as much of the album written by me this time as possible.
What do you like to do when you’re not performing? I am a very active person. I love running. I run a tremendous amount, over a hundred miles a month. Anyone who follows me on Instagram would know that. I run and do many other physical activities; I’m very active. I think it’s tremendously important for frum people because of what we eat. I encourage everybody to get up and move!
What’s your favorite venue to play at? Binyanei Hauma in Israel. I’ve done many shows there. There is always a certain level of feeling when performing in your homeland which is really, really special. Also, Brooklyn College, believe it or not, has an amazing sound to it and there’s actually a lot more seats there than people think. People don’t realize that sometimes the HASC concert has less seats than Brooklyn College. HASC is a higher level of stature and will always be a really respected and impressive show.
Why do you enjoy performing at Camp HASC and Camp Simcha so much? Performing at Camp HASC has something unique to it. When you’re performing with children with special needs, there’s zero judgement; they’re the least judgemental people in the whole world. The joy you see on their face is 100% pure. It’s completely reflective of your performance and it’s a joy that’s contagious. It’s something that I strive for every year. Even though I live in Lakewood and it’s a very far drive, I go every single year. Camp Simcha has a different joy, a joy of relief. This summer I was able to make it to Camp Simcha. Both camps know they can call me every year to perform.
Is there a Jewish artist with whom you would like to perform that you haven’t yet had a chance to perform with? I would love to do a show with Chanan Ben Ari. We tickled the idea here-and-there, but it never came to fruition, particularly because of Corona, but I’d love to do a concert in Israel with him.
What would you say is your most popular song that you’re asked to sing more than any other? It really depends on the crowd. It’s a toss up between “Ribono,” probably with the younger people, but “Kol Berama” is definitely one that will forever be my anthem. My favorite song that you sing is R’ Shlomo Carlebach’s “Mimkomcha” from Odessa. R’ Shlomo’s yahrtzeit is right after Succos.
In general, what’s your take on Carlebach? I live in Tom’s River which is really close to Lakewood and Lakewood was a home to Shlomo Carlebach for Yeshiva. Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l had tremendous hisorerus from his songs. I am not qualified to know anything about him personally. His music was clearly from a place of Kedusha. He developed a formula for song-writing which I really admire. I don’t know what that formula is, but one can instantly recognize a song as Carlebach. That is something I envy very much.
Please share with us how you got into Jewish music. Tell us how you figured out you had this talent and how you decided to share it in this way. As those who have been following my journey already know, I had a very strong connection with Chazzan Sherwood Goffin a”h. I studied with him as a child. I had a little bit of a need for extra curricular activities in my daily life and I had a very hard time sitting still for long periods of time. Dov Levine, who is a great singer, suggested to my father, his Chavrusa, to go spend time with Chazzan Sherwood Goffin. My mother would drive me in twice a week from Monsey to Washington Heights. Fast forward to my Bar Mitzvah- I became the youngest graduate in the history of Yeshiva University. Not much of a degree in the grand scheme of things, but to me it was the foundation of my musical life. One thing led to another.
Who in the Jewish music world are your role models? It would be impossible not to mention Avraham Fried as an overall role model. He is a leader not just in a musical sense, but he is also the definition of a mentsch. He is one of those people that will turn down a song because he doesn’t feel like there’s a message in the song that will bring people closer to Yiddishkeit. He’ll turn down an opportunity to perform if he doesn’t feel that the people there will grow from the experience. He’s a true Chasid to the true extent of Chasidus. I consider him to be my rebbe on how to be a performer. Additionally, I remember when Yaakov Shwekey broke out on the stage. That definitely changed the game. He showed me what Jewish music was capable of in terms of scale and scope, things that we never thought the frum community could handle. I didn’t appreciate some other singers until later on in life. I think I’m appreciating Mordechai ben David’s music now more than when I was a child. I go through cycles where I fall in love with older music.
Who would you say has the nicest voice in the Jewish music industry? I think Beri Weber probably has the sweetest voice of any singer and I very much enjoy listening to him sing live.
What is a favorite song of yours that someone else wrote for you? A song on my second album, “Shalom Shalom” written by Yochanan Gordon. It is a masterpiece of a song with an amazing arrangement by Yanky Briskman.
Who do you think is currently the most underrated singer in the Jewish music industry? I’m not sure how to answer this. Perhaps Zandel Weinberger from Eretz Yisroel; he is huge in the Chassidishe world there. I don’t think people know who he is in America. Also, Nemoul Harush is crazy crazy talented. I also feel that in America, Eli Marcus doesn’t get the respect he deserves. I think he’s one of the best singers in the business.