Scroll down to watch Lipa Schmeltzer‘s music video Hang Up the Phone
English translation of Yiddish interview
Interviewer: Frimet Goldberger
(Music—“Lipa’s Shul” from Leap of Faith)
Narrator: Lipa Schmeltzer is a true exception in the Haredi world, both in terms of his music and his personality.
This is Frimet Goldberger for the Forverts. I live a few blocks away from Lipa in the new community of Airmont, and my husband and family are members of his new shul.
Today, Lipa and I discuss the community he grew up in, the people who rejected him, and how this experience changed him.
(Music – “Dear brothers, you are waiting for me to open my heart…”)
Lipa: I was raised in the shtetl of New Square, which is a small ultra-Orthodox community, and a significant part of my popularity happened because I am a strong critic. My reputation came to be known as: Lipa Schmeltzer who is talented, but shunned by many. And this happened in part because I grew up in [New] Square. They contributed to this rejection, because they were hurt by the mere fact that I’ve become a singer.
To them, singing is a problem – and the genre is irrelevant. An artist who will perform at concerts; a singer who will go out in the world and fans will clap with their hands and cheer loudly; they despise this.
(Music – “cheering up many Jews with joy through music, and sometimes you ‘catch a stone’ for it…”)
Lipa: But my talents prevailed and I continued on my way. I grew stronger within as a result of this, and I also healed a lot from my music. And all the pain, shame, and humiliation that I endured only served to strengthen me.
Lipa: I had a very difficult childhood. I could not concentrate in kheyder [(Hasidic boys’ school], I was spanked, and I was given some nicknames – things I never opened the door to discuss, until recently. But I am more willing now to go back to this pain, to look in the mirror and see what I have endured, and how I have to thank Hashem that I arrived to where I am now.
Lipa: The most difficult time in my life was when thirty three so-called rabbis signed a petition against me. Five or six called to apologize, and a few I recorded on paper saying that they were fooled. It’s interesting to note that on the signed rejection letter, you only see their computerized printed signatures. But I do have the authentic signatures on paper from the few who said they were duped. But they did not allow me to publish it in the newspapers.
Today, if 500 rabbis come out against me, perhaps it will be uncomfortable, but that is where it will end. I will go on the radio to talk about it, I’ll write about it in the newspaper and on blogs, but I won’t run and hide in a hole the way I did back then.
Burekh Hashem, God gave us a gift called the internet. If I wanted to pay $10,000 back then for a Haredi publication to publish my side of the story, I couldn’t, because a rabbi warned them not to accept my story. These days I am able to express my opinions in different places. So it is a little easier now. But I still have endured a lot – and this was one of my most difficult periods.
Many of these trying times were when I lived in New Square. I wanted so badly to have the honor, the opportunity to sing for the Rebbe. This was my dream. They said they would allow it, but only if I commit to five conditions. After I signed their commitment paper, they canceled on me at the last minute, citing one dayan [a judge of Jewish legal matters] who said I am not yet 100% kosher. It really stung. I stayed home and hid for a few days.
I was once publicly thrown out of a wedding – off a stage; I was once thrown out of a sheva brokhes [post-wedding meals] where I was a guest; all because I sing with a wilder beat. And I have to believe there’s a God who is bothered by all this. It’s silly to even talk about it.
Lipa: Rejection is a very difficult feeling, and I suffered from it a lot in my life. So I will hopefully never do this to others – no matter what happens. Each week I receive calls here at my shul, sometimes from a dayan, a rabbi or just congregants: I shouldn’t allow this, I should tell him that, etc., and I never pass along the message. Because I know what it feels like to face a closed door and not to be accepted. I will never do this to others.
(Music – “and when you suffer the pain, you cannot fight back…”)
Lipa: Sometimes I have to attend family occasions, or go back to places where they look at me with contempt, and several want to bite me. But instead of getting upset, I pity them, because I know that they don‘t know any better; it is not their fault. And maybe, one day, they will change, too.
We are one nation. Hitler did not differentiate between those (women) who did not cover their hair and those who did; Hitler did not differentiate between those who dressed in black and white or those who dressed in blue; Hitler did not differentiate between those who were Jewish or those whose grandfathers were Jewish; he wanted us all out. We need to come together. Am yisroel chai.
Narrator: Perhaps you can sing a little teaser of the music you’re working on?