Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Avraham Fried and Modern Miracles

I was listening to JM in the AM this morning. JM in the AM, which stands for Jewish music in the morning is a wildly popular program of contemporary Jewish music. In the last 20 years, Jewish religiously oriented music has encompassed the spectrum of modern popular music as well as its traditional forms. Thanks in good part to the State of Israel, fondness for music by Jews from Arab countries has also cut across ethnic boundaries within Judaism.

This morning, Nachum Segal, who is the JM in the AM emcee had two Jewish superstars in his studio discussing their upcoming performance at the January 10 HASC concert. HASC, which stands for Hebrew Academy for Special Children is most well known for the summer camp it runs for children with cognitive and physical disabilities. It runs a full range of activities, both Jewish and recreational. It is widely respected in the Jewish community for its work with the developmentally disabled and their families. Every year they hold a fund raising concert to help defray the costs of running their summer program. This year, it will be held Sunday, January 10 at Avery Fisher Hall.

In past years, I have been turned on to new Jewish music, most notably the Yeshiva Boys Choir.

This year, Lipa Shmeltzer and Avraham Fried, two major Jewish music stars are the featured talent at the January 10 HASC concert. Lipa Shmeltzer has a following that extends well into the chassidic community, putting his compositions in Yiddish to engaging melodies.

Avraham Fried is from a Lubavitch chassidic family and was raised in that tradition. In addition to his own compositions, he has presented studio quality renditions of chassidic nigunim (songs). Many people like me who did not grow up in observant homes learned not from parents and grandparents but from Avraham Fried and others like him who use their musical talent to further traditional music.

Avraham Fried told an amazing story on JM in the AM. He has performed at the Kremlin in its special concert hall and at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. He shared the news with his mother, who was born in Kharkov, Ukraine. Her reaction to the news of her son's concerts extended far beyond the matter of the prestigious venue. She told the following story.

Avraham Fried's mother lived with her parents in a building with thin walls and neighbours who could not be trusted. One Channukah night, her father wanted to enhance the atmosphere created by the flickering flames of the menorah in their small apartment. Among their Judaic treasures was an old phonograph record of Jewish religious music. Fried's grandfather put on the record to listen and to sing along. Within five minutes, there was a knock at the door. Fried's grandfather was taken from the apartment in handcuffs, and spent the night at the police lockup. He was fortunate enough to have been released the next morning rather than to have suffered further legal difficulties. But it was clear that in the Kharkov, Ukraine of Soviet times, playing a Jewish song in your apartment could be considered a criminal offense.

Avraham Fried's mother could not help remembering the fearful night so many years ago and its contrast to modern times when that same music that got her father arrested was being played in the Kremlin itself.

When the Jews went out of Egypt, it was an external liberation that freed us to complete the far more daunting task of perfecting ourselves. The former Soviet Union, having freed itself from communism is now up against the task of its people freeing themselves from inner shackles. By singing in the Kremlin, Avraham Fried is reminding all people, Jew and gentile alike that "with G-d all things are possible, that liberation is not a fact but an ongoing process. In celebrating and living the miracle that his mother sees, he is perpetuating and extending it.

It is entirely fitting that someone who is extending the limits of religious freedom should assist an agency like HASC that is helping disabled Jewish children challenge their limitations and achieve new successes. It is entirely fitting that the son of a woman who treasures the civic rights of America and in the lands of the former USSR would want to extend the birthright of a Jewish education and life to children who may need help in reaching for it themselves.

There are moments when I am reminded that we are indeed living in amazing times. I thank Avraham Fried for bringing this miracle to life yet again.

Avraham Fried Video Sphere: Related Content

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