By COLlive reporter
As the world’s biggest Lag BaOmer celebration begins to wind down Thursday at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, a few miles down the road in Tzfas, Yeshiva Temimei Darech will keep the flames burning with a massive music and art fest.
The yeshiva will make its first attempt to produce a big-name concert festival on Lag BaOmer day from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. in Tzfas’s Metzudah Garden. It is inspired by the day and its mission to be a major purveyor of Chassidus year-round for its international English-speaking student body and outsiders, organizers said.
The “One-Flame Festival” will feature soulful baalei teshuva musicians Alex Clare and the yeshiva’s own alumnus, Ari Lesser, along with chart-topping Chassidic folk/soul duo, Zusha, at a grand event.
The Yeshiva’s Director Rabbi Shalom Pasternak, says it will “provide a warm Chassidishe space for the thousands of people who use Tzfas as a weigh station going to and from Meron on Lag BaOmer and our local friends.”
“We’re aiming to make this one of the biggest events to date for an English-speaking audience in Tzfas,” said Pasternak, who with Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Ariel Gorenstein, lead the first English-speaking baalei teshuva yeshiva for young men in northern Israel, started 10 years ago. “We are very much looking forward to welcome our friends, Alex Clare and the members of Zusha for the first time and to welcome back our alum, Ari.”
The festival will partner with the local Chabad centers to hold a children’s parade in typical Chabad fashion for Lag BaOmer and will host live art performances with renowned urban mural artist Solmon Souza and artist Yom Tov and other featured artists and artwork.
Pasternak, himself a trained jazz pianist, is not at all a foreigner to putting Chassidus and music and other artistic talents together in a serious manner. When the yeshiva first opened, it incorporated a program where students were encouraged to develop their musical and other artistic talents as part of the seder.
It was that environment that Ari Lesser walked into after a stint on Birthright, in early 2012, that swept him off his feet in more ways than one. The scenario came complete with the Yeshiva Temimei Darech Band, with Pasternak on the keyboards and an opening for a singer, that helped Lesser further his career as a Jewish-themed performer and provide him with his first serious Torah learning seder. During one of the yeshiva’s public jam sessions in Tzfas, a happy Lesser quipped: “Where else could I be and do all this.”
The show on Thursday will invite Lesser in an emotional reunion to do the vocals backed up by the yeshiva’s latest-generation YTD student band.
Since 2010, the now 32-year-old rapper, singer and spoken word musical artist has released thirteen albums, well-known for his pro-Israel songs “Boycott Israel” and “Hamas,” and has collaborated with artists the likes of Gad Elbaz, Lipa Schmeltzer, Kosha Dillz and C Lanzbom.
The yeshiva also has personal, professional and learning relationships with headliner, Alex Clare and Zusha.
“Alex has been a friend of the yeshiva for many years,” Pasternak said about Clare, 33, a winsome British soul and jazz singer with a lot of heart and soul who came to Torah observance around 2008. “He has generously come to speak for us and daven in our community minyan going back at least 5 years. When we asked him to do the show, he right away agreed and refused to take payment.”
A resident of Jerusalem since 2015, Clare’s rise to musical acclaim accelerated among his mixed global fanship even after becoming an observant Jew and having to refuse key career-boosting opportunities due to their coinciding with Yom Tovim.
“I had to sit there with all the big people in the record company and say: ‘I’m really sorry, but there’s no way I can do it,'” Clare said in a magazine interview with JC in 2012.
“That was a big turning point, when they really got that I was serious about my Yiddishkeit,” he said. “When I signed my record deal, I think they genuinely thought I would compromise at some point. As soon as people realize I won’t, they’re very accommodating — even when it comes to touring.”
Zusha, made up of New Yorkers, Shlomo Gaisin and Zachariah Goldschmiedt, are named for 18th century Chassidic luminary and well-known Tzaddik, Reb Zusha of Anipoli, a favorite in the Chabad world.
They are the newest to arrive on the music scene of the three festival acts, but it didn’t take long for them to rise to fame. Formed in 2013 to play a gentle brand of folk-like Chassidishe-themed music, with reggae and jazz overtones, Zusha produced their first full-length album, Kavanah, in January 2016. It subsequently reached No. 2 on Billboard’s World Albums chart. One of their popular musical videos was filmed using their song, “Mashiach.”
“My connection to Zusha goes back to the days when I made the ‘Kabbalah Dream Orchestra’ album,” Pasternak said. “It was really the first of its genre-fusing really good modern music with Chassidic nigunim and when Zusha came through Tzfas, they wanted to meet because as things turned out, they were the ones who ultimately really popularized the genre that we initiated.”
The relationship goes deeper as Zusha’s manager, Paltiel Ratzenberg, is an old friend of Pasternak and learned in the yeshiva for a brief time.
Summing up the whole undertaking before him and what it means to him in spiritual terms, as Pasternak tends to do as a highly personal and fiery teacher of Chassidus, he said: “It’s kind of like a big Chassidic family, with like-minded people, trying to do something original to bring the Geulah.”