By COLlive reporter
Who is the real Uncle Moishy?
That’s the question that was recently thrown at the doorstep of the Machon Le’Hora’ah, a private beis din in Monsey, NY, led by Rabbi Avraham Boruch Rosenberg.
A business dispute between creators of the favorite children’s entertainment character has led the rabbis to rule on who owns the iconic brand and trade name “Uncle Moishy and the Mitzvah Men.”
Through music albums (tapes), videos and concerts, “Uncle Moishy” has entertained children since 1978. He was especially popular in the 80s and early 90s when a limited supply of kosher entertainment was available.
Without TV and before the internet, both children and parents welcomed the “kosher” takeoffs on popular ’60s songs, such as “Hey Dum Diddley Dum” and “Shake It Up, Zaidy.”
But who exactly “he” is, is what the argument is currently about.
Presenting “Uncle Moishy” to the public were the Toronto-born musician and singer Moshe Tanenbaum and Suki & Ding Productions of Brooklyn, owned by musicians Suki Berry and David Golding (“Ding”).
Together, they produced 22 audio albums and 14 videos which taught children about the joy of doing Mitzvos and living like a proud Jew. These themes had the Uncle Moishy and the Mitzvah Men act regularly invited to perform at children’s rallies at 770 Eastern Parkway and Chabad centers around the world.
In fact, Tanenbaum attributes the beginning of his career and his own Torah observance to Chabad. As a child of Holocaust survivors, educator Rabbi Yankel Glucowsky and Rabbi Yehoshua Laufer had a deep impact on him. Mrs. Francis Glucowsky had him sing to her preschool class.
A year ago, the Tanenbaum and Golding partnership hit a roadblock when they argued over a rise in royalty fees that were agreed upon 32 years ago.
Tanenbaum claimed that he is the embodiment of Uncle Moishy. Golding argued that Uncle Moishy is a character that Tanenbaum filled as a singer, but it was his production company that owned the brand, overseeing composition of songs, production of albums and shows.
A final ruling has yet to be given, but a hazy compromise was temporarily given: While the songs and music of Uncle Moishy belong to Suki & Ding, both parties are permitted to use the stage name “Uncle Moishy.”
As a result, Tanenbaum partnered with another production company, Sonic Duo Productions led by Mendy Hershkowitz and Chesky Breuer. The group has worked with Lipa Schmeltzer, Meilech Kohn and Uri Davidi.
Together, Sonic Duo launched the online brand “Uncle Moishy’s World” in August 2017. They produced new music for the album “Welcome!” and a “new sound, new show” concert in the Five Towns on Chanukah, with the “original Uncle Moishy.”
AUDIO: Uncle Moishy – “Welcome!” audio sampler
Suki & Ding, meanwhile, continue to operate “Uncle Moishy Headquarters.” For Chanukah, they announced a “brand new show” welcoming the public to “come meet the new Uncle Moishy” at concerts held in Boro Park, Queens and Lakewood, NJ.
True to his stance that “Uncle Moishy” wasn’t an individual but a character, Golding refused to disclose the name of the performer he hired.
COLlive.com identified the “new Uncle Moishy” as Yossi Berktin, a children’s musician and entertainer who was born and lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has a Masters Degree in Education and Bachelor degrees in Psychology and Religious Studies.
Berktin, using the moniker “Rabbi B,” has been leading musical sing-alongs, teaching musical play-ability, musical genres, instruments and theory for 10 years. On his website, he writes that like “Uncle Moishy in the Jewish world, I hope to inspire, motivate and excite kids all over the world in music.”
In a clip sent to COLlive.com, Berktin is seen wearing the black fedora with an oversized white Hebrew letter Mem attached to it (for “Moishy”). He sang one of the classic favorites, “Hey Dum Diddley Dum.” And what do you know… he asked all children to “sing along!”
In addition to having the “new Uncle Moishy” sing the classic songs, Suki & Ding are in the final stages of producing a new album. Expected to be released in 2 weeks, it also features guest artists Benny Friedman, Mordechai Schapiro, Eli Marcus, Dovid Gabay and the 8th Day band.
VIDEO: The new Uncle Moishy in concert
How will two Uncle Moishy performers exist on the same circuit?
Moshe Tanenbaum, the “original Uncle Moishy,” recently told Ami magazine: “Throughout the years there have been people trying to imitate me. When you see an imitator, you’re seeing an imitator. Being Uncle Moishy for 40 years, I couldn’t last this long by imitating.”
Tanenbaum’s manager Mendy Hershkowitz said: “A lot is still up in the air because the Beis Din hasn’t given a final psak yet. For now, we are focusing on the brand and the kids. Uncle Moishy loves what he does and he asked us to represent him. We are lucky to be able to work with him. He’s the original and puts so much passion into it.”
David Golding, the manager of the “new Uncle Moishy,” said: “We are having amazing success with our shows with the new Uncle Moishy. People are loving him. He is super talented, friendly, and the kids love him. We believe in him being successful.
“From a marketing perspective, we believe if it does continue this way and there are 2 Uncle Moishys, then people will ultimately make the choice that this is superior, they will hear the music, see the performance, watch the videos, and we believe they will make the decision to go with him.”
Yossi Berktin, the “new Uncle Moishy,” said: “My instinct wants to say: this is about inspiring and educating Jewish children. The more people doing their part for the positive the better.”
If only some Mitzvah Men could intervene in this case…