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Would it matter to you if you knew this guy is not observing?
I don’t want to go into that conversation. There are certain things I can say I believe and certain things I can’t. The reason why is because if the Halacha says clearly that if I see someone drive to shul, I can’t give him an aliya, I can’t come out and say “Hey, I disagree with Halacha.” But definitely, whatever loophole I can find to push the envelope, I will do it.
It has to be within a comfort zone, and it can’t go on and on. The bottom line is, there are a gazillion loopholes. The Halacha was written thousands of years ago.
The guy that I gave an aliyah was someone who finished close to a thousand blots of gemura [rabbinical commentary] then his father ended up a drug addict and went through a crazy, dirty divorce. And he comes to my shul. He doesn’t get paid for it; there was no Kiddush, no cheesecake. He came because he felt the need on the holiday to feel connected. So I have the opportunity to punch him in his face and tell him to get out. Or I have the opportunity to give him an aliyah. You know what, if they want to write and say bad things about me because of this, then so be it. I want to go to hell, if they believe in hell, I want to go there for giving an aliyah for this guy. Let this be my last problem.
Why do you brand yourself as a Hasidic superstar?
It’s not something I brand myself as. I was born and raised in New Square [N.Y.] and started to sing with zero education and just with God-given talent. Now I do see an advantage that people look at me that way, because I can make change in that community. If I’m not mistaken, the number of Jews in world is 14 million. How many are ultra-Orthodox — what, a million? To be just a secular superstar, maybe that wasn’t why I was sent down here. There is lots of good secular entertainment. Maybe I was sent to be specifically for the niche of the Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox, where people are starving and need a cup of fresh water and this entertainment.
The bottom line is, the world is changing and we’re not going back. I don’t think I’ll wake up tomorrow and people will say we decided to give up cars and go back to horse and buggy, we decided to give up cell phones and go back to telegrams. It just doesn’t happen. Even rabbis with all comfortabilities from microwave to cars, they take it. But somehow, with entertainment, they get all, you know, because it’s a new thing. Before I came around there were singers, even good singers, but not the kind that they run after them for autographs. And they look at [the fame] and ask: “Who’s Lipa’s authority? Who does he ask what to do? He can’t just do it.”
I have an IQ, you know. I have God-given talent. I am not doing crazy things. I am pushing the envelope. I am an entertainer. I’d rather die having made 100 mistakes that I regret than doing anything at all. I’m experimenting; I’m a human being, and that’s okay. “Yeah, but you’re famous, you have a responsibility, you can’t make mistakes.” Yes, I’m famous, and therefore I have a responsibility to show everyone it is okay to make mistakes.
I think I have an advantage that I am giving this for people where it’s needed. People tell me I can be really big in the real world. I am in a place where I am needed. The secular world has plenty good entertainment, they don’t need Lipa. But people in this community do.
I am filling a gap to bring cutting-edge Jewish entertainment for the younger generation. And this is what I’m doing, and I think I’m doing a damn good job!
So what’s next?
I don’t know. The truth is, school is next. I need to hide myself and be a good student and get good grades again. Not that I have bad grades now, but I was very overwhelmed until now. I want to go back to doing weddings, little shows, but not to undertake so much pressure. Continue my education and not be under the limelight all the time. One day I can be Lipa on Broadway and the next day I can be in school. Do weddings, shows, go once a week to hospitals to cheer up the sick; be a good student, a good father to my children, a good husband to my wife, and a good leader to people of my shul. When I feel I have more energy to do something crazy, I’ll definitely come up with stuff.
This story has been edited for style and length.