Hasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer is a true exception in the Haredi world, both because of his music and because of his personality. Frimet Goldberger lives a few blocks away from Schmeltzer in the community of Airmont, N.Y., and she and her family are members of his shul. In this exclusive interview with the Forverts, Schmeltzer discussed the community he grew up in, the people who rejected him, and how the experience changed him. Listen to the whole interview in Yiddish here.
Lipa Schmeltzer: I was raised in the town 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 that Lipa Schmeltzer 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 became 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.
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.
I had a very difficult childhood. I could not concentrate in heder [Hasidic boys’ school], I was spanked, and I was given nicknames — things I was never willing 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.
The most difficult time in my life was when 33 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 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, [thank God], 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 God is bothered by all this. It’s silly to even talk about it.
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.
Sometimes I have to attend family occasions, or go back to places where they look at me with contempt. 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.
Listen to Lipa Schmeltzer sing the ‘Diet Song’ below. Listen to the whole exclusive interview in Yiddish here.