Hello and welcome to my first website blog! I'm calling it A New Song Blog after the name of my non-profit, A New Song USA. I'd like to give you a sense of who I am and where I'm coming from, and if you decide to listen to my music maybe you'll understand the man behind the music a bit more.
This is an excerpt from an autobiographical sketch that I've been working on for the past fifteen years. Don't let the fact that I am a religious Jew throw you off. My message, and the one that my organization was created to share, is one of universal comfort, connection, and hope for the future.
I never thought that I would be an Orthodox Jew and look like this. As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I didn’t even want to be Jewish. If I was ever asked, I would say I was Italian, it seemed to me that people liked Italians and I wanted to be liked.
I remember walking to shul on the high holidays, I would always be so terrified that someone I knew would see me dressed in my holiday suit. I would wait until I was inside the shul to put on my yarmulke, and I would immediately remove it upon leaving.
I grew up traditional. I had cousins who were Orthodox. They lived on the lower east side in Manhattan. Their lives were very strange to me. I never had anything against Orthodoxy; I just couldn’t see myself living a life full of such restriction, and religious obligations. Don’t do this. Don’t eat that. You can’t go here; you can’t go there. And the thought of using my Jewish name Gedalya made me feel a little uneasy inside. Yea, being traditional was more than enough for me.
I had other ideas of what I wanted to do with my life. For example, when I was 6, I wanted to be a superhero and I would save my sisters from the ferocious beast in the back yard. OK, it was Spunky, our dog, but he was a little ferocious at times. When I was 12, I dreamed that I was a racecar driver, I would sit in a shopping cart pretending to be racing in the Indy 500. When I was 16, my family had moved to Florida, and now I wanted to be a bodybuilder. I lifted weights day and night, took vitamins the size of grapefruits, drank protein shakes and flexed my muscles in the mirror a lot. When I was 19 though, it all came together for me. I was going to be a rock star. It didn’t matter that I didn’t play an instrument and that I couldn’t sing on key. I’d been writing poems since I was a kid, and I decided I would try to put them to music. I wrote my poetry about things that mattered to me. Thoughts and feelings I had about myself, and the things I saw. I felt that I had a message to share, and I wanted to get it out there. My mother bought me an old beat-up piano and I began banging away at the keys.
So, there I was, 19 years old with all of my dreams, waiting for something great to happen to me. But where should I wait, where should I be when this great happening happens? Like any other 19-year-old, I felt the world was mine for the taking. I decided that I would go to the place that people go to make it big, The Big Apple. I went into the recording studio and made a demo of all three of my songs. Then I got in my dark brown, all leather interior, 1977 Cadillac Coupe Deville with dark tinted windows, and I was off. I drove straight through the night. Made it in 21 hours. The music was blasting all the way.
Well, that was the way that I saw myself, to everyone else, I graduated from high school, barely. I didn’t want to go to college, or to be a part of the college scene. I didn’t have a knack for business. I didn’t have financial backing or financial planning, or any finances at all. And between you and me, I didn’t even know if I had all that much talent. I just knew that I was going to make my dreams come true.
One night, I was feeling like I wasn’t going anywhere in life. I was now about 24-years old. I was living in Kew Gardens, Queens. I was writing songs and performing them in various places in Greenwich Village. I was getting my message out there, but I was feeling empty. I remember lying awake at night, thinking back to my childhood, to my home. I enjoyed my freedom, but something was tugging at me. That night, I realized that music wasn’t enough. I needed to be involved in something that meant something, a cause that I believed in. Around this time, there was a group that was going to Poland to visit the concentration camps, and then on to Israel. I thought that as a writer this would be a great opportunity to have some new material. I packed up all of my things into my knapsack, took my portable keyboard and I was off.
I never really gave much thought into what it meant to be a Jew. I remember a bus ride to visit one of the concentration camps in Poland. It was a very hot day and there was no air conditioning on the bus. I had to stand because it was so crowded. I remember thinking to myself, that as uncomfortable as I was, my fate going to this place could’ve been a lot worse. When we arrived at the first camp, and we were shown around, I couldn’t believe how real it all was. As much as a person can believe something is true, when you see it with your own eyes it becomes so much more real. Our guide told us that during the Holocaust it didn’t matter if you were religious or not, secular Jews that had no appearance of being Jewish whatsoever were killed alongside their brethren. I began to become terrified at the thought that something like this really happened. The strange thing is, with every step I took and everything I saw, I felt myself come closer to my Jewish identity. I also found myself becoming angry at how something like this could be done to my people. I had found my cause…I would be Jewish! At that moment I decided I would begin to use my Hebrew name, Gedalya.