A blessing from the ‘yanuka,’ a song about Jerusalem
It all started a few months ago on a walk to the Yarmut park in Ramat Beit Shemesh, where I live. There I encountered a friend and mentor, Rav Aharon Jacob, who not only taught me Torah law as I studied for Semicha, but was also my personal trainer. American Israeli, and with a strong Sefardic background, Aharon always had an interesting story to tell, and this time was no different.
He had come into contact with ‘The Yanuka’ – Rav Shlomo Yehuda Bari, who received the appellation ‘Yanuka’ – or ‘young one’ – for having mastered all of the revealed and hidden aspects of the Torah by the tender age of 17. But besides for his erudition, Aharon told me of some personal experiences where the Yanuka had blessed him and promised that all would be well, despite doctors’ negative predictions – and indeed he had been right.
Looking on the internet, it was easy to find videos of people who had gone to the Yanuka and asked for a blessing, and experienced God’s intervention as a result. It was also fascinating that the Yanuka was a talented musician, with songs of his available to listen to on the internet, as well.
I was intrigued, and when the opportunity came, I wanted to see for myself.
The first time I went, I arrived at around 8:15 at a synagogue in Rishon L’tzion, on the evening that the Yanuka receives the public. By 8:30 I had received a number, and I waited. And waited.
The line did not move. By 11:30, with the line still where it was when I arrived, I decided that it would have to wait for another opportunity.
A month or so later, Aharon let me know that there was an exclusive gathering that was taking place for those who distribute the Yanuka’s weekly Torah sheet to their local synagogues. Since Rav Jacob was one of the distributors, he was invited and was told he could bring along a few others.
This time, the wait was shorter, and we were finally ushered into the crowded room after about an hour and a half, where we heard the Yanuka’s inspiring words and gracious thanks to all his devoted distributors.
After this, each of those present had a turn to pass by the Yanuka and receive a personal blessing. Rav Shlomo Yehuda was exceedingly patient and loving toward all those present – from the most religious looking on to those covered in tattoos. He was clearly completely non-judgmental and open hearted.
Even at this point, the wait was long, and over the following 40 minutes, I tried to dispel the tension by starting some singing of popular tunes and encouraging those around me to sing along.
When my turn finally came, I told the Rav that I am a singer and composer and I asked for a blessing to compose good tunes. He responded with a heartfelt blessing and a wish for ‘hashpa’ot tovot’ – good effects.
After my turn, I stood on the side to watch as he dispensed his kindness toward the other petitioners, and I started talking to a young chassidic man named Yosef Shalom, who is one of the select few who are consistently in the close environs of the Yanuka. I mentioned to him that I had composed the song “Yesh Tikvah” and “Ivri Anochi” for Benny Friedman, as well as my own hit, “Am Echad.”
He was familiar with the songs and he immediately brought me back over to the Yanuka to receive another blessing, so that the Yanuka would register my face.
Yosef Shalom took my phone number and I told him that if they need me for anything – any kind of singing or music – I would be happy to return.
Over the days and weeks that followed, I started composing songs at a rate that I had not seen since I was much younger. The number of new songs tallied up to 30 or 40 – I don’t usually keep track precisely.
On one of the days I went to a secluded spot in the hills near Beit Shemesh, on the way to Beitar, to a location overlooking mountains and valleys – Churvat Chanut. The blessing of the Yanuka still rang in my mind, and the beautiful scenery inspired an awe in the magnificence of God’s Creation.
I made up song after song, using a Tanakh as reference for possible subjects and verses to weave a song around. At one point I noticed the classic verse in Isaiah which speaks of the future time – “And it will be on that day, a Great Shofar will sound. And those lost in Assyria, and the outcasts of Egypt will come and they will bow down to God on the Holy Mountain in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem).”
I was stirred by the prophecy and how apt it is to our times, and the hopes of our great nation’s future.
I was also hesitant to create a new song to these words – there is already a classic tune that so many people know – could I come up with something new that would be relevant to the listeners of 2023?
The song flowed out. It was complicated, but at the same time simple. It moved in an unexpected way and then became familiar. And it crescendoed with the word BiYerushalayim – in Jerusalem.
I felt it right away.
As I walked back to the car with my guitar over my shoulder, I called Yosef Shalom and told him that something was going on with the compositions. He was interested, but just said, “Let’s see what happens.”
I knew that I wanted to sing this particular song for the Yanuka, but I didn’t yet see the opportunity. I wasn’t ready to wait 3 hours, and I also didn’t feel right to make others wait as I sang Rav Bari the song.
A few weeks later, the opportunity came. The Yanuka was making a Siyum (celebration for completion) on a section of the Torah, and it would be for a (relatively) small crowd. Yosef Shalom called and invited me to come. I grabbed my guitar and ran out the door, headed toward Rishon L’tzion.
After Rav Shlomo Yehuda finished his Siyum, he sat down at the keyboard and started to play. I sat next to him with my guitar and did my best to follow along with his intricate melodies. They were beautiful – at times simple, and at times complicated.
Finally I asked the Rav for permission to share a new tune that I had composed after receiving his blessing. I started with the easiest part “BiYerushalayim,” and when the crowd understood the musical idea, I went on to sing the rest of the song.
By the time I was done, the Yanuka had already understood the melody well enough to play it, and when I tried to finish the song, he started it up again. It was clear that he enjoyed it very much.
When everyone got up to go, they started to surround the Yanuka to ask for blessings, and they allowed me to get in first to ask for another blessing – for the success of the song. He told me that it would be a song that would indeed have a powerful impact.
With this encouragement, I embarked on recording the song, involving musicians from around the globe – from French Horns to Violins, Drums, Bass, Guitar and Piano, and even a Shofar for the finale of the song.
I filmed a Music Video in Jerusalem and included incredible Stock Footage of scenes of the city, but mainly of the Holy Mountain, to which the song refers.
The result speaks for itself.