Here’s the inside scoop about how Levi Gornish went from a house fire in 2014 to being “on fire” and winning R U Idol competition at Reichman University.
“After our house burned down in 2014, we moved in with my grandparents. I was 10 years old. Except for some baseball action figures, I didn’t have any toys. In my grandparent’s basement, I found a really cheap guitar that my grandfather bought back in the 1950’s. The strings were unraveling, the neck was warped, but I didn’t care. I started playing it just like that. Everyday I came back from school, went to the basement and picked up the guitar. I didn’t know how to play anything at the time, I just plucked the strings. All I knew was that it was fun and got me through the day,” explained Levi.
The Lower Merion community, just outside of Philadelphia, rallied around the Gornish family to help get them on their feet post fire. While Levi’s parents were busy working with the insurance company and rebuilding their home, Levi, as a 10 year old boy who lost all of his possessions, longed to connect to something meaningful as a healthy way to heal.
Music was his savior.
Levi’s father, David, has been a musician and a big Beatles fan since he was 14. Levi grew up hearing that music and his father would encourage him to listen carefully and pick out each instrument in the mix. At the age of 3, Levi’s favorite album was Sergeant Pepper and his favorite song was Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. “I’ve always liked old music,” says Levi.
So how did a kid like Levi go from losing every possession to winning the RU Idol competition?
His love of music was his driving force. While he never took any lessons, his father showed him the first 3 basic chords. He played around with those chords daily. He would listen to The Beatles and play alongside them. One thing he didn’t realize at the time was that he has perfect pitch. “It’s a real gift and I can tune everyone’s guitars before shows,” says Levi.
The more Levi developed his love of music the more he became invested in it. He joined his school band at Caskey Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia and began performing simcha music at holiday events and community galas. In high school, his fantastic music teacher, Sheridan Seyfried, further nurtured Levi’s musical gifts. Seyfried would have Levi showcase his music at Kohelet Yeshiva High School’s functions and events. Levi’s favorite event was the Kohelet Cafe where he would perform live in front of his peers, school faculty, parents and community members. There, he would showcase his abilities on guitar, bass, keyboard, drums and vocals. At his high school graduation, Levi was recognized with the Performing Arts Award.
Life had taken a very positive turn for Levi. He overcame the traumatic fire, channeled his energy into music and inspired himself and his community.
Then COVID hit and all live performances went on hold. What could have brought him down only brought him up.
Levi didn’t miss a beat. He started a Youtube channel called BeatleBoy, where he posted his quarantine Beatles recordings. He would provide technical demonstrations on how to play certain Beatles songs and demonstrate the unique sounds of instruments that The Beatles used. He also joined Beatles fan groups online and made video collaborations with the Fab Four and other well-known tribute bands reaching as far as Japan.
After nearly 2 years of COVID, Levi had to make a decision about college. He was considering American schools but wanted something that was different and exciting. That’s when he began to explore the idea of going to Israel and studying at Reichman University.
Levi shared, “At home we have a book on Israel and a brochure on Reichman University. I pictured myself on the campus in Israel near the beach and the beautiful Mediterranean.” After giving it much thought, he decided to make that vision a reality.
Levi’s family is extremely close and due to COVID restrictions, he knew his parents couldn’t visit him until the travel restrictions would ease. This made it hard for him to say yes to a school in Israel. In speaking with Levi he reminded me of our time together as neighbors in Philadelphia and how our pending Aliyah was a factor in his decision to attend Reichman University.
“Aleeza, I remember your family sitting in our front yard and talking about making Aliyah. That really inspired me. I wanted to learn in Israel. It was very hard for me to go to Israel knowing my family couldn’t visit easily. But when I heard you were making Aliyah, I knew I’d have a family away from my family and a safe home to visit in Israel. And I could always visit your cute dog Koda the Kelev too!”
It was such a weird time in the world that Levi figured he may as well go for it, do something different, take a calculated leap of faith and learn in Israel at Reichman University.
He took the plunge, applied, got accepted and with his Fender Stratocaster guitar in hand, boarded a flight to Tel Aviv in the Fall of 2021.
Reflecting back, Levi commented, “When I arrived, Aleeza, you and your family welcomed me with open arms and gave me a place to quarantine. Then I was off to school to start the year.”
Fast forward to mid year, Levi got a message about RU Idol where students compete on stage with their favorite song to win the hearts of the judges and the audience. He had actually heard about RU Idol 3 years prior when he first looked into the school. He kind of fantasized about being on stage. Anni Lupu, the RU Idol event coordinator, gave Levi a nudge to apply because she had seen him perform at a Chanukah event she ran earlier in the year and knew he had the stage presence and talent.
Levi decided to apply and sent in his video audition of In My Life by The Beatles. A few weeks later he received a message notifying him he was a finalist and would be performing at the main event.
When it came to choosing a song for the main event, Levi put some thought into it. He knew it would be a Beatles song. “I’ve mastered their whole catalog,” he said. “I know my way around the fretboard like I know the back of my hand. I wanted a song that could utilize the house band really well because they are so talented. I ultimately chose Something by The Beatles because, in terms of the range of my voice, it’s smack in the middle, and it was a great choice to play with a band. For many reasons this song seemed like the right fit.”
Levi had only had one practice with the band and a sound check the day of the performance. On May 23rd, 2022 at 8pm in the Radzyner Square of Reichman University, Levi, accompanied by the house band of the Rimon School of Music, played his winning song, Something, by the Beatles.
Levi won over the Judges and the audience of a couple of hundred students with his incredibly moving performance. He not only sang but also played lead guitar alongside a band that the Rimon School of Music provided.
“It’s really full circle. The guitar I was playing on stage was the same one my mother surprised me with after the fire for my 11th birthday, from Danny’s Guitar shop in Narberth, Pennsylvania.”
Levi won the opportunity to professionally record a demo with the Rimon School of Music.
Reflecting on the whole experience, Levi says, “It’s so special to be living my dream and especially in Israel because Israel is the land of dreams. What an incredible opportunity that Reichman University provides for their students. Their collaboration with the Rimon School of Music gives budding artists the opportunity to shine.”
Levi also offers praises to the Orthodox community he is part of at school. “I really want to give a shout out to the OU-JLIC on campus because they have made my whole experience at RU so wonderful and comfortable. They make sure I have Shabbat meals to attend, a daily minyan and that I’m loved and cared for.” Levi has found a new home away from home at Reichman University.
As a new immigrant myself, I am so proud and inspired by Reichman University, Rimon School of Music and Levi Gornish. Levi has left an unforgettable mark not only on campus but throughout Israel.
May Levi continue to inspire us with his music, his perseverance and his ability to always see the ultimate good.
All event photo credits go to Adi Cohen Zedek
Yehuda Eder (Founder and President of Rimon School of Music)
Jonathan Davis (Head of the Raphael Recanati International School at Reichman University and VP of External Relations)
Carin Katz (Raphael Recanati International School Director)
Tal Azran (Head of the International Communication Program at Reichman University)
Event Coordinator: Anni Lupu
Levi Gornish: 19 years old, from Philadelphia. First year Business and Entrepreneurship student in the Raphael Recanati International School at Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel.