Back in high school, before I was observant, I made a discovery. In the CD player of my car was music that I ended up listening to almost every day as I drove home from school my senior year. I would jam out to the music with my friend who I drove home. Even though neither of us knew the words, we would make them up to try to sound like what we heard. The CD was presumably left by my brother, who was religious and studying in Israel at the time. I would later find out the CD was titled Yedid by Yaakov Shwekey, who I had never heard of at the time, but who would become an integral part of my life.
He wasn’t integral as in a day couldn’t go by without hearing his music, but rather it gave me my first exposure to current Jewish music; I shortly thereafter started becoming more observant (although not directly because of his music). My growth in observance started in college when I would also keep up with Shwekey’s music. When I studied abroad in Israel I went to multiple Shwekey concerts. At one of those concerts I miraculously got a cheap first-row seat and got to touch his hand (real groupie status). That topped my coolest Shwekey experiences, at least for a while.
I might come off as loving Shwekey too much, seeing him as an idol, or to a lesser extent a role model, but that is not how I really feel. On the surface, I just really like his music, and so many of his songs are catchy and entertaining, I can listen to them on replay for months at a time (and often do). However, so many of the songs’ meanings and intentions is what tends to inspire me for long periods of time. Other Jewish music can do the same, but I have found an unusually large number of Shwekey songs have that effect on me. When I feel down or helpless, I can just listen to a song and many times I start feeling better immediately. That is one of the positive effects of music. Another is the powerful song lyrics, many of which are taken from various parts of the Torah.
I do not see Yaakov Shwekey as my idol or even as my role model for a couple key reasons. First, I don’t think it is healthy to idolize any type of celebrity, even someone in the Jewish world. Second, I do not believe someone whom a person has never met should be their role model. Nowadays, many people’s role models are politicians, athletes or celebrities, and I find it distasteful. Just because you see how a famous person acts in public, you do not know who they really are. To know who someone really is, you must know who they are on an individual basis and how they act when other people are not around. You can see someone one way, yet they could be a completely different person in their private life. Not to mention how most celebrities live extremely unethical lives. Hopefully everyone has a family member, or someone in their life they can look up to as a role model.
It has now been over a decade of listening, and with every new song comes new inspiration and enjoyment. One of my dreams over the years was somehow to get Shwekey to sing at my wedding. I never actually thought that would end up happening, but you never know. As my wedding approached I figured it wasn’t going to happen since I never got to meet him. Yet, at my wedding the closest thing happened. The daughters of a rabbi I know told me there was a surprise. Then during a hiatus of dancing at my wedding, the rabbi played a voice message to the crowd. It was from Yaakov Shwekey, wishing me and wife a Mazal Tov and thanking us for listening to his music. That was cool.
Fast forward a few months and I am currently living in Israel. So, what did I do when I found out Shwekey is having a concert in Tel Aviv next month? I signed up right away and am excited to go to see him live for the first time since I studied abroad in Israel. While it’s doubtful I will get as wonderful of a surprise as I got at my wedding, I can be certain that it will be an amazing concert. I am also certain that I will keep enjoying his music for years to come.