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Tuesday
Jun282016

STIRRING SOULS THROUGH MUSIC

Who doesn’t know the musical Piamenta family, famous for spreading the wellsprings through music? This time, we are not referring to the brothers, Yossi a”h and Avi, but to R’ Avi and his son Yehuda. Yehuda follows in his father’s footsteps and plays the flute. * We asked them to tell us about the father-son shlichus, each from his perspective. * Shlichus through music. 

By Yaron Tzvi

Photos by Boruch EzaguiIt was very hard to arrange to see RAvi Piamenta and his son Yehuda at the same time. No, not because RYehuda lives in Crown Heights and his father lives in Kfar Chabad. The geographic distance is not that important since RAvi is often in the US. The problem is that both of them are very busy performing. RAvi is immersed in hafatza through his music.

It should be said that “spreading the wellsprings” through music is different than any other form of hafatza since music has a dimension like nothing else. Just as we say, “Great is imbibing that draws close,” we can say the same thing about music.

R’ Yehuda is also very busy in the same kind of work after growing up and absorbing Chassidus and niggunim in his father’s house.

Ultimately, we managed, with difficulty, to get both father and son for a fascinating talk about music, about their shlichus, and the connection between father and son.

MUSICAL CHILDHOOD

We began with R’ Yehuda and asked him to tell us what it was like to grow up in a musical household.

“I am named Yehuda for my grandfather, a special person, an Israeli, who was one of the founders of Unit 101, the most elite unit of the IDF. He was musical too, but the pioneer in the family, when it came to music, was his brother, Uncle Albert, the first one to combine Eastern and Western music. He also ran a music school in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Thousands of musicians were trained by him.

“I was born in New York and grew up in Crown Heights. When I was eleven we moved to Eretz Yisroel. I learned in the yeshiva in Kiryat Gat and then after K’vutza in 770 I learned in Brunoy. At that time, friends who learned in Venice by R’ Rami Banin arranged a Purim party and asked me to come and perform. That is how my first connection with Venice began, which continues until today.

“I began playing music at age nine or ten. What inspired me was a song that my father played and I felt I had to know how to play it. I began practicing diligently and every time I got stuck, I would ask my father. That is how I learned how to play. I never formally studied music with a teacher or in a school.

“Our first joint performance was at the Klezmer Festival in Tzfas when I was eleven.”

MUSIC IS A FANTASTIC HAFATZA TOOL

For Lubavitchers, a profession and mivtzaim are not two separate things.

“I have used music a lot in mivtzaim,” said R’ Yehuda. “Here’s a story from my smicha year in Venice to illustrate.

“One day, we saw a lot of security people in the area of the Chabad House and knew that some important person was coming to visit. We didn’t know who. Later we found out it was Ehud Barak who came to visit on his way to the Jewish ghetto. We wanted to meet him but the security people did not allow us to get close. I decided that the minute he approached we would surprise him and go toward him dancing and singing ‘Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem.’ I played on my flute while the other guys sang behind me. It worked! Ehud and his entourage went into the Chabad House and even posed for a picture.

“When we saw how it worked with Ehud Barak’s group, we decided to do the same thing with groups of Israelis who came every day. The surprise always worked in our favor. When they didn’t know what hit them, we had already put t’fillin on with them and shared with them a Chassidic vort.”

R’ Avi nodded in affirmation. He has many similar examples:

“I am part of a rotation of activists that do mivtzaim at the mivtzaim counter in the airport. One day, I met an Israeli guy who was flying and I asked him whether he’d put on t’fillin; he declined. I tried to get into a conversation with him. ‘I’ve never put on t’fillin and never will,’ he declared.

“When you hear that the person is a karkafta, you feel it is a propitious moment when you can make a real difference. I asked myself, what can I do now? As I was thinking, he suddenly said to me, ‘There is someone I know in Kfar Chabad.’ I was taken aback.

“‘Who do you know?’ I asked.

“‘Avi Piamenta,’ he said.

“I was stunned. ‘And how do you know him?’ I asked, before I told him who I was. He said, ‘I was at a concert of his a few months ago at the Barby club in Tel Aviv.’

“I said, ‘If I would tell you I am Avi Piamenta, would you put on t’fillin?’

“He said, ‘No, there is no connection between the two things.’

“I said, ‘You know what? I’ll make you a deal. There is a song I recorded which has never been heard before. I am willing to send you this song and for this, you will put t’fillin on now, okay?’ He looked at me, thought it over, and said, ‘It’s a deal.’

“He rolled up his sleeve and put on t’fillin for the first time in his life.

“What amazing divine providence. At that performance in Tel Aviv, I just happened to mention that I live in Kfar Chabad. I did not imagine what that would lead to.”

Just two months ago, something incredible happened to R’ Avi, like something out of a Baal Shem Tov story.

“I went to Mexico for a Beis Nissan event that I was invited to. I took fruit along on my flight to New York so I’d have something to eat. When I landed in NY, I still had some fruit which has to be declared at the airport. The Customs official sent me to the Agricultural Inspection desk where they were supposed to examine me and my fruits. I chalked this up to divine providence and went where they sent me. A black guy with a big smile was there. On his shirt was his name, Ahmed.

“His smile did away with the uncomfortable feeling I had. He politely asked me how I was and then said, ‘You are Jewish. I have a Jewish friend. What do you think about talking to him?’ I said fine, and he immediately called his friend, someone from Boro Park. When he heard my name he was excited and said that since he was a kid he listened to my music. He said that his friend, the customs inspector, loves Jews and looks for ways to help them.

“After speaking a bit I gave the phone back to the inspector and began talking to him. He was from Egypt. I suggested we talk a little in Arabic and we exchanged some words in Arabic. As we spoke, I asked him about his family and to my shock, his maternal grandmother was Jewish! Her daughter, his mother, married a gentile and became Moslem but her mother was Jewish. I said to him, ‘Well then, you are Jewish!’

“I asked to speak to his friend again and I asked him whether he knew that his friend the officer is Jewish. ‘Nah, can’t be, you’re mistaken,’ he said. I told him, ‘Ask him a few questions and you will see that he is Jewish.’ He spoke to him and realized I was right. I asked the friend in Boro Park to convince him to go with me to a side room where I could put t’fillin on him, for the first time in his life. Ahmed agreed. I left my luggage on the side and we went to a room where I rolled up his sleeve and put t’fillin on him. The officer was very emotional.

“What a sight, one worthy of Yemos HaMoshiach. In the end, he gave me the phone number of his friend in Boro Park and it was up to me to keep up a connection with him. What incredible divine providence that was.”

R’ Avi has numerous stories and examples that illustrate how through music you can reach people and places that ordinarily it would be hard to get to:

“Nine years ago, I performed at a bar mitzva in Vienna by a very distinguished family. They are modern people who have connections with people in high places. The prime minister of Austria attended the event as a guest and enjoyed our music. Afterward, during a break, he came over and expressed his appreciation.

“By divine providence, I had a Sheva Mitzvos card on me in English that had a picture of the Rebbe. I said a few words to him about the Seven Noachide Laws and explained that one who learns, keeps, and spreads this is guaranteed to be successful in whatever he does and will always vanquish his enemies. I gave him the card and he shook my hand and put the card in his pocket.

“Another incident occurred during the period when the Rebbe spoke a lot about the Israeli Prime Minister Shamir standing strong against the pressure being exerted on him, and it was feared that Shamir would not hold up. At that time, I was invited to perform at Queens College. Shamir was also invited; he was visiting the US at the time. He arrived at the event surrounded by security who did not allow anyone to enter the safety zone around him. We stood on the stage and performed and suddenly, they invited Shamir up to speak. Unexpectedly, there I was, within the secure zone with security men surrounding us on every side and Shamir walking past me. I stepped into his path so that he had to encounter me and I shook his hand and said, ‘The Rebbe wants and blesses you that you stand strong!’ He shook my hand with both his hands and said, ‘Thank you!’

“Another time, divine providence had us performing in the United Nations, of all places. There is a musician, Stan Getz, a famous saxophonist. Many years ago, when he came to Eretz Yisroel to play at a festival as a guest of the State of Israel, we became acquainted. It reached a point where he postponed other performances of his in Europe in order to stay with us and record an entire album together. We convinced him to put on t’fillin and from this encounter a video was produced, which was seen all over the world in which he tells how his encounter with me aroused his pintele Yid.

“His wife had a senior position at the UN. In 5751, during the Gulf War, she arranged a huge event at the UN and invited us to represent Israel, not through the State of Israel but directly. I brought some bachurim from 770 with me and we performed at the UN with the Rebbe’s bracha. We felt that we were carrying out the Rebbe’s shlichus and that the Rebbe was working through us. We played with the intention of carrying out what the Rebbe wants.

“A year later, on Parshas Mishpatim 5752, the Rebbe spoke about the fact that the UN was built at the beginning of the nesius in 5711, and how on the building it says the prophecy about peace in the era of Geula, ‘and they will beat their swords into plowshares.’ He explained how everything that happens in the world is a direct result of what it says in Torah.”

FATHER AND SON – MUSICAL SHLICHUS

“It’s interesting to see that what makes the strongest impression is usually something you did not plan; on the contrary, people are amazed by things that you yourself did not pay attention to.

“We see how people are very moved to see the closeness and chemistry between us. It does something inexplicable for them and makes an impression, and we have the principle that we are assured that promotional activity will produce results.”

R’ Avi:

“Yehuda was with me at the Rebbe’s farbrengens until late at night. He was with me in 770 when we sang Didan Natzach. It’s hard to describe what was going on there; the singing was non-stop for days and nights. It’s not something every child merits because they weren’t normal hours for children. I’m sure he absorbed a lot from it. When the Rebbetzin passed away, we were notified at five in the morning. I immediately got up and woke Yehuda up too. He was seven years old. I took him with me to the mikva and we had the z’chus of passing by the kitchen in the Rebbe’s house near the Rebbetzin. They only allowed in those who had been to the mikva and since we both had been, we passed by.

“Today, when we were in Manhattan, Yehuda told me a moving story about a person he met on the subway eight years ago. Yehuda would go on mivtzaim in the Wall Street area. One day, he met a young man in the subway and suggested that he put on t’fillin in the subway and that he would take a picture of him. He loved the idea. In the meantime, they missed their stop and had to get off at another stop and take a train back. As they were going up the stairs to get to the other side of the platform, they met an older man coming down the stairs toward them. When they asked him whether he would put on t’fillin, he said no, this was not the place to do it. ‘If you want,’ he said, ‘here is my business card. Come to my office next week and I will put t’fillin on with you.’

“When they went the following week, the man told them that he used to put on t’fillin when he was younger, until he was drafted into the American army when he was 23. Then he stopped. ‘When I met you last Friday morning, I thought, the time has come for me to start putting on t’fillin again, but I don’t remember how to do it.’ This is another example of how Hashem runs the world.

“The story isn’t over. Over the years, the man bought himself t’fillin, and they taught him how to put them on, but he wanted to put them on only with their help. They noticed that every time they brought it up, he would dodge the subject. After a while they pressed him and pressed him until he finally explained his hesitancy. ‘I am afraid that as soon as I put t’fillin on by myself, you will stop visiting me.’

“When they promised to continue visiting him, he agreed to put them on on his own. The man is 82 and for four years now he is putting t’fillin on by himself.

“I don’t stop thanking G-d,” says R’ Avi, “like in the Chabad song, ‘Ashreinu Ma Tov Chelkeinu.’ The fact that I had the privilege of coming to the Rebbe and to Chassidus is not something to be taken for granted. Boruch Hashem, my children are shluchim around the world. My daughter Genia is on shlichus with her husband Amichai Suued, my daughter Chana is on shlichus in Nicaragua with her husband Dudu Atar where they just finished building the first mikva in the country.

“For many people, their wish is for their son to grow up and become a doctor or a successful lawyer. By us, we pray that our children become shluchim of the Rebbe. Of all my grandchildren, only two are in Eretz Yisroel. The rest are on shlichus around the world. I don’t get to see them grow up, but boruch Hashem, I get to see them growing on shlichus and that is the greatest joy.

“Yehuda is also involved with charidy.com which helps Chabad Houses and charity organizations raise large amounts of money in 24 hours. What used to take years is raised in 24 hours. I view this as a Geula tool that the Rebbe brought to the world. Shluchim can devote more of their time to the shlichus itself and less time to fundraising. I advise every shliach or menahel of a mosad to contact Yehuda and realize his dream.

“The Rebbe says that all aspects of Geula have been completed and all we need to do is open our eyes. This tool, Charidy, is one of the Geula things that I see.

“My son, Menachem Mendel, is also involved with music. He is a madrich in the yeshiva in Buffalo and he also composes and writes songs, and all of this gives me joy, Chassidic joy.”

IN THE PRESENCE OF THE REBBE

We cannot write an article about R’ Avi Piamenta without telling about the music which brought him into the Rebbe’s holy presence. I asked him to tell us about his performance in 770:

“My brother a”h and I came to the Rebbe through R’ JJ Hecht. The performance in the Rebbe’s presence came about because of a concert we did for a Chabad House in California thirty-five years ago. R’ Hecht heard about us and said, ‘You need to play for the Rebbe.’ We were an Israeli band who did not look Chassidic, to say the least. Still, he invited us to play for the Rebbe. It was highly unusual that musicians like us should come and play in a place like 770. Following that we performed at children’s rallies in the Rebbe’s presence too, at kos shel bracha, and at Lag B’Omer parades in front of 770. What an incredible z’chus.

“I remember this anecdote until today. We were playing and the Rebbe was encouraging us with his hand motions. The Rebbe was motioning faster and faster and we had to pick up the pace. I reached a work together. I was focused exclusively on the Rebbe’s hands without thinking about the other instruments, and played according to the Rebbe’s motions. That was one of my hiskashrus experiences with the Rebbe – going according to the pace he set, not to dampen the excitement and speed that the Rebbe encouraged. Perhaps it’s symbolic but I pray that I go at the Rebbe’s pace in everything and in the main thing – kabbalas p’nei Moshiach Tzidkeinu b’karov mamash.”

 

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