Tuesday, June 11, 2019

"They stole it from us."

8 Sivan 5779.

For Goldie. May you be comforted.

Reb Velvel Pasternak, zt"l. Photo credit: Naava Pasternak Swirsky
Oh, man.

I hurt every time light and music leave the world.

In 1986 or so, the Dearly Beloved and I began to become enmeshed in All Things Jewish.

We didn't know where this would lead us — but we were entranced. Part of what grabbed us was the music. And the humor. And the love of culture, old and new.

One friend gave us books to help us on our path toward understanding. Another gave us cassette tapes. (Remember those?) One of the most precious was a lecture by Velvel Pasternak about the origins and history of Hasidic music. I think I listened to it a hundred times. His humor and his love of all things Jewish made Reb Velvel's class a lot deeper than "bidee-bum-bidee-bee." I fell in love with the music of my European ancestors, and felt as if I had a door into my people's culture. Spouting bits of wisdom from Reb Velvel's lecture made me sound as if I understood a little about Jewish music, and that gave me a foot in the door...

I remember our wonder when Reb Velvel taught about music that was "rescued" from non-Jewish sources, music discovered floating outside the windows of churches and taverns, that later found expression in holy Jewish niggunim. (You think we invented "Maoz Tzur," right? It came from "Rock of Ages," a very not-Jewish hymn. Some Jewish farmer was walking past a church after plowing his field, and suddenly, a lovely tune filled his mind and soul. All he had to do was put words to the music in his heart...)

"If it's used in a Jewish way, it becomes Jewish," Reb Velvel intoned. And how we laughed when he quoted an elderly Jewish man regarding the tune of a niggun which proved to have a non-Jewish source: "Don't vorry. Zeh stole it from uns."

Years later, after a few more wonderful teachers and much blessing, my family and I were able to make aliyah as full-fledged members of the Jewish tribe.

Ruti and Shira. Photo credit: a kind Israeli passerby
The passion I had since childhood found expression at last: a word-person without any particularly grand ideas of her own finally had What To Say, thanks to the holy land of Israel. And I found other writers who shared my vision about this precious land and its people, and we became friends...

And one of those friends was the daughter of Reb Velvel — because God loves to put people's hearts together.

Shira Pasternak Be'eri is one of the people I consider to be a gift to the Jewish family. Like her dear father, her heart swells and beats and dances for the Jewish people. She takes such pride in encouraging and teaching. She is known in the J-Blogosphere as the Fairy Blog Mother. Even when she has been going through the loss of her father — for such loss never happens overnight, in an eyeblink — she has continued to pop up in our writers' community, encouraging a writer who is just starting out, teaching another about the ins-and-outs of publishing, reminding the "old hands" to read the stuff of newcomers and to comment, to keep the fire burning...

Just like her dad.

May those who know continue to teach and encourage.

May those who are privileged to learn remember the source of their wisdom.

Thank you, Reb Velvel, for all the gifts you have added to the world of music, of writing, of ahavat Yisrael. May you rest in peace.


  1. Ruti, your gift of showing us your heart through your words gives such comfort at this difficult time. BIG LOVE.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. May all who knew and loved this great man be comforted. <3

  2. Heartfelt reminiscence of a humble, kind, down-to-earth man who made it his life's mission to rescue Jewish music and keep it alive. I had the privilege of meeting him once a year at a music seminar where he was a vendor. May his entrance into the next world be met by a heavenly chorus of the music he preserved.

  3. A very nice double tribute. I ditto on Shira, a most generous m'ferginet in the blogger world. Besides her own talents.