The Versatile Musical Repertoire of Shloime Gertner // A conversation with the talented British singer

The British chasidic singer Shloime Gertner achieved celebrity with the release of his first album, Nissim, in 2007, and he has since gained an even wider audience with the release of several other successful albums featuring songs composed by some of the most popular contemporary composers. He often performs at weddings and draws huge crowds when he appears on stage in New York and Yerushalayim.

In this wide-ranging interview with Ami, Shloime reflects on his career and personal life, including the challenges of his developmentally delayed daughter Malka’le, to whom Shloime dedicated the hit song “Kodesh Hi Lachem” on his debut album.


This isn’t meant as a criticism, chas v’shalom, but as a question. You do a lot of singing and have produced a lot of albums, but I’m not sure you’ve reached “hamenuchah v’hanachalah,” meaning a point where you can say, “This is Shloime Gertner’s signature style. This is how he’s unique.”

That’s a very fair point, and I’m not sure myself. I must say that I wouldn’t know how to define my style, because I love so many different types of music. I enjoy my “Nissim” album, with which I started my career, and I also enjoy my latest album, “Vizhnitz Inderheim.” They appeal to two different tastes. I also did a Yiddish album with Dudi Kalish, as well as an English album. I’ve done very different projects. Maybe that defines me.

The versatility?

Either that, or perhaps I enjoy being able to do different things, so if I struggled to get the songs I wanted up to a certain standard, I went over to something else, where I’m not such a maven, and I would follow the advice of Dudi Kalish or someone who understands the Vizhnitzer niggunim. We would sit down together and decide what we like.

Let’s talk about Vizhnitz. I understand that you’re a Vizhnitzer chasid.

Yes, and I grew up with Vizhnitzer niggunim.

So both you and Motty Steinmetz have that in common. You both come from Vizhnitz and perform Vizhnitzer niggunim professionally.

Correct, even though Motty grew up in Shikun Vizhnitz in Eretz Yisrael while I grew up in London and just got to nosh a little from Vizhnitz here and there. But the zemiros Shabbos that my father sang were from Vizhnitz, and we go to the Rebbe for the Yomim Nora’im. We’re very connected to the Rebbe.

The Rebbe from London?

These days there’s a Vizhnitzer Rebbe in London, to whom we also go, but we mainly go to the Rebbe in Bnei Brak.

I had the zechus to speak to the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of London, and we featured him on the cover.

I tore out the article to save it, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I’m definitely going to read it, im yirtzeh Hashem. It looked amazing.

I listened to “Vizhnitz In Der Heim” and it’s mamash Vizhnitz.

It is. It’s from the years I spent in the yeshivah by the Yeshuos Moshe 28 years ago, the highlights of the niggunim I used to hear during the tish. It was a very beautiful time. People have different tekufos in their lives, and I was very much in Vizhnitz and felt part of something very special. But I only really chapped how special it was years later, after the Rebbe was gone and there was a new Rebbe, when you suddenly feel gaaguim (yearnings) for certain moments or just the general way the Rebbe spoke, or even his personality and the way he looked, the malchus. I guess that led me to decide that I had to do the CD for the neshamah and not look at the financial aspect of whether it would be worth it or not. I spent a lot of money on it, and I didn’t make even half or even a quarter of it back. But I did a project I’m proud of, and now I feel that I can move on to do another regular album in Yiddish, English or Hebrew, whatever it is. Something more commercial.

That’s something you share with Yossi Green, who also just produced an album of old niggunim, those of Reb Berish Vishover. Even though he composed for several rebbes, he was a Vishover chasid, so he’s from the Vizhnitzer cheder.

Yes. Yossi Green is quite connected to Vizhnitz; he’s connected musically. He enjoys a lot of the niggunim.

You used the word “neshamah,” while what came to my mind was the word “hartz,” although maybe it’s the same thing. Vizhnitzer music certainly has both. How do you define the Vizhnitzer style?

Very hartzig, very heilig and very musical.

And very Shabbosdig?

Vizhnitz always lived with Shabbos. The Imrei Chaim would wait for Pesach all year; he was very connected to both Pesach and Shabbos. On the words “Ilu he’echilanu es haman v’lo nasan lanu es haShabbos, dayeinu,” he said that that dayeinu has to be said bitmiyah (with a question mark). Dayeinu? That’s not possible. He was always talking about Shabbos.

The Seder was a major thing for him. I spoke to the Toldos Avraham Yitzchak Rebbe about the Imrei Chaim, and he told me something very interesting, that while the Imrei Chaim spoke about the Seder almost every Shabbos, on the surface the Seder itself was unremarkable. One couldn’t detect anything unusual happening.

The Imrei Chaim was a very sharfe person, which is why he got on so well with the Beis Yisrael.

Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Mozes told me that he was very connected to both the Imrei Chaim and the Beis Yisrael, and he served as a bridge between them.

The Beis Yisrael was mattir neder on the Friday he went to the Imrei Chaim’s levayah, because he would never leave Yerushalayim on a Friday. He went to a beis din to do it so he could go and come back.

What do you define as your contribution to Jewish music? Would you go so far as to say that you contribute something unique?

I think that what I contribute isn’t a new path in music. There are some people who have a chiddush; they pave a new way. I’m definitely not that person. But I do bring simchah to the music. I’m trying to do what music does—just to be jolly about it—which is really what a person should be in this world. We should feel very fortunate for everything we have, whatever Hashem gives us. The biggest proof is that we start with Modeh Ani in the morning and then move on to all the brachos in which we thank Hashem for every detail: Hameichin mitzadei gaver, Pokeiach ivrim.

I have a daughter, Malka’le, for whom I wrote the song “Malka’le,” and by the time I get to Pokeiach Ivrim and Hameichin Mitzadei Gaver, which are brachos that she can’t say, I feel that I’m already miles ahead in thanking Hashem. We’re already in minus territory klapei shamayim because of how lucky we are to be able to walk to the sink. By the time I’ve brushed my teeth in the morning… I can’t say I always feel that way, but b’etzem we should feel that we’re on top of the world with the siyata dishamaya we have. It’s a huge thing to have hakaras hatov and realize that Hashem is mamash showering us with so much good all the time, more and more and more. If I can bring that out in my music, I’m a winner.

I have a song like “Shmaichel” to make people smile. I also have a song like “Malka’le” [also known as “Kodesh Hi Lachem”] to bring regesh, but it’s not a sad regesh, it’s a heilige, Shabbosdike regesh. It has become a household song on Shabbos.

Someone told me that what’s unique about you is that your regeshdige songs aren’t depressing.

I try to keep away from that, but there are sometimes songs that are very haunting. Right now I’m in middle of working on a song with Yossi Green that I’ve really had since “Nissim” but never released. My biggest debate is that I don’t know where it’s pulling me. I feel like it’s a bit haunting. It’s a beautiful song, but I can’t decide whether to use it or not. It’s interesting you’re saying that because I feel that way b’etzem. When I judge a song, I feel what it’s doing to me and what the message is. How am I talking to the crowd? How am I connecting to the oilam? Am I putting them in a regesh spot, or am I pulling them down? I’m not looking to make anyone sad.

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