“What are we even doing here today?” asked Yossi Green, a well-known staple in the Orthodox music scene. He had just arrived at his newly renovated post-Sandy home in Sea Gate, Brooklyn from a trip to Chicago. A suitcase still packed and by the door, he was about to perform for a group of developmentally disabled Orthodox young men who were already 15 minutes late. It wasn’t that he was unprepared; it was that he doesn’t need to prepare.
Before I arrived I was told that Green can connect with anyone; a gift, he later explained, given to him by God. When the nine men—with kippot, payot, and the warmest smiles to ever grace the greater New York area—walked in already singing and dancing in anticipation of Green’s short concert, I began to see what he meant.
Green and the men shook hands and hugged, and he asked them what they wanted to hear. In a mixture of languages, the men, some more externally excited than others, shouted out their requests. “How about something in Yiddish?” was heard more than once. When Green played his first song, they hit the dance floor (a small space in the living room between their chairs and the wooden piano). One young man used his fist as a microphone, another put his hand on his ear and sang Green’s song like it was a Mariah Carey power ballad.
The group leaders watched with eyes widened. They work for Harmony Services in Borough Park, but this particular program is known as Kinor David. Many of the leaders are volunteers, or “angels that walk among us,” as Green described them, who staff day trips like this one. This group of men is very musically oriented, I was told, and the chance to see Green in such an intimate setting was a very big deal.
After an hour, Green began to play “Anovim,” his signature closing song. With arms outstretched toward the sky, the men sang along with their unceasing energy. They linked arms with one another and swayed as Green played. They walked toward the piano and two of the men joined Green on the piano bench. They sang an encore of the closing verse and then asked questions, all at once. And just as when they arrived, they shook hands, hugged, and shouted out which songs had been their favorites.
The group leader, Shmuel Russell, gathered the men and motioned them toward the van outside. A few lingered to schmooze and soak up a few more moments with the virtuoso, but then they were gone. To me, an hour that I might soon forget, but for them, Green explained, an unforgettable moment.
Yossi Green from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.
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Romy Zipken is a writer and editor at Jewcy. Her Twitter feed is @RomyZipken.