Moishele Good Shabbos

A good story takes you back in time.

A holy story doesn't have to, it keeps on taking place.

I’m writing this on the yahrzeit [memorial anniversary] of R’ Moshe Heschel, also known as “Moishele Good Shabbos”.

While attending a wedding of dear friends just a few years ago, our lives changed forever. Before telling you exactly why, we need to journey back in time, and open our hearts to one of the most powerful moments in Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s life.

For now, I hand over the reins to Rav Shlomo himself and leave him to tell the story as only he can…

Reb Shlomo ztz'l:

Watch the video here

I don’t want to tell you sad stories, it's not really sad, maybe a little bit, but it’s also a gevalt. Every person needs a Rebbe. Sometimes you meet somebody and it mamesh reaches you so much that it mamesh carries you your whole life. So one of my Rebbes, whom I saw just twice or three times in my life, was a Yid and his name was Reb Moshe.

My father was a Rabbi in Baden bei Wien, in Austria, and here comes 1938. I don’t want to mention their name, the other side began to take over. In Germany it was not so dangerous yet to walk on the street, but in Vienna it was mamesh dangerous from the first day on. Yidden couldn’t go to shul anymore, especially my father.

So on Shabbos morning it was only dangerous from eight o’clock on, but between 5am and 8am it was less dangerous, and my father would make a minyan in the house. People would come at six o’clock and would mamesh daven [pray] so fast. Kriyas Hatorah [the reading of the weekly Torah portion] would also go by real fast because everyone wanted to be home before 8am.

My brother and I were little kids. When you don’t see people all week long, you are mamesh hungry to see a person. So I remember my twin brother and I, we were nearly up all Friday night. We couldn’t wait, we wanted to open the door for the minyan that would come in the morning.

There was usually a knock at the door, and we would see a Yid standing there with such fear. I would open the door just a little bit and he would slip through the door, and then I would close it real fast.

But then one Shabbos – I remember it was Parshas Bamidbar – there was a knock, and I went to open the door. I’ll never forget it. I see a Yid with little peyis [sideburns], and little beard. But this Yid? He’s not afraid. He started singing:

“Good Shabbos, good Shabbos. Good Shabbos, good Shabbos. Good Shabbos, good Shabbos. Good Shabbos, good Shabbos. Good Shabbos, good Shabbos. Good Shabbos, good Shabbos. Oy, good Shabbos, good Shabbos, good Shabbos.”

This Yid was mamesh in another world.

He walked in, and he walks up and down and the whole time he is singing, “Good Shabbos, good Shabbos!”

Then he turns to me – I’m a little boy – and he signs to me in Yiddish, continuing the melody, “What is your name, what is your name?”

I didn’t want to, G-d forbid, stop the melody, so I answered him back, singing, “My name is Shlomo, what is your name?”

He said, “Moishele, good Shabbos. Good Shabbos, good Shabbos. Good Shabbos, oy good Shabbos. Good Shabbos, good Shabbos.”

So my brother and I called him “Moishele Good Shabbos”.

Moishele came in for the minyan and we began to daven fast. Basically, when it comes to Nishmas Kol Chai [a key part of the Shabbat morning service] you are not permitted to talk, but obviously Reb Moishele just couldn’t hold back. He said to the chazzan, “Prayers are supposed to go up, but the way you are davening is making everything go down because you are davening so fast.” And he was crying. “Yiddelach,” he says, “maybe this is the last Shabbos we will have in our lives. Is this the way to say Nishmas Kol Chai?”

So the chazzan said, “I don’t know any better.”

I’ll remember it till Mashiach is coming. Moishele walked up to the amud [spot from which the chazzan leads the service] and started singing: “Nishmas Kol Chai Tevarech Es Shimcha Hashem Elokeinu Veru'ach Kol Basar Tefa'er Useromem...” and he was using the same tune he walked into the house singing.

He davened the whole davening with this niggun [tune]. The repetition, Kedushah [another central part of the daily service], everything. Then they read the Torah, and by that time it was already 10:30, but nobody mamesh cared. Moishele mamesh lifted up everyone, nobody had fear anymore.

Finally the davening was over at around 11, and my mother brought in wine to make Kiddush. Now I want you to know, the windows were always closed and the shades were down. Moishele says, “When you make Kiddush, you have to open the windows. You have to say Kiddush for the whole world.”

People started saying, “Moishele, this is just too much. The people in the street want to kill us.”

“Who are they?” Moishele says, “The children of Esav? They are our cousins. You know why Esav is Esav? Because he forgot what Shabbos is. Maybe if some Yid would scream V’shamru B’Nei Yisrael Es haShabbos [“And the Children of Israel will keep Shabbat” – recited as part of Shabbat morning Kiddush], maybe Esav will remember what he learned by his father Yitzchak.”

Moishele opened the windows. He was standing by the window. You could mamesh see the Germans walking up and down the street. He mamesh had the wine outside of the window, and he was singing with that same melody:

“V’shamru B’nei Yisroel Es haShabbos...”

After davening, my parents invited him to eat with us, and Moishele began telling us his story, with so much tzniy’us and anava [modesty], half telling, half not telling. “I want you to know,” he says, “I am on the blacklist of the Germans.” It was then that my family realises that we recognised Moishele. His picture was on every street corner. It said: “The most wanted Jew by the Furor”. What was his crime? If you remember, thousands of Yidden were arrested and nebech, their wives and children were dying from hunger. Moishele was up all night carrying food to every house.

This was Parshas Bamidbar, and on Pesach (approximately two months prior), he brought matzah to 2 000 families in Vienna.

He told us that one night, they caught him and hit him over the head, but at the last moment, he said that the Ribbono Shel Olam gave him strength and he somehow managed to turn away and run off. “So during the day I cannot walk on the street, so I’ll stay here till Shabbos goes out.”

Before he left, he turned to us and said, “I want to come here again, most probably I’ll come Wednesday night.” Now friends, I want you to know how Shabbosdik [Shabbat conscious] he was. He says, “I’ll come Wednesday night and it will be around 4 o’clock in the morning, and I will knock on the door seven times l’Kovod Shabbos [in honour of Shabbos] and you will know it's me.”

Wednesday night came and I mamesh could not sleep all night, waiting for Moishele Good Shabbos to come.

At around 4:30am we hear mamesh a subtle knock, seven times. We open the door and Moishele is standing by the door singing:

“Good Shabbos, good Shabbos, good Shabbos, good Shabbos, good Shabbos, good Shabbos, good Shabbos!”

We asked him where this niggun was from. Moishele told us that he was in Lublin on Rosh Hashana, davening with the Breslover chassidim [a free-spirited Chassidic sect, founded by revered 18th century mystic, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and known for their spontaneous joy]. He heard this niggun from the old chassidim who told him this was the niggun which Reb Nachman himself davened too. It was the first time we ever heard of Reb Nachman.

He stayed in our house all night long, singing. That was the last time I saw him.

We left for America and my brother I went to Mesivtah Toras VaDa'as [a famous yeshiva high school]. Everyone who came to the Mesivtah… we mamesh taught them Moishele’s Niggun.

Later on I had the privilege of meeting so many young people, especially in San Francisco. I had the house of love and prayer, it was a gevalt. I want you to know, this niggun turned on hundreds of thousands of people to Shabbos. You wouldn’t believe it.

The most important thing is that I taught all those kids that even on Wednesday night we say good Shabbos. We are living in an age before Mashiach, and we cannot wait till Shabbos to say good Shabbos. You can say good Shabbos all the time.

Anyway, this all took place 1938, and in the meantime, time is flying. And I don’t want to tell you bad things but just open your hearts. A few years ago I was walking in Tel Aviv on Ben Yehuda Street, by the Yarkon River. Suddenly a Yiddele from Vienna see me. “Aren’t you Shlomo Carlebach?” he asks me, and I said, “Yes.” Then he asks me: “Do you remember Moishele – you know, Moishele from Vienna?”

Somehow it struck me and I said, “You mean Moishele Good Shabbos? Is he still alive?”

He says to me, “There’s a little park by the river, let’s walk down there and I’ll tell you the story.”

“I want you to know,” he began, as we walked along, “I was one the closest friends of Moishele Good Shabbos.”

(By the way, I thought my brother and I were the only ones who called him Moishele Good Shabbos. Obviously, everyone called him that. All of Vienna called him Moishele Good Shabbos.)

“Moishele finally got himself a false passport, an English passport,” the man continued. “Moishele had two children, a little boy and a little girl. He, his wife and two children were sitting on the train leaving Austria, with a passport to go to London. And I was there on the train with him. His wife kept on begging him, ‘Moishele, please don’t sing,’ and he was singing this niggun non-stop. ‘Please,’ she said, ‘don’t make any noise. Wait until we leave the border.’

“The train is slowly leaving, but Moishele couldn’t hold back. ‘I have to sing Good Shabbos one more time to say so long to Vienna, I have to say goodbye to the city where my family had so many high moments on Shabbos.’ He opened the window and started singing one last time: ‘Good Shabbos, good Shabbos, good Shabbos, good Shabbos.’

“The most heartbreaking thing happened. Since his picture was all over the city, one of the people on the train recognised him and called over one of the Germans. They stopped the train and dragged off Moishele.

“And I swear to you,” this Yiddele concluded. “Moishele didn’t stop singing ‘Good Shabbos’ till that final whip which killed him.

Now I want you to know something incredible.

A few years later, I was supposed to go to do a concert in Manchester on a Sunday. I decided to leave Tel Aviv Friday morning, spend Shabbos in London, and then on Sunday, I would go to Manchester.

While we are flying, they announce that there is a gas strike in London and they are landing in Zürich. They said they would arrange transport for passengers from Zürich to London, but it would be a minimum 16-hour delay. This was on Friday afternoon.

So one Yid who was sitting next to me says, “Why don’t you got to Antwerp for Shabbos and from there, there will be a ship that leaves at six o’clock in the morning and gets to London at 12pm, and from there you can go to Manchester.” This Yid who is sitting next to me on the plane invites me for Shabbos and I say “Yes” – so I end up in Antwerp.

It’s two hours before Shabbos, and I’m on the streets of Antwerp. Suddenly, someone walks up to me. I know this face, but I didn’t know who this person was. He was so sweet. He says to me, “Shloimele, come to my house for Shabbos.”

I told him, “Thank you zise Yiddele, I’m already going to this Yiddele who I met on the plane, but give me your telephone number, if I have a Melaveh Malka [post-Shabbat celebration], I’ll invite you.” So he writes down his number, along with his name – “Lazer Heschel”.

When I got back to my host, I asked him, “Who is this Heschel?” He said to me, “Don’t you know, he’s the son of Moishe Heschel – Moishele Good Shabbos.”

Gevalt, I couldn’t believe it.

We have a Melaveh Malka, and this Lazer Heschel shows up. I ask him, “Do you know your tatty’s [father’s] niggun?”

“What niggun?” he says to me.

The most heartbreaking thing was that he was too small to remember. Suddenly it became so clear to me that the whole gas strike in London was only so that I should be in Antwerp to teach him his father's niggun. I taught him Moishele’s Niggun.

And then I remembered.

The last time I saw Moishele, before he walked out our house, he was standing by the door for a long time and he sang with this same niggun:

“Tzur Yisroel Kume Be'ezras Yisrael Ufdei Chinumecha Yehuda Veyisroel.…” [“Rock of Israel, rise up to help Israel, and set free as you have promised…”]

He looked at us and said, “Promise me you will teach this niggun to everyone you meet. Teach your children.” And then he said, “Teach my children.”

What do we know friends?

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994)

Back to 2010...

We were invited to the wedding of dear friends, which took place on the outskirts of Beit Shemesh.

The wedding was awesome. There were Chassidim in shtreimels and colourful hippies singing and dancing together, and it was incredible.

Our dear friend and teacher, Rabbi Sholom Brodt, had the zchus [merit] to marry off the couple.

After the chuppah, a young Chassidishe Yid, a princely looking Chassid, came up to Reb Sholom asking him if that was the tune of “Moishele Good Shabbos” that he’d sung for the brachas [blessings] under the chuppah. R Sholom confirmed that it was and inquired why he was asking.

“I am Moishele’s great-grandson,” the young Chassid answered. “It's my great-grandfather's niggun. How do you know it?”

We all began to come up to this very young, shy, humble Yid. We couldn’t believe it… we felt we were all part of the story. One by one, we came up to him, bursting with utter simcha [joy] and total amazement. This young Chassid had never experienced anything like this, and hinted to me that this was very overwhelming for him.

How do I begin to explain to him who his great-grandfather is to us, and to thousands and thousands more, touched to the depths of their souls by Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s famous story? How do I begin to explain to him that thousands of Yiddelach daven to his great-grandfather's niggun every day, every Shabbos, every holiday? How do I begin to give over to him who his great-grandfather was to our Rebbe?

He approached me a few minutes later and asked me if I was driving back home, and if I had room in the car for him, his wife and two children. Crazily enough, he only lives 15 minutes away from us. I was humbled beyond belief by the thought of driving home him and his family.

As we closed the door of the car, and a 25-minute ride approaching us, I began to seriously feel Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Succos, all at once. It was so beyond my wife and myself.

But then, thank G-d, I remembered I had the audio of Reb Shlomo telling over the whole story of Moishele Good Shabbos. We put it on – and literally felt that we were being part of witnessing the past, present and future all meet in holy Oneness.

This Chassid, whose name is Eliezer Heshel, the son of Moshe Heschel, the son of Eliezer Heschel, the son of Moishele Heschel – three generations of Moishele Good Shabbos – had never heard the story before. He knew a few bare facts about his great-grandfather, but other than being familiar with the tune… he didn’t know much more.

He sat behind me, and all I could hear while Reb Shlomo ztz'l was telling that beautiful story in the background was Moishele's great-grandson's amazement. Pshhhht!… pshhhht!… pshhhht! He was literally going out of his mind.

Eliezer’s wife (who is related to the bride at that wedding) gave me their home number. Eliezer told me that they have a photo in an old family album… one picture of their great-grandfather. He was going to dig it out of the storage closet in his parents’ house, and get it to us.

As he got out of the car and was about to walk into his home, he turned to me and said: “May the zchus of my great-grandfather, Moishele, stand for you, your family and your friends forever.”

I spoke to him a few nights later, and he told me that all they know is that Moishele's ashes are buried somewhere in Vienna. He then told me that Moishele's yahrzeit is coming up, the tenth of Cheshvan, just six days before our Rebbe's yahrzeit.

“Come by,” he told me over the phone. “I think I’ve found something for you.”

I drove to his house with utmost excitement, wondering what he found.

This picture is what he gave me, a picture of his great-grandfather, Moishele Good Shabbos.

The eyes say it all.

Good Shabbos. Good Shabbos.

Shlomo Katz weaves together Torah insights and music in a way that is transporting and absolutely unique. A popular Jewish folk singer and popular rabbi from the Carlebach school of thought, Katz draws his inspiration from the Chassidic masters, taking the deep, mystical concepts that are the soul of Judaism, and conveying them in a way that is clear and accessible, while demonstrating how they show up in our day-to-day lives. His shiurim aren’t just lectures, they are immersive experiences. He begins with a strummed niggun to capture the mood of a Torah subject, and proceeds to deliver words as emotional and heartfelt as the music he plays.

As a singer, he has performed throughout the Unites States, Israel, Argentina, Costa Rica, Australia, Hong Kong, Belgium, Canada, England and Germany. He is back in South Africa by popular demand following his rousing performance at last year’s Shabbos Project Havdallah Concert. This time, though, he will be using music not just to entertain, but to teach, tell stories and inspire.