Thursday, March 15, 2018

Alumni Spotlight: Music Through Torah

(Zach & Nadine Epstein)

We sat down with Zachary Epstein to find out about the inspiration for his new single and what he took away from his first Yeshiva learning experience at the Mayanot Men's Learning Program.

How long were you at Mayanot and what did you gain from the Program?
I went to Mayanot the summer of 2013 for six amazing weeks. There were so many things that I loved and took away from the program. The most memorable experience at Mayanot was a Shabbaton we did in Tzfat. It was my first Shabbat without using a phone, and it was full of Torah, hiking, exploration, and hitbodedut (meditation).

What is the most important thing you took away from the Program?
At Mayanot I developed the faith and strength to grow in observance even when there is adversity and even when it contradicts Western values and culture. I also learned to have an extremely healthy relationship with Jewish Law. I received excellent guidance regarding the importance of slow but steady growth in mitzvah observance and the great value of honoring one’s mother and father. Mayanot also instilled within me a fiery desire to serve G-d and to love my fellow Jews.

Can you share your favorite part of the Program?
It is so difficult to choose my favorite part, it would either be the inspirational d'var Torahs, the spiritual fabrengens, tours of the Old City, or discussions with Mayanot’s incredible students, shulchim, and rabbis about life and Torah; and of course, Chassidus has been a constant source of inspiration and joy since I learnt about it at Mayanot.

Did Mayanot impact your decision to get involved in this music project?
Music has always been a love of mine, and as a youth I had the privilege of performing around the Chicago area as a boy soprano. I'm no longer a soprano, but I do still perform and record. Modern country music is my genre of choice. Mayanot was however, the motivating factor that enabled me to make time for music as a physics PhD student again and to overcome the resistance inherent in attempting to do that.

How did the idea for your new single happen?
I had experienced so much tremendous growth in my Jewish observance at Mayanot and in my understanding of humanity and reality through Torah. I was feeling very proud looking back at my decision to attend even though I am doing my PhD and had little time to do so, realizing that Mayanot had been such a gift, feeling very grateful, the idea for the song occurred to me. King David’s phrase, “One thing I ask is to dwell b’veis Hashem for all the days of my life”. This music project just took off from there. 

Within my music in general, my main goal has become to inspire connection and to bring Jews closer to their creator. This particular song has turned into a project meant to bring Jewish friends and family closer to their heritage and I hope when people listen to it they want to share it.

What else has inspired you to get back into your music?
I once took an undergraduate course on Negotiating Social Change through Music and learned that music has an incredible power to affect one’s emotions and thereby influence one’s perspective. There are many amazing and successful Orthodox Jewish musicians – they give so much, and have so much to give, both to the Orthodox Jewish world and to the world as a whole and I have been inspired by so many of them within my own music.

How have you used what you have learnt at Mayanot to help you in your music?
Two years after writing the song, I saw friends and family moving in the direction of intermarriage and assimilation, and I felt very sad. I took the song, which was then focused on my own Jewish journey and turned it outwards. I completely redid the melody and chords, revamped the lyrics to expose people to a Torah perspective in a way that would resonate with all kinds of Jews, and tried to subtly make a strong case for living a Jewish life within the song, which is something I feel passionately about.

Mayanot inspires people to think beyond themselves. Not just to focus on their own journeys but on others as well, and I definitely internalized that message. 

What is your main goal with this song, what do you hope people will get out of it?
Within my music in general, my main goal has become to inspire connection and to bring Jews closer to their creator. This particular song has turned into a project meant to bring Jewish friends and family closer to their heritage and I hope when people listen to it they want to share it.


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We want to Thank Zachary Epstein for sharing his thoughts and insights with us.
Take a listen and enjoy this beautiful recording entitled ‘One Thing I Ask’. 
For a free download, click here.