'The Midnight Rabbi' Helps Struggling Yeshiva Students

The "midnight rabbi," part social worker and part rocker, uses music to give American yeshiva students a healthy outlet.

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Ben Bresky, | updated: 05:33

Who do struggling American yeshiva students turn to? The Midnight Rabbi. He's part social worker, part rocker, and all rabbi. Rabbi Eli Goldsmith, who teaches students in the wee hours, gives young Jewish American yeshiva students a musical outlet with his recording studio and jam sessions.

Rabbi Goldsmith is once again hosting youth music competitions to promote good self esteem among anglo yeshiva students in Israel. Past youth performers include Boruch Vidal, a rapper who performs with Avraham Pilcer, a violinist, a rock group Az Yashir who sing about Americans joining the Israeli army, Hello Sid, Sam Fisher and other young enthusiastic musisians.

The Unity of the Bands this past March was so successful, it is returning again for the new school year at a new alcohol-free club for youth called Shoreshim. Rabbi Goldsmith spoke on Israel National Radio's The Beat about how music can positively influence young adults to change for the better.

INR: So tell us who you are and how you became the Midnight Rabbi

Rabbi Goldsmith: I grew up in London and have been in Eretz Yisrael for ten years. I've seen from being in a few different yeshivas like Ohr Somayach the importance of music -  especially me being a baal teshuvah and being involved in London in the music industry. My family, Harvey Goldsmith and my father Martin Goldsmith put on big events. I would see the effect of the music industry had on the youth. I wanted to be a famous rock singer at one point when I was a teenager. I won a "battle of the bands" in London. I'm still close to those guys because music has a bonding effect.

INR: What was the name of your old band?

Rabbi Goldsmith: Common Ground. It was about unity even in that world. But now the boys are coming to yeshiva not just for music but for spiritual reasons. So it can be a spiritually defined purpose. The music has the power to combine the physical with the spiritual. I see that with the bochurim [yeshiva students]. It brings out their self esteem and togetherness.

INR: What were your father's big events?

Rabbi Goldstein: He helped do Live Aid. There's an interesting hashkacha pratis [Divine guidance] story about someone else who's been helping - Jeff Pulver. My dad arranged to get him into the Led Zepplin reunion concert at Royal Albert Hall. Personally, I don't listen to their music and don't think their a good influence on the kids at all. Jeff Pulver likes them very much, and he's a good guy, so the hashkacha pratis is that even from such a place, he ended up contributing a decent amount of money to the studio the boys have been using.

It has a drum kit, piano, amps speaker system and even rebbes have been using it to speak their drashas on. Even though the kids are unfortunatley drawn to this type of music, especially the rap world, when they come with the right intentions, and inspiration, they elevate this type of music. It's an amazing thing and that what it was at Unity of the Bands.

INR: So why do they call you the Midnight Rabbi?

Rabbi Goldsmith: A few years back I was walking around the street late at night and was surprised to see how many young people were out there. I was learning full time and was learning very shtark [to appear to be religious]. I thought there needs to be something done in the kiruv world late at night. So I asked my wife and she agreed that I should pursue this. The first yeshiva was Netzach, where they called me the X-Box Rebbe because I used to see them where they used to play the video games late at night. Then it ended up Ner Yaakov which offered me an even later position, so they called me the Midnight Rabbi. So it came from the boys themselves. The idea was for me to come late at night.

I remember this one student, his first month or so in yeshiva, he used to come back drunk out of his face. Last year at an end-of-the year party, he told me he thought maybe he was having hallucinations because every night he would find this rabbi that he could sit and talk with about deeper things. And every morning he would wake up -- well not really in the morning, maybe in the afternoon -- and he would say, "Did I meet a rabbi last night? I can't remember." It made a deep impression on him and the whole year we had a good connection.

INR: Do you actually like rap and rock?

Rabbi Goldsmith: For me personally, I don't think any of this music is ideal. I don't listen to it in my own house. But my strength is from my past because I can bridge these gaps when I talk to them. At this point that's where they're at. I'm more just a stepping stone. I can't be the end result.

INR: When is your next event?

Rabbi Goldsmith: We have an open mic night and jam every two weeks in a club called Roots, Shoreshim. They help a lot of people, generally Israelis. They offered us to use their hall. We have up to 100 people. It's in town, in a little more controversial area, but a lot of the yeshiva students are there on a Thursday night anyway. Its for males only. The venue actually asked us to keep it that way. It makes it a simpler atmosphere that way. The goal is for them to express themselves and play together and inspire each other. It gives them an outlet where there's no hassle like fights or drinking.

They're getting so much out from the jamming and practicing. If people channel their free time properly, everything else goes positive. That's what the Unity of the Bands concert was about. I want to give a shout out to Boruch Kaplan and Danny Weiss and all the people who stepped forward and carried on when I wasn't able to be there.

INR: These are 19 year olds?

Rabbi Goldsmith: Yes. They did a good a job. They worked together with Jonty Zwebner, the well known producer, but they did a lot of the groundwork. My goal was to get these guys to run their own events and make them independent. We'll see from U Muse, which stands for Youth 4 Music, that the youth themselves have the power to lift up all their friends and family. I don't see that style of music as the goal, but it's definately a big step for the world to get to a more spiritual place. The lyrics represent a more postive message.

INR: Do you have any final words about your projects?

Rabbi Goldsmith: I appreciate your interest. Really what you've done for the boy's self esteem, it will help them for the rest of their lives. You have a big mitzvah.

The first Unity of the Bands concert of the year will take place Wednesday September 7th at Shorashim, 13 Shammai Street, Jerusalem at 9:15 p.m.

For more information on U-Muse visit http://www.music4theyouth.com

For photo essay from previous concert click here
For interview with previous winning band click here