The singer who found his passion for music after 70 years

Martin Meir Widerker, a former child musical prodigy, gathers team of the greatest Hasidic singers for the 'Shabbos Malka' project.

Tags: Music Shabbat
Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Hine Kel Yeshuati - Martin Widerker, Eli Herzlich
Hine Kel Yeshuati - Martin Widerker, Eli Herzlich

For much of the last century, the European Continent has been soaked with the blood of Jews, most of them murdered in indescribable circumstances. If German soil could tell a tale, it would be a scream of horror.

It is precisely in this place, however, that one man has been successful in extracting the sound of music from the very depths of the soul, purifying it to a degree unheard since the days of the Leviim.

Martin Meir Widerker has a fascinating life story. Born in Israel in 1935, he developed a love for music and was quickly heralded as a child prodigy. Experts forecast a future for him as a gifted musician and he did not disappoint. He performed his first concert at the age of 12, a year later graduating from music school.

His starry future, however, ended abruptly in his adolescence because of an unfortunate personal story. The gifted boy's musical career stopped, and he turned to high-tech instead.

Martin was forced to return to Poland, his parents’ country of birth, in 1947 to help them sort out a predicament with their Polish passports. He decided to stay in that country and delay his return to Israel. His hardships did not end there. In 1956, a wave of anti-Semitic violence swept through Poland, spawning a family move to Germany.

Martin, it appeared, had a knack for success at everything he touched. In 1968, for example, he was elected to the Stuttgart Jewish Community Committee at the age of 33. He served as a beloved leader to the community, Keren Hayasod and Macabi for the many years he held this position.

But his intense love for music wouldn't let him rest. Even in those dormant years when he did not actively pursue a musical career, he tinkered with the field, even helping establish a musical competition for youths.

When Martin reached retirement age, he realized he could no longer ignore his love for music. It was at this point that he determined he would spend the rest of his life working to restore the music world to the glory it deserved.

The subject of his project was clear to him. Shabbos has always burned in Martin’s soul. During the decades he lived in assimilation-prone Europe, it was made clear to him many times how important Shabbos is to the Jewish people. He therefore set up the “Shabbos Malka” project, in which he plans on producing five albums of ten Shabbos songs each. Every one of the 50 songs comes with its own video clip. The inspiration for the tunes comes from the unique melodies of Vizhnitz, Babov, Satmar and more that influenced him as a child.

Three albums out of the planned five have so far been produced. The fourth album is near completion, with six of the ten songs already mixed and its video clip ready.

For this special project, Martin is not leaving anything to chance. He has assembled a team comprised of the greatest Hassidic singers to complete the series. The seventh song from the fourth album is now released as a single. Called "Hinei Keil Yeshuasi," it is sung by Eli Hertzlich, the star singer of the Litvishe world.

Herzlich has released two albums of his own, with songs that have become mainstays at weddings and events. His latest hit, “Malach,” taken from a letter by the Chazon Ish, is currently being sung at every Siyum Hashas and important event. The relationship Martin developed with Eli Herzlich was initiated through Yisroel Bergman, a musical producer, with Bergman undersigning the collaboration.

Herzlich has actually recorded four songs for the project: The first song was "Tov l’hodos," in which he performs a duet with the well-known chazzan Yaakov Motzen, a relative of Herzlich’s. This was followed by a Hetzlich solo, "Kol Yisroel,” and now "Hinei Keil Yeshuasi." The fourth song is in the process of preparation, to be revealed when Martin completes the four songs to complete his latest album.

When Hertzlich is asked about the new song, he explains that the lyrics speak for themselves.

The words come from Havdalah that we sing on Motzei Shabbos,” Hertzlich says, “and Havdalah always signals the end of an exhilarating Shabbos or of an enjoyable weekend get-together. It is a lot of fun to sing such a melody with Martin's wonderful compositions, along with the perfect mixing done by Menachem Bristovsky.”

The arranger that he referred to, Menachem Bristovsky, is a legendary pianist and arranger, and is known as a talented musician. He also happens to be the musical director for Martin’s concerts over many years. Two of their joint concerts have appeared in the Tel Aviv Cultural Hall. Bristovsky himself has been accompanied by various chazzanim at concerts around the world.

Other chazzanim participating in the project include Yaakov Yitzchak Rosenfeld, Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, Yankele Rutner, Boaz Davidoff and others. The singers include Avremi Roth, Avraham Fried and Yitzchak Meir.