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Wednesday, February 01, 2023
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Both the Huffington Post and Fox News have described them as “Hasidic Hipsters,” but Shlomo Gaisin, Elisha Mlotek and Zach Goldschmiedt, three 20-somethings who share a passion for music, see themselves as melodic emissaries of inspiration whose band Zusha has been captivating audiences of all ages and religions.

Both Mlotek, who plays percussion, and Goldschmiedt, who plays guitar, are Teaneck residents, while Gaisin, Zusha’s lead singer, hails from Maryland. The three met during their college days and quickly realized that they had much in common.

“We all met in the East Village where we became part of the young Jewish community downtown,” Mlotek told The Jewish Link. “We became friends and would hang out and play music and sing niggunim together. We started to naturally create our own music and sounds.”

Friends and family encouraged the trio to record their music and share it with a larger audience, and by 2014, Zusha had been formed, named after Reb Zusha of Anipoli, the younger brother of Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk. While Reb Zusha may have walked this earth over 250 years ago, the three band members feel a close connection to the renowned Chassidic rabbi.

“There was a story told about how Reb Zusha would inspire Jews who were not where they should be,” said Gaisin. “He would say, ‘How do you inspire someone who thinks Yiddishkeit is bitter? You have to show them how it is the sweetest thing in the world,’ and as we were considering names, it was clear to us that Reb Zusha was a teacher and a personality that we wanted to connect to.”

It is no accident that many of Zusha’s songs have no lyrics.

“We fell in love with wordless melodies right away from the beginning,” observed Goldschmiedt. “We find it to be such a powerful method of making music because there is virtually no barrier between us and the audience. We don’t play at people, we want to play with people.”

Goldschmiedt also noted that keeping the songs word-free gives people the ability to infuse the music with their own messages.

“We can be singing about something that we are feeling at that moment, which could be love, friendship or struggles, but someone else could be singing the same song but about something totally different,” said Goldschmiedt. “People can be coming from two totally opposite places but still be united through niggunim.”

Clearly their message and their signature style, which incorporates numerous musical genres including reggae, folk, swing and ska as well as traditional Jewish soul, resonated with a very broad audience. Zusha released their six-song, self-titled debut EP in 2014 and it rocketed to number nine on Billboard’s world music chart. The trio has played to sold-out audiences in New York, Washington, San Francisco, Chicago and Jerusalem and has been featured as the main attraction at the Shir Madness Melbourne Jewish Music Festival, the Washington, D.C., Jewish Music Festival and the SummerStage Yiddish Soul Concert in Central Park, where they played to an audience of 3,000 this past summer.

While Zusha’s music may cross religious boundaries, the goal is to bring people of all faiths closer to God.

“We try to reach all audiences,” said Mlotek. “We come from different upbringings musically and we fused something unique that resonates with so many different people.”

In addition to singing in clubs and on concert stages, the group has been known to perform in subway stations and on trains.

“Sometimes people try singing along but that is pretty rare,” said Mlotek. “Mostly someone around you will start swaying or tapping their foot. One time we got to a stop and one person said, ‘It’s my stop but I don’t want to get off.’”

Fans are eagerly awaiting Zusha’s first full-length album, titled Kavana, due to be released in early January. As the trio continues their musical odyssey, they find their connection to their namesake growing ever stronger.

“One of the things that Reb Zusha did is that he went with his brother, Reb Elimelech, on a self-imposed exile,” said Goldschmiedt. “They traveled to places where no one knew who they were and got a sense of what it was like to be there, to be Jewish. Now that we are a year and a half into this, it really feels like we are reliving what Reb Zusha’s journey was: to meet people, to go around the world and learn from them and to find inspiration, not just where you grew up, but all around the world and to bring that back and share it with others.”

Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected]

By Sandy Eller

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