Saturday, June 03, 2023

An arch of blue and white balloons in front of 551 Grand Street on New York City’s Lower East Side let all passersby know that a celebration was in progress. Following the balloons up the stairs, past more balloons to tables laden with sushi, pizza, salad, fruit and pastries, fans of the Nachum Segal Network came to see the newly rebuilt studio and wish Segal a mazel tov. Segal held court in the studio from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., playing music, interviewing guests and kvelling in the stream of visitors showing their appreciation for him and the rebirth of his studio, rebuilt after a fire last year turned the studio to rubble and ash. The high point of the day was the placement of the mezuzah outside the door by Rabbi Berel Feinstein, grandson of Rav Moshe Feinstein and son of Rav Dovid Feinstein, who put up the first mezuzah 20 years ago. The rededication celebration on March 23 was heard around the world by listeners who tuned in on the internet with “the beloved NSN app,” as Segal fondly refers to it.

Nachum Segal began his radio career as a student at YU’s radio station, WYUR. He was recruited by Norman Laster of Upsala College’s radio station, WFMU, and in 1983 began JM in the AM, Jewish Moments in the Morning, playing Jewish music and interviewing community leaders, authors and musicians every weekday and non-holiday morning from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. The station became independent and moved to Jersey City in 1998 after Upsala College went out of business. Segal started working from the Manhattan studio in 2002. In 2013, he and Miriam L. Wallach, his manager, began The Nachum Segal Network, a full-time online presence, with a variety of different music and talk programs throughout the day. He ended his terrestrial radio affiliation in 2016.

On March 27, 2022, a fire obliterated the studio in 10 minutes. Ninety-nine percent of Segal’s equipment, memorabilia and music was destroyed. Miraculously, a scrapbook of his career was one of the only items saved.

Shulie Wollman, the owner of the building and a good friend, was there that day, and tried to comfort a bereft Nachum Segal. “He was devastated,” Wollman recalled in a phone interview. “I said, ‘You’re going to rebuild, bigger and better than before. I want to see you back on the Lower East Side and the Lower East Side wants you back.’” A crowdfunding initiative brought an outpouring of support after the fire from all over the world. “We rebuilt this beautiful studio,” said Wollman. “We are happy that the network is back in full force.”

Wollman expressed a sentiment stated repeatedly by people who came to the celebration. “Nachum truly makes people happy,” he said. “He gives the Jewish perspective on news and music. With that voice, he’s the best. We wish him hatzlacha. He should just keep on growing and be happy.”

A parade of guests joined Segal in the studio throughout the day. New York State Senator Simcha Felder told me after his interview that listening to Segal was a form of entertainment and relaxation for him when Segal did a live two-hour afternoon show years ago. “To get home and listen to somebody who’s playing good Jewish music was entertaining, and he used to have guests that were entertaining. He really brought joy to the Jewish community. And of course, there were other times that weren’t such happy times. During a crisis, you wanted to be able to share it with somebody, listen to somebody, and when you were listening to Nachum, and sharing it with him, he was cheering you up in some way by being able to be with him. So it’s wonderful to be able to celebrate with him. He should continue spreading happiness and good things for all of us, for many, many years.”

Rabbi E. Samuel Klibanoff of Congregation Etz Chaim of Livingston has known Segal since he was in high school, and Segal was his history teacher. “Our shul is very much intertwined with the network,” said Rabbi Klibanoff. “I’m so happy to be here because I remember the old studio and to rebuild from the ashes is literally a testament to his resilience and everything he has done for Klal Yisroel. I’m the rabbi of one shul, but he’s the rabbi of Klal Yisrael.” He presented Segal with a certificate of appreciation from the Men’s Club of his shul.

“Nachum Segal has totally turned my life around spiritually,” said Ralph Rosenbaum, a member of the Young Israel of East Brunswick, who served as chairman of the network’s Chanukah mission to Dubai last year. “This morning, before coming to see Nachum, I went to a musical Rosh Chodesh celebration. Nachum has done this for me. He’s done this for everyone. He reaches out to the entire world and the entire community.”

For the people who work at the network, the rebirth of the studio brings renewed optimism about moving forward into a new chapter. “I met Nachum when I was 15, and I’ve been one of the fill-in hosts since age 19, and I’m 53 now,” said Mayer Fertig, an HVAC business owner and volunteer with NSN. “It’s been a constant in my life for many years. We’ve had a lot of studios. Each one represented an era, a period of growth. Each was an exciting time. But this is a real leap into the future.”

Artist and photographer Meir Kruter has been part of the Nachum Segal Network for 10 years. He joined the network to document shows in the studio and trips the network made around the world as part of the Jewish Unity Initiative to bring Jewish communities together. “It was very meaningful for me because I am passionate about Judaism and about traveling,” said Kruter. “Nachum is a catalyst for Judaism, for our way of life and for our culture. I recently started a Jewish heritage tour company, myself and Yitzy Spinner. We take people around the world, we educate them about Judaism, about the history and culture of Judaism. It’s a continuation of the trips I was doing with Nachum, so I guess he got me started thinking in that way. I hope to collaborate with him very soon and once again travel around the world with him and his team.”

Yossie Zweig, host of the Z Report and Live Lunch, broadcasts from home, but he started from this studio. “This is where my broadcasting career began,” he said. “It’s great to be back, seeing the studio, how updated and modern it is.”

It would have been impossible on the afternoon of March 27, 2022 to imagine that one year later, the Nachum Segal Network would have three studios. After doing the show from his son’s bedroom, Segal took up temporary residence in a studio in Teaneck. Today, he has a bigger studio in Teaneck, in addition to the New York headquarters, where he will spend part of the week. And he has a temporary studio in Jerusalem that he hopes will become permanent. Shulie Wollman was right. The Nachum Segal Network built back bigger and better.

By Bracha Schwartz

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