Rabbi strikes a musical chord

FOLK music has been part of Moshe Feiglin’s life for more than a decade, when it first provided solace to him as a rebellious teenager.

That was when he was a 15-year-old student at Melbourne’s Yeshivah College and his father struck a deal with him – if he learnt a tractate of Talmud, he would get a guitar.

“I learnt my Talmud and got my guitar, and that’s how my music career started,” recalled the 27-year-old, who is now assistant rabbi at Spiritgrow in Caulfield North.

“I remember feeling like a typical teenager: angry, lost and confused. The rigid Orthodox lifestyle was not working for me,” he said.

“I retreated to my room and taught myself how to play guitar, while listening to my mother’s records of Jethro Tull, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, and Simon and Garfunkel.

“After finishing school [Yeshivah College] in Melbourne in 2001, my parents insisted that I spend time at a yeshivah. At that time it was more appealing to head to Israel to study.

“It was the time of the intifida and I was living close to where there were some terrorist attacks, which really shook me up and got me thinking more about Judaism,” he said.

He studied at yeshivahs in Jerusalem and it was during this period that he says his love of Judaism was rekindled.

“I connected with a group of Jews who were really celebrating Judaism and its rituals and lifestyle. It re-ignited a passion for my heritage, particularly my Chabad Chassidic roots.”

During his four years in Israel he also became more involved with his music.

“In the Chassidic yeshivah there were people from all backgrounds and parts of the world. We had a band in the yeshivah and would travel around the army bases playing for the soldiers,” he said. “It was the kind of environment that bred creativity.”

When Feiglin moved from Jerusalem to Tzfat in northern Israel, he had more time to write music.

“I was playing with another Chassidic musician and felt more confident to do my own songwriting and express myself through music.”

Since returning to Australian in 2005, Feiglin has played with The Niggun Collective, a Jewish wedding band that he established with his friend Zev Gelber about five years ago.

“We wanted a wedding band in the style that we had seen in Israel, where they really celebrate with the bride and groom. We play traditional songs with an untraditional feel including reggae, country, roots music and Middle Eastern sounds,” he said.

Last year, Feiglin teamed up with bass player and producer Jonathan Zion to work on his first album, entitled Lost Treasure.

The folk-inspired album features rich harmonies, melodies and lyrics, woven together by acoustic instruments including guitar, double bass, banjo, mandolin and harmonica.

The album will be launched on Saturday night at a concert in Moorabbin.

“The album features my own compositions, although some numbers have been influenced by Chassidic melodies that have been woven into the songs,” he said.

Explaining the album title of Lost Treasure, Feiglin said it was based on a parable by the revered Chassidic teacher, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

“It’s a story about a person who has to travel very far to find a treasure that he realises is actually buried in his own backyard. It’s about discovering what is already inside yourself.”

He said the songs are also about a personal and spiritual journey, including some love songs.

He has been the chazan at Spiritgrow for the past four years and two years ago took on the role as assistant rabbi to the director, Rabbi Menachem Wolf.

He has incorporated music into the Friday night service at Spiritgrow during summer, when daylight saving means a later start.

“We often start the service with music and then put the instruments away before we start the actual [Shabbat] service. A lot of people come early to enjoy the music.”

Feiglin said he leads a very busy life with his work at Spiritgrow, his music, family life as the father of a young daughter, and also studying a masters degree in social work.

Lost Treasure will be launched on Saturday, August 27 at The Chandelier Room, 91 Cochranes Road, Moorabbin at 8.30pm. Bookings: www.moshehendel.com.

REPORT: Danny Gocs

PHOTO: Moshe Feiglin performs as Moshe Hendel at a concert.