Thursday Hero Special Edition – the incredible story of Moishele Good Shabbos, as told by Rabbis Shlomo Carlebach and Shlomo Katz…
Rabbi and singer-songwriter Shlomo Katz:
A good story takes you back in time.
A holy story keeps on taking place.
A few nights ago was the yahrzeit (anniversary of the passing) of R’ Moshe Heschel, known as Moishele Good Shabbos.
While attending a wedding of dear friends just a few years ago, our lives changed forever. Before telling you exactly why, PLEASE refresh your memory, and open your hearts to one of the most powerful moments in Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s life.
Reb Shlomo ztz’l (of blessed memory):
I don’t want to tell you sad stories, it’s not really sad, maybe a little bit, but it’s a gevalt (amazing). Every person needs a Rebbe. Sometimes you meet somebody and it mamesh (very much) reaches you so much that it mamesh carries you your whole life. So one of my Rebbes (beloved teachers), which I saw just twice or three times in my life, was a Yid and his name was Reb Moshe.
My father was a Rabbi in Baden Bei Din, in Austria, and here comes 1938. I don’t want to mention their name, the other side began to take over. In Germany it was not so dangerous yet to walk on the street, but in Vienna it was mamesh dangerous from the first day on. Yidden couldn’t go to shul (synagogue) anymore, especially my father.
So on Shabbos (Sabbath) morning it was only dangerous from 8 o’clock on, but between 5am and 8am it was less dangerous, and my father would make a minyan (prayer quorum) in the house. People would come at six o’clock and would mamesh daven (pray) so fast. Kriyas Hatorah (Torah service) would also go by real fast because everyone wanted to be home before 8.
My brother and I were little kids. When you don’t see people all week long, you are mamesh hungry to see a person. So I remember my twin brother and I, we were nearly up all Friday night. We couldn’t wait, we wanted to open the door for the minyan that would come in the morning.
There was usually a knock at the door, and we would see a yid standing there with such fear. I would open the door just a little bit and he would slip through the door, and then I would close it real fast.
But then one Shabbos, I remember it was Parshas Bamidbar (first Torah portion of the Book of Numbers). There was a knock, and I went to open the door. I’ll never forget it. I see a Yid with little peyis (side locks), and little beard. But this yid? He’s not afraid. He started singing:
Good Shabbos good Shabbos. Good Shabbos good Shabbos, Good Shabbos good Shabbos, Good Shabbos good Shabbos, Good Shabbos good Shabbos, Good Shabbos good Shabbos, Oy Good Shabbos good Shabbos, Good Shabbos.
(Hear the song here, sung by the soul doctor, Reb Shlomo Carlebach: https://soundcloud.com/carlebach-legacy/moishele-good-shabbos-niggun)
This Yid was mamesh in another world.
He walked in and he walks up and down and the whole time he is singing Good Shabbos good Shabbos.
Then he turns to me, I’m a little boy and he says to me in Yiddish, “what is your name, what is your name,”
I didn’t want to G-d forbid stop the melody, so I answered him back singing, “my name is Shlomo, what is your name.”
He said “Moishele, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Oy Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos.”
So my brother and I called him “Moishele Good Shabbos”.
This Moishele came in for the minyan and we began to daven fast. Basically when it comes to Nishmas Kol Chai (a prayer) you are not permitted to talk, but obviously Reb Moishele, just couldn’t hold back. He said to the chazzan (cantor) ‘prayers are supposed to go up but the way you are davening is making everything go down because you are davening so fast.’ And he was crying. ‘Yiddelach (my fellow Jews)’, he says, ‘maybe this is the last Shabbos we will have in our lives. Is this the way to say Nishmas Kol Chai?
So the chazzan said, ‘I don’t know any better’.
I’ll remember it till Mashiach (the Messiah) is coming. Moishele walks to the amud (altar).
He started singing: Nishmas Kol Chai Tevarech Es Shimcha Hashem Elokeinu Veru’ach Kol Basar Tefa’er Useromem (the soul of every being will praise our G-d and the spirit of all flesh will extoll and elevate)… and he was using the same tune he walked into the house singing.
But you know friends, he davened the whole davening with this niggun (melody). The repetition, kedushah (holy prayer), everything. Then they read the Torah, and by that time it was already 10:30 but nobody mamesh cared. Moishele mamesh lifted up everyone, nobody had fear anymore.
Finally the davening was over at around 11 and my mother brought in wine to make Kiddush (blessing over wine). Now I want you to know, the windows were always closed and the shades were down. Moishele says, ‘when you make Kiddush, you have to open the windows. You have to say Kiddush for the whole world’.
People started saying ‘Moishele, this is just too much. The people in the street want to kill us’.
‘Who are they’ Moishele says, ‘the children of Esav (Esau)? they are our cousins. You know why Esav is Esav? Because he forgot what Shabbos is. Maybe if some Yid would scream V’shamru B’Nei Yisrael Es Hashabbos (the children of Israel will keep Shabbat), maybe Esav will remember what he learned by his father Yitzchak (Isaac)’.
He opened the windows and Moishele was standing by the window. You could mamesh see the Germans walking up and down the street. He mamesh had the wine outside of the window and he was singing with the same melody:
“V’shamru B’nei Yisroel Ess haShabbos…..”
After davening my parents invited him to eat with us and Moishele began telling us his story, with so much tzniy’us and anava (modesty), half telling half not telling. ‘I want you to know’ he says, ‘I am on the black list of the Germans’. It was then that my family realizes that we recognized Moishele. His picture was on every street corner. It said ‘the most wanted Jew by the Fuhrer.’ What was his crime? If you remember, thousands of Yidden were arrested and nebech (alas), their wives and children were dying from hunger. Moishele was up all night carrying food to every house.
This was Parshas Bamidbar, and on Pesach (Passover) – approximately two months prior – he brought matzo (unleavened bread) to two thousand families in Vienna.
He told us that one night they caught him and hit him over the head but at the last moment, he said that the Ribbono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe) gave him strength and somehow managed to turn away and run off. ‘So during the day I cannot walk on the street, so I’ll stay here till Shabbos goes out’.
Before he left he turned to us and said ‘I want to come again, most probably I’ll come Wednesday night’. Now friends, I want you to know how shabbosdik (Sabbath oriented) he was. He says ‘I’ll come Wednesday night and it will be around 4 o’clock in the morning and I will knock on the door seven times l’Kovod Shabbos (in honor of Shabbos) and you will know it’s me’.
Wednesday night came and I mamesh could not sleep all night, waiting for Moishele Good Shabbos to come.
At around 4:30 we hear mamesh a subtle knock, seven times. We open the door and Moishele is standing by the door singing:
Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos
We asked him where is this niggun from. Moishele told us that he was in Lublin on Rosh Hashana, davening with the Breslover chassidim (hasidic people of the Breslov persuasion). He heard this Niggun from the old chassidim who told him this was the niggun which Reb Nachman himself davened too. It was the first time we ever heard of Reb Nachman.
He stayed in our house all night long singing. That was the last time I saw him.
We left for America and my brother I went to Mesivtah Toras VaDa’as (name of school). Everyone that came to the Mesivtah … we mamesh taught them Moishele’s Niggun.
Later on I had the privilege of meeting so many young people, especially in San Francisco. I had the house of love and prayer, it was a gevalt (amazing). I want you to know, this niggun turned on hundreds of thousands of people to Shabbos. Not to be believed.
The most important thing is that I taught all those kids that even on Wednesday night we say good Shabbos. We are living in an age before Mashiach, we cannot wait till Shabbos to say good Shabbos. You can say good Shabbos all the time.
Anyway, this all took place 1938, and in the meantime, time is flying. And I don’t want to tell you bad things but just open your hearts. A few years ago I was walking on the street in Tel Aviv on Ben Yehuda Street, by the Yarkon river. Suddenly a Yiddele from Vienna sees me. ‘Aren’t you Shlomo Carlebach’, and I said ‘yes’. ‘Do you remember Moishele, you know, Moishele from Vienna?’
Somehow it struck me and I said, ‘you mean Moishele Good Shabbos? Is he still alive?’
He says to me, ‘there’s a little park by the river, let’s walk down there and I’ll tell you the story.
I want you to know, I was one the closest friends of Moishele good Shabbos.
(By the way, I thought my brother and I were the only ones who called him Moishele good Shabbos. Obviously everyone called him that. All of Vienna called him Moishele good Shabbos)
Moishele finally got himself a false passport, an English passport. Moishele had two children, a little boy and a little girl. He, his wife and two children were sitting on the train leaving Austria, with a passport to go to London. And this yidele says ‘I was there on the train’. His wife kept on begging him Moishele, ‘please don’t sing’, and he was singing this niggun nonstop. ‘Please’, she said, ‘don’t make any noise. Wait until we go out of the border’.
The train is slowly leaving, but Moishele couldn’t hold back. ‘I have to sing Good Shabbos one more time to say so long to Vienna, I have to say goodbye to the city where my family had so many high moments on Shabbos’. He opened the window and started singing one last time ‘Good Shabbos Good Shabbos Good Shabbos Good Shabbos’.
The most heartbreaking thing happened. Since his picture was all over the city, one of the people on the train recognized him and called over one of the Germans. They stopped the train and dragged off Moishele. ‘And I swear to you’, this yidele told me. ‘Moishele didn’t stop singing Good Shabbos till that final whip which killed him’.
Now I want you to know something incredible.
A few years later, I was supposed to go to do a concert in Manchester on Sunday. and the way to go to the concert was that I had to leave Tel Aviv Friday morning and I was thinking of going to London and then Sunday I would go to Manchester.
While we are flying, they announce that there is a gas strike in London and they are landing in Zürich. Anybody who wants to go to London when they get to Zürich – they would take care of it and it would be a minimum16 hour delay, on Friday afternoon.
So one Yid who was sitting next to me says ‘why don’t you got to Antwerp for Shabbos and from there, there will be a ship that leaves at six o’clock in the morning and gets to London at 12 and from there go to Manchester’. This Yid who is sitting next to me on the plane invites me for Shabbos and I say yes, so I end up in Antwerp.
It’s two hours before Shabbos, and I’m on the streets of Antwerp. Suddenly, someone walks up to me, I know this face, but I didn’t know who this person was. He was so sweet. He says to meet, ‘Shloime’le, come to my house for Shabbos’.
I told him ‘Thank you zise yidele, I’m already going to this Yiddele who I met on the plane but give me your telephone, if I have a Melaveh malka I’ll invite you’. So he writes down his name, Lazer Heschel.
After he left I said, I asked my host ‘who is this Heschel?’. He said to me, ‘don’t you know, he’s the son of Moishe Heschel, Moishele Good Shabbos’.
Gevalt, I couldn’t believe it.
We have a Melaveh malka, and this Lazer Heschel shows up. I asked him, ‘do you know your tatty’s (daddy’s) niggun?’
‘What niggun?’ he says to me.
The most heartbreaking thing was that he was too small to remember. Suddenly it became so clear to me that the whole gas strike in London was only that I should be in Antwerp and I gave him over his father’s niggun.
And then I remembered.
The last time I saw Moishele, before he walked out he was standing by the door for a long time and he sang with the his same niggun:
“Tzur Yisroel Tzur Yisroel Kume Be’ezras Yisrael Ufdei Chinumecha Yehuda Veyisroel.…”
He looked at us and said ‘promise me you will teach this Niggun to everyone you meet. Teach your children’, and then he said ‘teach my children’.
What do we know friends?
Back to 2010.
We were invited to the wedding of dear friends which took place in the outskirts of Beit Shemesh.
The wedding was awesome. The colorful range of Shtreimels (hasidic men’s hats) and hippies singing and dancing together was wonderful.
Our dear friend and teacher, R’ Sholom Brodt had the zchus (merit) to marry off the couple.
After the chuppa (wedding canopy), a young chassidishe yid, a princely looking chassid came up to R Sholom asking him if he was using the tune of Moishele Good Shabbos for the brachas (blessings) under the chuppa. R Sholom said yes and asked him why he is asking.
‘I am Moishele great-grandson, it’s my great-grandfather’s niggun, how do you know this niggun?’ replied this yid.
We all began to come up to this very young, shy and humbled yid. We couldn’t believe it… we felt we were all part of the story. One by one, we came up to him, bursting with utter simcha and total amazement. This chassid never saw anything like this, and hinted to me that this was very overwhelming for him.
How do I begin to explain to him who his great-grandfather is to us, and to thousands and thousands more? How do I begin to explain to him that thousands of yiddelach daven to his great-grandfather’s niggun every day, every Shabbos, every holiday? How do I begin to give over to him who his great-grandfather was to our Rebbe?
He approached me a few minutes later and asked me if I was driving back home, and if I had room in the car for him, his wife and two children. Crazily enough, he only lives 15 minutes away from us. I was humbled beyond belief by the thought of driving him and his family home.
As we closed the door of the car, and a 25-minute ride approaching us, I began to seriously feel Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Succos (fall holiday – the Feast of Tabernacles), all at once. It was so beyond my wife and myself.
But then, thank G-d I remembered I had the audio of Reb Shlomo telling over the whole story of Moishele Good Shabbos. We put it on – and literally felt that we were being part of witnessing the past, present and future all meet in holy oneness.
This chassid, whose name is Eliezer Heshel, the son of Moshe Heshel, the son of Eliezer Heshel, the son of Moishele Heshel – THE Moishele good Shabbos… he had never heard the story before. He knew some facts and some stories about his great grandfather, but other than being familiar with the tune… he didn’t know much more.
He sat behind me, and all I could hear while Reb Shlomo ztz’l was davening away in the backround, was Moishele’s great-grandson’s amazement. Pshhhh…. He was literally going out of his mind.
His wife (who is related to the kalla [bride] of the wedding we were at) gave me their home number. Eliezer told me that they have a picture in an old family picture album… one picture of their great-grandfather. He is going to dig it out of the storage in his parents house, and get it to us.
As he got out of the car and was about to walk into his home, he turned to me and said ‘May the zchus of my great-grandfather Moishele stand for you, your family and your friends forever.’
I spoke to him a few nights later, and he told me that all they know is that Moishele’s ashes are buried somewhere in Vienna. He then told me that Moishele’s yahrtzeit is coming up, the tenth of Cheshvan, just six days before our Rebbe’s yahzrteit.
‘Come by, I think I found something for you’.
I drove to his house with utmost excitement, wondering what he found.
The picture attached (above) is what he gave me, a picture of his great-grandfather, Moishele Good Shabbos.
The eyes say it all.
Good Shabbos Good Shabbos
What else could I possibly add? Thank you Rabbi Shlomo Katz and thank you, Reb Shlomo Carlebach! And thank you, Reb Moishele for a song to lift the whole world! It is a profound honor to call you this week’s Thursday Hero.
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