Mordechai Ben David
Mordechai Ben David
|Birth name||Mordechai Werdyger|
|Also known as||MBD, The King of Jewish Music|
|Born||April 16, 1951|
|Origin||Sea Gate, Brooklyn, New York|
|Genres||Contemporary Jewish religious music|
Mordechai Werdyger (born April 16, 1951) is an American Hasidic Jewish singer and songwriter popular in the Orthodox Jewish community. As the son of famous Cantor David Werdyger he is known by his stage name Mordechai Ben David (Hebrew: מרדכי בן דוד, lit. 'Mordechai, son of David') or its initials, MBD. He is known as the "King of Jewish Music" and has released over 30 albums while performing worldwide. He has headlined the popular HASC and Ohel charity concerts for almost two decades.
Mordechai Ben David may be considered a pioneer of contemporary Hasidic song. He started his musical career in the early 1970s, a time when Hazzanut was the main source of recorded music in Jewish Orthodox circles, with very few solo singer performers. Two notable singers who preceded Werdyger were Bentzion Shenker and Shlomo Carlebach, who had started a genre rooted in Hasidic and American folk song in the early 1960s.
Mordechai Ben David based his career on his father David's acclaim, choosing Mordechai Ben David (Mordechai the Son of David) as his stage name. In contrast to his father, who recorded classic Hasidic niggunim(songs) with cantorial vocals and classical instruments, Ben David blended traditional Hasidic singing with modern and popular music techniques. He was encouraged in this endeavor by Rabbi Chaim Zanvl Abramowitz, the Ribnitzer Rebbe. He soon became known as an innovator and rose quickly to become a musical superstar to Orthodox Jews worldwide.
Ben David's music is considered "soul touching" and "spiritually uplifting", with most of the lyrics based on Hebrew prayer, Biblical passages, and religious poetry, known as Zemirot. Other songs, composed in English, Yiddish, and Modern Hebrew, carry religious themes such as the sanctity of Shabbat and the yearning for Mashiach. His recordings include traditional Hasidic melodies of Eastern European folk-style alongside more modern jazz, pop, and rock music.
Throughout his career, Werdyger has worked with many composers and arrangers, most notably Yisroel Lamm and Moshe (Mona) Rosenblum, as well as Suki Berry, Moshe Laufer and Yossi Green, Boruch Chait and Abie Rotenberg. He himself has composed many songs that he has recorded. He has also collaborated side by side with well known musicians including Yaron Gershovsky (director of the Manhattan Transfer), Daniel Freiberg and Ken Burgess.
Over the years, Mordechai appeared as a guest soloist on a number of albums recorded by his father, the late Cantor David Werdyger. Later years he appeared on albums produced and sung by his son Yeedle Werdyger, and brother Mendy Werdyger, both of whom are known singers in their own rights. He has appeared on a number of "All Star Cast" albums produced by Suki & Ding.
MBD's style has been an inspiration to many Jewish singers over the past decades; following his genre are famous headline singers such as Avraham Fried, Lipa Schmeltzer, and Yaakov Shwekey, as well as some of the younger stars like Benny Friedman, Simcha Leiner, Levy Falkowitz and Shmueli Ungar. Together with well-known producer Sheya Mendlowitz, Mordechai produced the first solo recording album of singer Avraham Fried entitled "No Jew Will Be Left Behind" in 1981. During that same year, Sheya was involved with the production of two of Mordechai's releases, "Mordechai Ben David Live" (his first live album) and "Memories", written in memory of Mordechai's mother, and featuring songs composed by Yerachmiel Begun (of Toronto and Miami Boys Choir fame). In fact during the following few years, Sheya & Mordechai jointly produced a number of hit albums together including "Mostly Horas" (1987), his own album "MBD & Friends" (1987), "Yisroel Lamm & The Philharmonic Experience" (1988), and "25 Years of Jewish Music" (1988). In addition, Sheya went on to produce both Mordechai's "Simen Tov -Keitzad" (one of the first ever Jewish music "single" releases) (1989) and "The Double Album" (1990).
Music and politics
Some of Werdyger's songs have carried political messages.
In 1984 and 1985, MBD's songs "Hold On" and "Let My People Go" focused on the Jewish refusenik plight behind the Soviet Iron Curtain. While "Hold On" expresses hope, "Let My People Go" specifically calls for "support and pressure" to free Anatoly Natan Sharansky and Ida Nudel from Soviet captivity.
1994's "Yerushalayim We Will Never Leave You", recorded in Hebrew and English, protested the intent of dividing Jerusalem under the Oslo I Accord.
In 1999, on a track sung in Hebrew, "Ad Matay" (heb.עד מתי), written by Chaim Walder, Werdyger took on tensions between Israeli secular and religious parties. This dramatic composition expressed a heart-wrenching cry against internal hatred and takes an indirect shot at anti-religious politicians Yossi Sarid (Meretz) and Tommy Lapid (Shinui) by rhyming their surnames into a phrase depicting "the flame of hatred [lapid lit flame] which leaves no remnants [sarid lit remnant]".
In 2010, MBD re-wrote his famous English song "Unity", expressing protest of alleged Federal injustice to Sholom Rubashkin in his widely publicized case in the U.S. The song, renamed "Unity For Justice", was performed by MBD together with Avraham Fried and forty famous Jewish singers. An HD Video recording was publicized on a petition website as well as the social network.
In 2016, Mordechai Ben David attracted controversy after a video taken at his December 28 concert in Jerusalem, wherein he referred to US President Barack Obama with the derogatory Hebrew racial term kushi, was circulated online. During the concert, Ben David was between songs while performing a song about peace before thousands of people in the Israeli capital when he remarked to the audience in Hebrew, "Do you know when there will be peace? In a few weeks, when there will be a new president in the United States and the kushi goes home." The statement prompted cheers from the audience, which included Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, both of whom had previously criticized Obama and expressed approval of President-elect Donald Trump.
The statement prompted criticism from several outlets, many of whom characterized the term "kushi" as a racial slur and accused Ben David and his audience of racism. In defense of the singer, Rabbi Yair Hoffman, in an opinion piece for Yeshiva World News, criticized media coverage of the incident, noting that the audience had cheered after "there will be a new president" rather than at the racial term and arguing that Ben-David's use of the term, while "wrong" and meriting an apology, was not necessarily pejorative or derogatory.
His father, David Werdyger, was a hazzan (cantor) and Holocaust survivor originally from Kraków. His brother, Mendy, is also a Jewish singer and owner of the Jewish record label Aderet Records and its retail store in Boro Park, Brooklyn, Mostly Music. His son, Yeedle, and nephew, Yisroel Werdyger (Mendy's son), are also popular Jewish singers.
His wife, Esther, is the daughter and sister of hazzanim. His brother-in-law is Cantor Ari Klein, who in the past recorded a few albums of his own. And his cousin, Shmilu Rosenberg of Canada released two albums back in the 1980s, a comeback album and an appearance on an all-star album in the 1990s.
In April 2017, Werdyger wrote and released a song titled "Boee Besholom" dedicated to the marriage of his granddaughter. The song was sung at the wedding by Werdyger and Lipa Schmeltzer who was one of the guests. The arrangements on that single were done by Eli Klein and Yitzy Berry, a young and popular Israeli musical duo, who then rearranged it for his album, Tzeaka (released in June 2017), as a Jewish Pop/Techno song named "Bo'ee Kallah", which quickly became one of the biggest dance hits of the year.
The album before his most recent one, titled Kissufim, was released in October 2011. This production was said to be his last album, with MBD stating that illegal CD burning and internet downloads were ruining the industry and making albums financially unprofitable.
After great success with Kissufim, in February 2012, MBD announced on Menachem Toker Radio Israel that he had just started on a new album, although he did not release information about the type of album.
At about the same time, he also unofficially released a non-public single titled "Omdos Hoyu" in honor of a Yeshiva Student's marriage in Israel, and although it was only released at the event in Israel, it has become widely popular through being posted on the web.
A single composed for the Jewish Holy Days of Awe labeled "Nekom" was released in 2015.
Then, six years after the release of his last full album, he finally released a brand new album Tzeaka in June 2017. The album features many new hits in different genres and includes guest soloists such Motty Steimetz and Nussi Fuchs.
Werdyger does not sing at mixed concerts for religious reasons.
Werdyger lives in Sea Gate, Brooklyn, and has mentioned that he has purchased a house in Jerusalem and intends to move there shortly.
A few of MBD's songs are adaptations of well-known, non-Jewish songs.
- "Hinei Lo Yanum" on Hineni (1975) is an adaptation of "Mamy Blue", originally composed by veteran French songwriter Hubert Giraud in 1970. In May 1971, Alain Milhaud, a French record producer based in Spain, acquired the song for Pop-Tops.
- "Lichtiger Shabbos" on Just One Shabbos (1982) [retitled "Yiddish" on Solid MBD (1993)] is an adaptation of "Close Every Door To Me", from the musical theater production Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
- "Kumt Aheim" on Jerusalem: Not For Sale (1986), commonly referred to as "Yidden" and retitled as such for the CD release, uses the music of "Dschinghis Khan" (English: Genghis Khan), from the German band Dschinghis Khan.
- "Father Dear" on Yerushalayim Our Home (1988) [retitled "Daddy Dear" on The English Collection (1998)] uses music from the song "Little Boy and the Old Man", written by singer-songwriter Wayne Shanklin.
- "Shir Hashalom" is an adaptation from Bobby Vinton's "My Melody of Love".
In addition, "Vechol Maminim", from MBD's album of the same name, was an adaptation of "Tov Lehodos", an earlier song by Shlomo Carlebach.
- Mordechai Ben David Werdyger Sings Original Chassidic Nigunim (1973)
- Hineni (1974)
- Neshama Soul (1975)
- I'd Rather Pray and Sing (1977)
- Vechol Maminim - Songs of Rosh Hashana (1978)
- Moshiach Is Coming Soon (1980)
- Memories (1981)
- Mordechai Ben David Live (1981)
- Ich Hob Gevart (I Have Waited) (1982)
- Just One Shabbos (1982)
- Around the Year Vol. 1 (1983)
- Hold On (1984)
- Let My People Go (1985)
- Jerusalem Not For Sale (1986)
- MBD and Friends (1987)
- Jerusalem Our Home - Lekovod Yom Tov (1988)
- Siman Tov and Keitzad (Singles) (1989)
- The Double Album (1990)
- Solid MBD (1990)
- Moshiach, Moshiach, Moshiach (1992)
- Live in Jerusalem (1991)
- Tomid BeSimcha - Always Happy (1994)
- Special Moments (1994)
- Once Upon a Niggun (1996)
- Chevron Forever (single)(1996)
- Ein Od Milvado (1997)
- The English Collection (1998)
- We Are One (1999)
- Maaminim (2001)
- Kumzits (2003)
- Nachamu Ami (2004)
- Oorah (single) (2005)
- Efshar Letaken (2006)
- Yiddish Collection (2007)
- Anovim Anovim (single) (2008)
- Oorah (single) (2008)
- Levado - Mishpacha (single) (2008)
- Kulam Ahuvim (2009)
- Platinum Collection (2009)
- Kisufim (2011)
- Omdos Hoyu (single) (2012)
- Yachad Shivtei Yisrael (single) (2012)
- Afofuni (single) (2013)
- Nekom (single) (2015)
- Tzeaka (2017)
- Kdei Rabi Shimon (Single) (2019)
- In addition, MBD appears on many albums including
- Jewish Education Program Vol. 4 (1979)
- Jerusalem (1983)
- Father & Sons Biglal Avos (1984)
- Torah (1985)
- Simcha (1984)
- Hallel (1987)
- 25 Years Of Jewish Music (1988)
- Yeedle, Together (1993)
- 3 Generations (1994)
- Yeedle, Laasos Retzon Avicha (1995)
- Best Of The Best 1 (1997)
- Solid Gold Volume 1 (1997)
- Solid Gold Volume 2 (1998)
- Lev Vanefesh II (1998)
- Mona 3 (1998)
- Solid Gold Volume 3 (1999)
- Hamishorririm (1999)
- Ken Burgess, I'll Never Walk Alone In The Desert (2000)
- All Star Collection (2000)
- The Vocal Version (2001)
- Best Of The Best 2 (2002)
- Yeedle, IV (2002)
- Mona, Mona 4 (2003)
- Sheves Achim, Shabbos In Mezibuz (2004)
- Ken Burgess, Melech (2005)
- Brand New (2005)
- Shabbos With The Werdygers 1 (2006)
- Yeedle, Lev Echad (2008)
- Hameorerim (2008)
- The 8th Note (2008)
- Shabbos With The Werdygers 2 (2010)
- Lipa Schmeltzer, Meimka Dlipa: From the Depth of My Heart (2010)
- Miami Boys Choir, Light Up the Nights & Greatest Dance Hits (2010)
- Big Time - Alter Heim - Then & Now (2011)
- Yeedle, A Verdige Yid (2013)
- Shir (2014)
- Shir 2 (2016)
- Alpert, Yair (April 18, 2011). "Photos: MBD Celebrates His 60th Birthday". matzav.com. Retrieved April 22, 2011.
- Rosengarten, Gittel Chany (17 July 2013). "Living With the Star". Mishpacha Family First. pp. 14–20. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
- Newsweek.com Popular Jewish singer makes racial slur against Obama at Jerusalem concert, January 4, 2017
- JTA.org Hasidic singer MBD slams Obama with racial slur at Jerusalem concert, January 3, 2017
- Sommerfeldt, Chris (5 January 2017). "Popular Hasidic singer from Brooklyn calls President Obama racial slur during Jerusalem concert". New York Daily News. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
- Marcy Oster (January 3, 2017). "Hasidic Star Mordechai Ben David Uses Racist Slur Against Obama — Crowd Cheers". The Forward. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
- Rabbi Yair Hoffman (Jan 5, 2017). "Op-Ed: The JTA And The Undisputed King Of Jewish Music – MBD". Yeshiva World News. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
- Ferber, Elisha (February 9, 2009). "Matzav.com's Exclusive Interview With...Lipa Shmeltzer & Eli Gerstner". matzav.com. Retrieved April 22, 2011.
- "MBD Live in Israel featuring Aaron Razel & Yeedle". Jewish Insights. 2009. Retrieved April 22, 2011.
- "The Sheichet Interviews Yisroel Werdyger". Jewish Music Report. March 1, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2011.
- "Rabbis call for boycott of Ben David". The Jewish Telegraph. UK. June 11, 2004.