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February 22, 2019 1:26 pm

Jewish Singer Uses Music to Get Through a Rocky Road

avatar by Alan Zeitlin

A Yerachmiel Ziegler album cover. Photo: Provided.

In the age of streaming music, releasing an album with 21 songs might not be the best business move. Giving it a controversial title that might alienate some listeners is also a risk. Yerachmiel Ziegler knows this, but he doesn’t care.

“I’m going for broke with my music,” Ziegler said by phone from Jerusalem.

The 37-year-old — who grew up in Monsey, New York — and moved to Israel 14 years ago, said that his creativity has stemmed from transformations he’s been going through. His soon to be released album, “Off The Derech” — or “Off The Path” — refers to Jews who have strayed from being religious. He said that in performing without a yarmulke and by having women in his videos, some may shun him.

“[The album] just a reality check,” Ziegler said. “This is who I am. I’m not encouraging anyone to be less religious. I want to encourage people to look at themselves in a deep way and not be cookie-cutter.”

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The singer and musician, who has performed with Aaron Razel and Matisyahu, said that he hopes he will be judged by his music, and that some people may identify with his struggles.

“Coin” is a song about the difficulty of coming home without enough money. Ziegler, the father of three boys, moved from Shiloh to Jerusalem for a new job, but the company soon went under. Some of his songs deal with trying to make love work. He said that divorcing his wife of eight years was extremely difficult.

“It was the hardest decision of my life,” he said. “It shakes up your core. In life, sometimes it is a lot easier to get into things than it is to get out of them. But she is a great mother and thankfully, we are doing a great job balancing things.”

Another song, “The Earth Is Trembling,” is a frantic reggae track about dealing with upheaval and chaos. He said that the song has many applications. He believes it is a mitzvah to protect the environment. He also said that many people have a feeling of anger and despair, as if the ground was shaking under them. He specifically mentioned the brutal murder of Ori Ansbacher earlier in the month.

“You hear stories like this, and it’s horrifying and shocking,” he said. “There’s a lot of anger and a feeling that things can’t get better. But there are also positive stories. I know of cases of rabbis and imams going to other countries to do peace work together. It’s hard to calculate if there is more hate or love. In the world, it seems there’s more hate, but hopefully the balance will be shifting.”

Ziegler knows that even with his Kickstarter campaign, he will likely lose money on the album. But he is driven by a passion to inspire others, and he said that his music is in some ways therapeutic.

“When you get pushed up against the wall, grinded up, and spit out a few times, it definitely brings out the creative side of you,” he said. “Going through religious questions, romantic questions, financial questions, they just bring out more music and I am excited for people to hear it.”

Ziegler studied only in yeshivas, but has decided to go back to school. He is in his second year at Hebrew University, pursuing a degree in archaeology.

“I like a challenge,” he said. “Everyone needs to dig deeper, but sometimes they don’t pick up the shovel because they’re too afraid of what they might find or not find.”

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