Home Perspectives Opinions From Yoni’s desk: Reb Gilden’s soft voice, warm smile fade to black

From Yoni’s desk: Reb Gilden’s soft voice, warm smile fade to black

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Yehuda Gilden

The choir room at Eitz Chaim elementary school was down a narrow hall in the basement, adjacent to the gymnasium. Every Sunday morning during the school year, at 8 a.m., an hour before mandatory Sunday classes officially began, Yehuda Gilden would gather about 20 kids for rehearsal. The room was just big enough to fit the 21 of us, Reb Gilden’s keyboard and one of those seemingly standard-issue 1980s school tape players with the scratchy mono sound, which he’d use to teach us new songs by the Miami Boys Choir, Mordechai Ben David and other big acts in the world of hasidic music. We must have performed those songs at school assemblies and community functions, but I don’t have any memories of that. What I do remember is those early morning practices under the tutelage of Reb Gilden. I remember his soft voice and the smile that suggested he was getting as much out of being there as we choir kids were.

I would see Reb Gilden outside school, too. He must have provided the entertainment for just about every bar mitzvah in my class, either as the lead singer and keyboardist of the Nafshenu Orchestra, or flying solo – just him, a microphone and his keyboard with the tinny drum loops. I loved to watch him perform, especially backed by a full band – horn section, guitar and bass, real drums – when he could really show his chops. He played and taught music until Parkinson’s disease forced him to stop. Last month, he passed away at the age of 65.

Ten years ago, a group of hasidic music stars came together to record an album of Reb Gilden’s songs. The 10 songs on Harei Yehuda feature the likes of Avraham Fried, Boruch Levine, Yaakov Shwekey and the late Yossi Piamenta. After Reb Gilden died, the Jewish music composer and performer Abie Rotenberg, who helped record Harei Yehuda, wrote that “whoever visited or encountered him came away strengthened and inspired by his unflinching emunah and unconquerable spirit.” In the comments below Rotenberg’s Facebook post, Reb Gilden’s students – men and women from across the Jewish spectrum – have been paying their respects, mourning the loss of a special teacher who won them over with a warm voice and an even warmer smile.

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This is our first edition of 2018, and we’re ringing in the new year with some changes. Here’s managing editor Joe Serge with the details:
“Beginning this week, astute readers may notice a change in The CJN’s transliteration of Hebrew and Yiddish words. These changes will create a clear, concise and, most importantly, consistent style for The Canadian
Jewish News.

“The majority of the changes you’ll notice are based around Hebrew words beginning with the letter het. Previously, we used the letters ‘ch’ to indicate the guttural sound. But since most North Americans pronounce it with the simple ‘h’ sound, going forward, so will we. Here’s an example of the change: where we previously would have written ‘cheder,’ we now use ‘heder.’ However when the het, or haf, is found in the middle of the word – like in ‘Simchat Torah’ – the ‘ch’ remains.”


READ: THE PASSING OF YEHUDA GILDEN, TORONTO’S JEWISH MUSIC MAVEN