Though he may be the only hasid in the world to boast bleached-blond peyos, singing at the White House and appearing in a Pepsi commercial, Lipa Schmeltzer (also known as “The Jewish Elvis,” and “The Lady Gaga of Hasidic Music”) had a rather typical hasidic upbringing in terms of religion. Emotionally, there were challenges. Growing up in New Square, the second youngest of 12 children with a survivor father, Schmeltzer had a hard time paying attention in school – a very rigid place – and used music as a form of therapy. When he was unhappy, he would hum and let his mind wonder somewhere else. As a child, he and his brother would perform duets, for adoring crowds. His passion for music burgeoned into his career of a wedding singer. Then after he got married, he began to write songs that garnered him notoriety, both the good and bad kind.
While some people truly took to his unique style, others were put off by it. “It’s something I’m battling [even] today. I’m probably going to need to work on [it] for many years: to always remember that I can’t be liked by everybody.” This was a struggle for him particularly in the beginning, but has gotten easier. Schmeltzer notes that even when “Mordechai, who saved all these people from being killed, only most people held of him. Even if you save people’s lives, you’re not going to have everybody with you. Some people are going to say you could have [done more].”
Having released more than 14 albums, Schmeltzer has caused so much buzz that Pepsi reached out to him last year and asked him to appear in an ad for Pepsi Max which was filmed in Israel and featured dancing Hasids. “I didn’t know how to appreciate it when Pepsi called me…I almost said ‘forget it’ and then I realized how big it was. It was bashert…a big kiddush Hashem. They chose me to show that they care about Orthodox Jews too.”
Schmeltzer is getting a degree in Creative Writing and Visual Art from Columbia University. He is a huge proponent of more open-minded Hasidim opting for secular learning. “Education is a journey that I’m traveling now,” says Schmeltzer. “It’s not an easy journey, being a father and a husband, and many other things… I’m still sitting with students in classrooms, 18…some older students. Just today I met with two professors talking about my future because I’m thinking about what I’ll do after my Bachelors.” Ultimately, Schmeltzer would love to teach.
Although he isn’t sure if he will graduate in a few months or stay at Columbia to study Jewish History, he is thrilled to be able to have options. “I love to learn. I want to be a part of everything that was never taught to me…maybe it is a beautiful thing to be able to be a part of it for a longer time.” But he doesn’t just learn in the classroom. Once a fourteen-year-old boy came by on his bike and knocked on Schmeltzer’s door. He told Schmeltzer that he had a CD of his but lost the cover art. He asked if he could please have a new one. “I said sure. I gave him a new CD a new cover, everything…a few weeks later, he started to come to my shul every Shabbos, walking an hour from where he lived.” The boy told Schmeltzer that his teacher at school ripped the CD cover up in front of the whole class, and the boy didn’t have money to buy another one. “He said, ‘this teacher, he tore up what I bought with my saved money, but this Lipa Schmeltzer, he doesn’t even know me and he gives me his CDs? This is where I want to daven.’ He came to the shul for two years…As the Mishna says, we should get inspired by inspiring others.”