“Creativity takes courage,” a famous artist once said. But that’s not the only reason why Reb Mendel Roth is a very courageous individual. For someone like him who hails from a rebbishe home, just plucking the strings of a guitar is almost an act of defiance. Still, while the tools he uses are different from those of his illustrious forbears (a guitar slung over his shoulder), like them, he writes music not as an expression of his imaginative faculties but to inspire people to Yiddishkeit. “My grandfather’s followers were chasidim, whereas mine are fans,” he says with a self-deprecatory chuckle.
“I like to call myself a musical mashpia rather than a singer or a musician,” the 25-year-old clarifies. When I ask him to explain the difference, he offers the following insight:
“Everyone who makes music is a mashpia because music speaks to the heart. The thing is, though, that the heart can be drawn in either direction, so music can be a vehicle for both good and bad. The trick is to know how to be mashpia in the proper way and bring out the right message in the songs. It’s also important to sing earnestly, in a heartfelt, soulful way. Also, whenever I make a kumzitz I include toirahlach and stories about tzaddikim in between the songs. I use the music to bring chizzuk both to myself and others.”