Rockland County, NY – It was a rapt audience at the Kinus Hashluchim on Sunday night in Monsey as a Wilmington shaliach took to the microphone and shared his personal journey to religious observance in a rap song.
Rabbi Motti Flikshtein, program director at Chabad of Wilmington, Delaware, told the spellbound audience of 5,000 men how it was a single hug from Rabbi Aryeh Weinstein of Chabad of Bucks County, Pennsylvania that transformed him from an wayward teenager into a practicing Orthodox Jew.
Rabbi Flikshtein, who started rapping when he was in high school, launched into the first verse and the chorus of a single titled Coming Home that he released in 2010 as the “Rapping Rabbi” under the name Mor-To-Life.
His nearly one and a half minute long rap focused on how he realized that his life was devoid of meaning until he discovered his faith.
Despite the unconventional style of his music, Rabbi Flikshtein’s delivery was greeted with thunderous applause.
“The feedback has been amazing,” Rabbi Flikshtein told VIN News. “My phone has been going non-stop. One shaliach told me he has been going to the kinus for 14 years and this was the most powerful moment he has ever seen.”
It was Rabbi Weinstein who encouraged Rabbi Flikshtein to channel his gift for rap in a positive direction.
“Everything we have is a tool, it just depends how we use it,” explained Rabbi Flikshtein. “Any talent, any skill, can be used for the positive or the negative and Rabbi Weinstein encouraged me to do a rap album with Jewish content and to take it on tour, telling my story through music. He told me ‘What you can accomplish through one song can probably do more than I can in 1,000 sermons.’”
Having been raised in a secular home, Rabbi Flikshtein said that he has a unique ability to connect with kids from non-observant homes.
“We have a disconnect with a lot of teens,” said Rabbi Flikshtein. “They see me, a Chasidic looking rabbi and there is a huge gap in their minds between their worlds and mine. But as soon as I start rapping or I give them an album, it breaks down the barriers and creates a really nice point for connection, especially when they know that I was on their side of the spectrum. I know the challenges of being a secular teen so they can relate to me that way.”
After being joined onstage at the kinus by Rabbi Weinstein, Rabbi Flikshtein said that he paid the warm hug all those years ago forward, calling yet one more person to join him on the podium in front of the crowd.
Zach Horowitz shared how he too had grown up in a religiously unaffiliated family, describing himself as a “pop culture worshipping, party loving, protest coordinating, religious resisting, atheist teenager in Wilmington Delaware” who believed that Jews fell into two categories: “crazies with the black hats and the open minded ones like me.”
But after being invited to join the board of a fledgling Jewish teen group headed by his former hip hop dance counselor from the local JCC camp, Horowitz found his life taking an unplanned detour.
“Hip hop Rachel had become super religious,” said Horowitz. “She had joined the crazies with the black hats.”
She had also become Rabbi Flikshtein’s wife and co-program director of Chabad of Wilmington.
Together the Flikshteins became Horowitz’s spiritual guides, answering questions he didn’t even know he had.
“Today I am a full student at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey all because of two very special shluchim, hip hop Rachel and her husband, Rabbi Motti, whose love and care brought me home,” said Horowitz.
The three men embraced on stage with Rabbi Flikshtein extending his gratitude both to his mentor and his protégé, for allowing him “to receive chesed and to pass on that kindness to others.”
Rabbi Flikshtein said that he is often asked if he feels that he is at a disadvantage as a shaliach because he came from an irreligious home, but that nothing can be farther from the truth.