Israel

Hasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer responds to controversy around his performances for IDF soldiers

In a video filmed at the gravesite of Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the late rebbe of Satmar, Schmeltzer acknowledged that he and others had performances canceled for appearing to support Israel and its military

Lipa Schmeltzer during a performance. Credit: Erin Nekervis

Nov 27, 2023 6:25 PM

Updated: 

Hasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer released a series of videos responding to an apparent backlash within the Satmar Hasidic community against his performances for Israeli soldiers. In these videos, Schmeltzer spoke of his desire to show support for “all Jews” despite threats of cancellation, while still showing respect toward Satmar’s firm anti-Zionist views.

Since the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 and the subsequent Israel-Hamas war, some Haredi entertainers have expressed support for Israel in their public performances, and several have faced backlash and cancellations for appearing sympathetic to Zionism.

Schmeltzer, a popular Hasidic singer, traveled to Israel in recent weeks to perform for various Israeli audiences, including  members of the Israeli Defense Forces, particularly those who have been wounded in recent hostilities. Last week, the singer released a video of himself speaking at the gravesite of Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the late rebbe of Satmar, in which Schmeltzer addressed those who criticized him for appearing to support Israel and the IDF.

The singer acknowledged that he and other entertainers had appearances canceled because of their public support for Israel. His own cancellations were damaging to him, he said, and he added that many entertainers were now worried about financial repercussions for appearing too sympathetic to Israel.

Schmeltzer explained that he came to the gravesite of the Satmar rebbe, in Kiryas Joel, N.Y., to pray for the well-being of all the Jewish people and for himself —  “to know what to do” and “to find clarity.” He said that when he performs for Satmar Jews, he does so in a manner that respects the values of the Satmar community. At the same time, he made clear he was going to continue his performances for IDF soldiers. “Every Jew has a mission,” he said, “and my mission is to make Jews feel happy and to touch Jewish hearts.”

In a follow-up video, Schmeltzer appeared to respond to critics of his earlier video, which, he indicated, triggered further backlash for appearing to mock the Satmar rebbe and the Satmar community’s anti-Zionist views, and accusations that his visit to the gravesite was a commercial ploy.

Saying he “respects all views,” including those he disagrees with, Schmeltzer rejected the argument that his visit to the Satmar Rebbe’s gravesite was insincere. “I won’t speak badly of others,” he said in the video, hinting that it was his critics whose motives were suspect. Schmeltzer acknowledged that the Satmar community helped him to create his entertainment business, and he said he had no intention of hurting anyone’s feelings.

As Shtetl previously reported, a large group of rabbis associated with the Satmar Hasidic sect issued instructions to Haredi media outlets on how to report the ongoing Israel-Hamas war so as not to give the appearance “of being impressed with or showing esteem for” the State of Israel. While the instructions did not mention musicians or entertainers, many Satmar publications published a phone number to report “any matter than needs correction,” referring to messages sympathetic to Zionism.

While the Haredi community largely opposes Zionism, the Satmar community is known to hold a much firmer view on it. Many Haredim still have strong ties to Israel, where Haredim make up over 13% of the population.

Schmeltzer himself is no stranger to controversy. In 2008, he canceled a major performance at New York City’s Madison Square Garden due to strong opposition from Haredi rabbis who declared the event “frivolous” and “would lead the youth to sin.” According to an interview he gave to the New York Times, Schmeltzer suggested that defying the rabbis would’ve led to greater financial loss. “I have a career, I have a wife and kids to support, I have a mortgage to pay, I have to get out of the fire.” Later that year, however, in comments to VINnews, he suggested the rabbis had been misled about the nature of the event. “If I had known the truth about how things were presented to the Gedolei HaTorah” — the leading rabbinic sages — “I would not have canceled the concert.”

Schmeltzer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Chananya Groner is a former member of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect. He was born in Melbourne, Australia and has degrees in philosophy and law. He currently resides in Brooklyn.