Ani Ma’amin – 1968

July 18, 2022

לז”נ הרב שמואל יהודה בהרהג”ר אברהם חיים הלוי לוין זצוק”ל

From the diary of Itzy Weisberg

The year was 1964. I was learning in Telshe Chicago at the time. I was taking a Shabbos walk with my good friend Mutty Parnes, a”h when the first part came to me. Slow and gentle, the words were familiar but hinted to a more hopeful crescendo. You see, for the last 20 years or so, the Ani Ma’amin that world Jewry sang was the haunting melody composed by R’ Azriel Dovid Fastag, Hy’d on his way to the Nazi death camps. Fastag’s song – a declaration of resolute faith and fortitude – was universally sung by the martyrs and survivors of Hitler’s gas chambers and crematoria…

But now, on a Shabbos afternoon in 1964, a new tune was born, one that would resonate with a new generation of survivors; survivors of the rampant disinterest and assimilation that was so prevalent at the time. The tone of this song would allude to the unyielding belief in the imminent arrival of Moshiach, and that although we’ve waited for so long, the wait was finally nearing its end…

🎶 !אֲנִי מַאֲמִין בֶּאֱמוּנָה שְׁלֵמָה בְּבִיאַת הַמָּשִֽׁיחַ – אֲנִי מַאֲמִין 🎶

By the time Shabbos was over, though, I had completely forgotten the tune I had composed. However, mazal must have been on my side because good ol’ Mutty helped me remember it all over again. Note by note it was rebuilt, and I told him right then and there that if I ever finished the niggun, I would duly credit him for saving the song…

The next school year, 1964/65, I transferred to Yeshivas Rav Chaim Berlin in Coney Island. Then, in the summer of 1965, I moved to Detroit and went to Rav Leib Bakst zt’l’s yeshiva for what would be my third year of Bais Medrash. It was there that I composed the second part of this song, and formally introduced it to the bochurim while we were sitting at Shalosh Seudos. Baruch Hashem, it was very well received (the entire yeshiva sang it for 45 minutes straight!)…

🎶 !וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיִּתְמַהְמֵֽהַּ, עִם כָּל זֶה אֲחַכֶּה לּוֹ – אֲחַכֶּה לּוֹ בְּכָל יוֹם שֶׁיָּבוֹא, בְּכָל יוֹם שֶׁיָּבוֹא 🎶

After Shabbos was over, I took out my cassette recorder, taped the finished piece, and immediately sent it to Mutty, who, together with R’ Eli Teitelbaum, a’h was working on the next Pirchei Choir record at the time. Once again it received an overwhelming endorsement, and the title of Pirchei’s Volume 3 was subsequently entitled Ani Ma’amin, in honor of this newly minted song. When the record was released in 1968, I made good on my word and listed Mutty the co-composer…

But then the unimaginable happened…

Stanley Sperber, who conducted and arranged that Pirchei album, put out his own record with his Zamir Chorale out of Boston and inexplicably made Mutty the sole composer. (To this day, I don’t know how it happened.) Then, to make matters even worse, respected musicologist and leading Jewish Music publisher Velvel Pasternak, a’h, included the niggun in his 1968 anthology, “Songs of The Chassidim Vol. 1” – also crediting Mutty as the song’s only composer!

Pasternak later sent me a letter with an apology which read:

Dear Itzy,
As I said over the phone, no matter how hard you try, mistakes always creep into a book such as mine….I want to thank you for the use of your very fine niggun “Ani Maamin”…. I do promise you that I will correct the error in the subsequent printing, please G-d, and give you complete credit….
With best wishes, I remain most cordially yours,

To top off this whole bizarre sequence of events, in 1969, Mutty put out a record called “Yeshiva Brass.” On the back cover, the liner notes read: “The group’s arranger is Mutty Parnes, who has achieved quite a bit of fame for his new Ani Ma’amin.”

Sperber may have made a mistake, and Pasternak had admitted to his error. But how could my close friend turn his back on me in such a hurtful way – to remove me from my own composition?! I was young. I felt betrayed. I felt hurt. The damage was done. Mutty and I never really spoke after that, and this regrettably put an end to a very close and meaningful friendship…

During Chol Hamoed Sukkos 2011, I went to see Mutty at a nursing facility after I had heard that he wasn’t doing too well. Time has a way of healing deep wounds, and I wanted to reconcile our relationship – long overdue, I know. When I entered his room – seeing him there in a bed, reduced to a mere shell of his former self – I could hardly keep my emotions in check.

I leaned in and told him that I forgave him for all that had transpired…. and I sang to him…. I sang to him while holding his face in my hands and a peaceful calm washed over his face. Unfortunately, we never got a chance to start over; Mutty passed away in April of 2013, but his memory and the many lessons I learned from this saga still live on in my heart. Yehi Zichro Baruch.
We are taught that sinas chinam is what got us here, but we also know that ahavas chinam is our ticket home. So, if we can take one thing from this “Behind the Notes” tale, then let it be the renewed awareness of those whispers in our heart – those latent feelings of true ahavas Yisroel that exist within each and every one of us, just waiting to be stirred. And when we do that, we will finally be able to rid ourselves of the divisiveness – the poison that is machlokes – and be able to reconcile the petty differences that may exist among us, and that may have kept us apart for far too long.

Ani Ma’amin – arguably Itzy Weisberg’s most enduring song – has become a musical legend in its own right, absorbing some of the timeless essence of the lyrics themselves, while musically emerging as a veritable classic. This iconic song begins low and contemplative. Its high part – a soaring affirmation of hope – has provided us an anthem of anticipation for more than 50 years.

It was for this reason that Benny Friedman and Doni Gross felt it was the obvious choice as the finishing touch for their initial a cappella collaboration, Whispers of the Heart, back in 2020. I would add that the WOTH series is an absolutely breathtaking journey through the palpable atmosphere of Sefira and the 3 Weeks, helping us bring forth a heightened sense of togetherness and of our increased longing for the Geulah Shleimah.

When we listen and sing along to the entrancing melody, let us take to heart the words of the Rambam’s twelfth principle of emunah: that while we don’t know when he will be here, we can believe with a perfect faith that he is most assuredly one day closer… Now let’s do what we can to be ready… today.

Did you know? Whispers of the Heart was completed in just five days, which didn’t leave much time to think of an album title. In fact, the first draft of the album was called “שמע בני” – a semi-obvious play on Benny’s name – before Benny thought of its now famous title, at the very last minute.

Yisroel Lamm, seen here in Camp Munk, painting the iconic poster that would become the cover of the third Pirchei record
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