Neo-Hasidic rock opera, ‘Exile and Redemption,’ may be first of its kind

He created a series of 12 songs and music videos, each combining his past experiences hope and inspiration for the future.

By Joseph Wolkin, World Israel News

Musician and songwriter Aryeh Shalom is telling his story of religious awakening and personal struggles in a unique way, combining the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov with Broadway.

Shalom’s “Exile And Redemption: A Neo-Hasidic Rock Opera” debuts on Oct. 13 on Amazon Prime. His first song of the rock opera, “A Little Peace In Our Time,” will be released on Sept. 15.

This is no ordinary rock opera. It details Shalom’s life of trauma, a pair of divorces, manic depression, his mother’s death and his journey to finding the truth in Judaism.

“Exile And Redemption teaches us that no matter what challenges we may face in our lives, God is with us and we are never alone,” Shalom said.

“The challenges themselves have a purpose and are meant to make us stronger and more empathetic human beings. Even if we feel that we have made irredeemable mistakes, God’s unconditional love is unwavering and we are always given the chance to rise again and find forgiveness. This struggle and our ability to choose is our greatness and the purpose of our existence both individually and collectively.”

Shalom has faced plenty of trials and tribulations throughout his life. But no matter what happened to him, he sought solace in music.

He created a series of 12 songs and music videos, each combining his past experiences with hope and inspiration for the future.

“I always found Hasidic stories to be really powerful,” Shalom said. “Originally, the album was meant to be a conceptual album exploring those essential ideas, which brought me back to Judaism. Some of the music is inspired by the relationships I’ve made along the way.”

Shalom’s two divorces deeply influenced the creation of “Exile and Redemption.” His first marriage “had some intense moments.”

“When you’re becoming observant, one of the things you look forward to is having a traditional family life with Shabbos guests and singing around the table,” he said. “Losing my kids like that, even though I didn’t lose them completely, really broke me.”

His first manic episode came while he was studying at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. After going back to America, he found his path back to success and meaning.

“What better way to share my music and give it a platform through stories,” Shalom said. “It won’t be enough to have just one music video. Each song needs to have its own platform.”

In Philadelphia, Shalom has worked with people in their 20s and 30s as part of The Chevra Social Club for the past 18 years.

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He grew up attending a Solomon Schechter School and Camp Akiba before eventually going to Israel on a teen tour. Shalom was so inspired by the trip that he went back to the land of milk and honey post-high school in the middle of the Gulf War. He was studying in London at the time, but while hanging out with his grandfather in Florida, he knew it was time to go to Israel.

“Like any typical Jewish mother, she went to the Army Navy store and bought me a gas mask,” he joked. “But when I landed at the airport, they were handing out gas masks.”

Gas mask or not, he was off to live on a religious kibbutz. By the end of the six-month program, he had, what he calls, “an awakening.” As he started to ask more questions, the staff directed him to travel to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, he went to the Heritage House hostel. He fell in love with the city.

“When I first got to the Heritage House, I met Rabbi Meir Schuster and I had a lot of questions,” Shalom said. “He said, ‘Have I got a program for you.’ It was the Aish Discovery seminar.”

By the conclusion of the course, Shalom did some deep soul searching around the streets of Jerusalem. But he went back home, becoming part of the “hippie counterculture,” as he described.

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However, he couldn’t stay away from Israel for long. He headed back to the Holy Land, studying at Aish HaTorah for three and a half years to become a rabbi.

“It was such an intense period,” he said. “I was going through this revival. I needed something and I found it cathartic, so I turned to music.”

Shalom grew up playing the cello, participated in youth orchestras and even took part in musical theater. It was only a matter of time until he would return to his roots.

“The first song I wrote was for my sister’s birthday, who was living on a kibbutz in the north,” he said. “It was helping me process this revival.”

Now, he is sharing his story with the hope of inspiring others. The rock opera’s 12 songs are meant to do exactly that.

“If you were to sum it up in one phrase, in the song ‘Human Becoming,’ it illustrates the trials and tribulations that I went through,” Shalom said. “When you become observant, you think you’re going to have the perfect life with a perfect wife. That’s not what life’s all about. Judaism is a great tool to help you overcome your challenges, but because you live a traditional lifestyle doesn’t mean you won’t have any challenges.”