Shlepping isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
For the four guys in Shlepping Nachas, a Jerusalem-based band making quirky hassidic reggae music, being a shlepper (Yiddish, loosely translated as “slacker”) has been the path toward serving God, inspiring others and hopefully building a successful music career.
After putting out several viral music videos in recent months, the band is currently touring the US and has high hopes for the future – if that’s the divine plan.
“We don’t decide anything,” says Simchi Skaist, the band’s co-founder. “Hashem runs the world and whatever happens will be for the best. Our dream is just to keep putting out more music.”
“Hashem runs the world and whatever happens will be for the best. Our dream is just to keep putting out more music.”Simchi Skaist
The band’s members grew up in religious homes in the New York area, but it was in Israel that they came together in ways that seem like more than just coincidence.
“My co-founder Yekutiel Adler (Skilly) and I met when we were studying together at Rabbi Fischer’s yeshiva in Moshav Matityahu, in 2018. We both loved making music, and we instantly connected over our love of the band Phish,” Skaist says. “We started playing together for hours in a cave in the hills outside the town. We had this incredible energy together and instead of learning Torah, we spent all of our time playing. Then, later that year, we went to Meron for Lag Ba’Omer, and we met our drummer, Avraham Dovid Trachtenberg (Trak), who had just played his first gig, and he said, “You guys are really unique, but you need a beat.”
The trio made plans to meet up in Jerusalem and play on Jaffa Street for spare change. “It was incredible,” Skaist says. “We had this incredible energy together, and we ended up playing together every day for weeks. We were having a great time and we’d use the money to buy drinks for our friends who were hanging out with us.”
Coalescing as a band, they chose to call themselves Shlepping Nachas, a cross between their favorite pastime and shepping nachas (Yiddish, term colloquially used as “getting satisfaction”). Friends designed a logo and got them set up on social media.
The birth of Shlepping Nachas
IN THE coming months, Yedidya Steinberg (Diddy) joined as a bass player and the band played its first gig on Sukkot in 2019. Then, a few months later after a few more small gigs, things started to get serious.
“On Hanukkah, a few things happened,” Skaist says. “First, we met a guy named Morris, who had just sold his business, and he saw our energy and was like, ‘You guys have to pursue this thing full-time.’ He convinced us to drop what we were doing and rent a car and just start playing music on the streets around the country. He offered to pay for our expenses, but we made enough money busking to cover our costs.
“Morris told us, ‘When I started my business, someone believed in me and supported me. Now, I want to do the same for you.’ He has maintained an advisory role with us since then and has helped us meet with producers and stuff like that.”
At the same time, Shlepping Nachas recorded its first professional music video for a song called “Kudsha Brichu,” a name for God used in the Talmud. The lyrics are simple – “Kudsha Brichu, tell me what to do to get close to you” – but the video’s quirky authenticity had a unique appeal, and people loved it.
As 2020 began, the band had strong momentum but COVID shut the world down. “That Purim, right before the lockdown, we did a great show in Bat Ayin, but then Skilly went home for a week and ended up staying for a year and a half,” Skaist says. “Suddenly, we were in limbo. We practiced together online, but it wasn’t the same.”
The band got back together last summer and has been going strong ever since. For Passover this year, the band released its second video, “Pharaoh in Pajamas,” a completely fresh take on the holiday song that children in Israel love. In a silly and inimitable hipster style, the video puts the four bearded men on a brown couch next to an old Pac-Man arcade game, singing and fooling around in their pajamas as they praise God and yearn for redemption. Personal confession: I’ve watched it dozens of times and it still makes me smile.
In mid-August, the band played at the Acharit Hayamim Festival in Gush Etzion, showcasing its material to an excited crowd. Some of the people in the audience knew the words to “Kudsha Brichu,” but the energy was palpable everywhere, and the dancing was electrifying.
“We’ve been rehearsing a lot in the past few weeks, and we have evolved so much in a short time,” Skaist says. “We have a lot of music we want to get out there. Our next step is to get together some funding and hopefully get a record deal. Whatever Hashem wants.”
The four guys, aged 22 to 30 and all single, now live in Jerusalem’s Nahlaot neighborhood, studying Breslov Hassidut at Simchat Shlomo Yeshiva when they can find the time. But serious Torah scholarship really isn’t for them.
“We’re just a bunch of simple shleppers,” Skaist says. “We’re trying to do something awesome and bring more positivity into the world.” ■