The loss of a radiant soul

Remembering haredi musician Haim Tukachinsky, who was tragically killed in a Sukkot hit-and-run and meant so much to so many

TUKACHINSKY AT the keyboard in a publicity photo with Yisrael Lutnick, with whom he performed for the ‘Sinatra’ concert and other shows. (photo credit: AMY LUTNICK)
TUKACHINSKY AT the keyboard in a publicity photo with Yisrael Lutnick, with whom he performed for the ‘Sinatra’ concert and other shows.
(photo credit: AMY LUTNICK)
On the eve of Sukkot, a reportedly inebriated and speeding Spanish reporter lost control of his vehicle, striking and killing a pedestrian who was walking home from observing the holiday, including a visit to the Kotel. An article in the next issue of The Jerusalem Post tersely described the “hit-and-run incident that occurred in the center of Jerusalem… leaving a 30-year-old man dead.”
What was not known at press time was that the news would release a tsunami of shock and disbelief that plunged an extraordinary number of people in Jerusalem and beyond into profound depths of sadness and loss.
Many grieving readers contacted the Post asking us to publish more information about him. When the Magazine put out word that we intended to write about Tukachinsky and invited reader input, we were inundated with an overwhelming response: moving, heartrending tributes.
With apologies to all those who sent in poignant recollections that we do not have enough space to include, we present six of the responses we received. It is to be hoped that they convey at least a sense of the spirit of a young man taken from us, cherished by so many, who will never brighten our lives again.
My world just stopped
A huge thank-you for writing about our amazing Haim. I wake every day hoping that it was just a nightmare – only to be faced with the reality. I still don’t know quite where to put myself.
Haim and I were very close and would sometimes speak two or three times a day. The loss is beyond words.
I met Haim in the summer of 2014 when he was brought in by our then-musical director, Nir Cohen, to accompany our show A Little Night Music. I remember thinking how incredibly talented Haim was. But it wasn’t until a few months later when we performed together for the JEST Farewell Concert that our friendship truly began. Haim had only known me as a director, so when I began to sing in rehearsal, he exclaimed, as only Haim could, “Where have you been all my life? We must work together!”
We began touring and performing musical concerts around the country, and hours of rehearsals, performances and car rides solidified our friendship. Shortly afterward, we collaborated on Merrily We Roll Along, Ordinary Days and most recently You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Hardly a day went by when we didn’t speak.
When Haim came back from a visit to his sister in the States last summer, he returned with a mission. His sister had taken him to see Cabaret, and he had fallen in love with the musical – so much so that he went to see it twice. Just a few days after his return, we were on our way to Herzliya for a concert together, and he wasted no time in trying to convince me to do the show. Anyone who knew Haim knows that you simply could not say no to him, and the next day I applied for the rights. We were ready to embark on our next journey together.
When I heard the news, it was as if my world just stopped. I’ve lost my dear friend, colleague and collaborator. I spent the days after his death in a sort of haze, looking at pictures, watching videos, reading old emails and messages. One of the most painful things to read was what he wrote in his Directors Note in our program for our last production together, Charlie Brown:
“A special thank-you to our amazing Aviella Trapido, a director, friend, sister and a major AACI mainstay. I pray that our Dynamic Duo will keep yielding such theatrical fruit in years to come with many more beautiful musical productions.”
How can I go on without him? We were mid-production for Haim’s favorite show. After speaking with his mother and sisters and receiving warm words of encouragement, I am pushing forward with our wonderful cast to bring to the stage Haim’s vision. Everyone in our cast and our community really loved Haim, and the most therapeutic way to deal with the hurt is to continue doing what he loved. I am sure that he would loudly proclaim, “Baruch Hashem!”
To see Haim was to see a tall, religious guy with peyot and a God-given musical talent. But to know Haim was to know all the colors of a beautiful, multifaceted diamond.
A gift we were given from heaven
On the first day of Hol Hamoed Sukkot, I – with the entire musical and theatrical community of Jerusalem – was shocked to my core when I received a copy of an official notification from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance announcing the death, caused by an allegedly drunk driver, of Haim Tukachinsky.
Shock, confusion and painful sadness all came together in that instant. The head and the heart could not agree – the former knowing what it had been told and the latter unable to process it. The void left is real, and felt so deeply by so many.
Seven years ago, Israel Musicals and JEST were producing Truly Scrumptious, a show for children. Our designated musical director was unable to see the project through, so one of our actors brought in a friend of his from the academy. He told us how this young pianist was a brilliant accompanist, and how he accompanied him at all of his auditions.
When Haim walked into his first rehearsal, we were all amazed at how he looked. This was a young hassidic man with curly sidelocks and an infectious smile – not exactly what you’d expect in a musical director from the academy! His demeanor was supremely pleasant, and his musicianship and sense of teamwork were amazing. Throughout the seven blessed years we worked together, Haim never ceased to amaze me with all of these things, as well as with his treasured friendship.
I remember one Truly Scrumptious rehearsal where we were struggling to remember the choreography we had been taught for a certain song. Haim said, “I think I know it,” and proceeded to get out from behind the piano and demonstrate the movements to us. When Haim was committed to a project, his commitment went all the way.
That same year, Haim played the piano in the band of our production of Cats. There was one rehearsal where, because of a scheduling error, we were forced to rehearse in extremely cramped quarters.
Haim was to accompany that rehearsal, and despite everyone grumbling about the lack of space, Haim played joyfully. He transformed everyone’s mood that evening. As long as he could make music, he was in his happiness zone.
Haim sought out every opportunity to make music, every production, every concert. He never stopped. He would go from concert to rehearsal to another practice, and then stay up late arranging music for his next project.
When the time came for us to produce Seussical and we needed a new musical director, there was no question that I was going to ask Haim. I believe that was his first time doing full musical direction, although you would never know it. He took complete responsibility for everything: adapting the arrangements for our performers and musicians, teaching the vocals at rehearsals, recruiting and training the musicians, accompanying the rehearsals, coordinating the logistics of the musicians, and, of course, playing and conducting the performances.
Haim musically directed three musicals and two concerts for us. He quickly became the family of pretty much all the English troupes, musically directing for Starcatcher, Beit Hillel and, most frequently, J-Town Playhouse of AACI. He pretty much made AACI his home away from home.
His death has turned all of us theater lovers into one large grieving family.
Haim’s love of others was incredible. He was always there to help if you needed extra practice time. He loved working with people from every possible background and with widely varying belief systems, no matter how alien to him. If you were there singing and making magic, nothing else mattered. We can all learn from his stellar example.
When he worked, he was on fire. He drilled the singers over and over until they got their parts perfect. He made sure that they all sang the “t” and “k” and “s” sounds at the ends of words perfectly together. He would sometimes demonstrate a vocal line by playing a melodic phrase from some unrelated piece of music, often to great comedic effect! He would have the singers freeze on a certain note, holding it until he was sure that all the harmonies were there. There were two main sins to avoid when Haim was working: talking and attempting to help him teach. His legendary discipline did not allow him to accept anything other than the full commitment of every performer.
To Haim, either you did something to excellence, or you did not do it at all. When I was writing band arrangements for Sinatra, he’d send me a note saying how terrible this or that one was. We’d set a time to talk about it, and it would turn out that there were maybe five notation errors, a sharp instead of a flat, a missing dot on a quarter note. Once fixed, the arrangements were “nice.” But until those relatively minor (no pun intended) errors were fixed, the arrangement was “terrible.” Haim made me better.
My most meaningful times spent with Haim were working on the two special concerts we performed over the past six years: Frankly Sinatra and Rosenblatt & Gershwin. It was partially because of Haim that I wrote Rosenblatt & Gershwin. I knew that with his religious convictions, which remained steadfast despite his involvement in a largely secular area of endeavor, he would appreciate this spiritual program. And, musically, he derived much joy from performing it! He would always ask when we would be doing more shows, and when I told him of new concert dates, he would be truly happy.
I feel that he connected to Yossele Rosenblatt on the religious level, and to George Gershwin on the personal level. At our last performance of Rosenblatt & Gershwin this past Passover, I told the story of Gershwin’s untimely death at age 38 from an improperly diagnosed illness. Haim commented from the piano, “Don’t worry, I feel fine.” While I didn’t think that particular quip was so funny, it showed me something profound about Haim. Perhaps on a subconscious level, he identified with the great Gershwin. How could we have known that he wouldn’t even reach Gershwin’s years?
But like Gershwin, Haim seemed driven to create music, music, and more music.
When I think about Haim, I realize that this eternally young man, this gift that we were given from heaven for a few short years, was a person who made dreams come true. For me, it was the concerts and the musicals. We were supposed to meet during Sukkot to continue preparing a production of my musical If I Could Rewrite the World. I was excited, and nervous, to play the songs for Haim and get his input on orchestrations. I knew that he would push me to a higher standard, as he always did. And I knew that, with Haim at my side, this dream would come true.
Now, although he won’t be playing the music with us, his inspiration and his memory will motivate me to achieve that goal. Sadly, when we perform the show later this year, and whenever I perform Sinatra or Rosenblatt & Gershwin again, Haim won’t be at the piano. But he will be there in my heart. Haim helped make these dreams come true. May his memory be for a blessing, and continue to inspire us to strive for excellence, to demonstrate complete ahavat Yisrael, and to keep making dreams come true.
Amazingly exacting standards
It makes my heart hurt every time I remember that Haim is gone. I have so many memories of him.
He had nicknames for people. To Haim, I was always “Reverend Mother.” I am proud to say that he told me that I was his second-favorite mother. I only wish I had known how little time we would share; I like to think that, maybe, I would have been a better “mother” to him.
He was the musical director of three shows in which I participated: Next to Normal, The Sound of Music and Singin’ in the Rain. He also accompanied my solo show, which was performed only once. Just before Sukkot we were in touch about getting that show together again to perform this coming December.
Haim had amazingly exacting standards and pushed everybody he worked with to reach those standards ­– but did so in the sweetest way: full of humor and the expectation that we could do better, something that he communicated from a place of love.
As a conductor, he was accustomed to working with professional (or near-professional) musicians. I remember him ripping through the scores at choral rehearsals, quickly calling out each cut, each breath mark and each dynamic according to the number of the measure. For people who largely did not read music, this was overwhelming, but it showed his respect for the music and his commitment to getting group numbers up to the highest possible level.
At the same time, he found a way to work with amateurs that was really remarkable in that it showed his willingness to always go the extra mile and help every single person master his or her part. If you needed a recording of your vocal part, he recorded it. If you needed extra rehearsal, he was always willing to schedule one (even in the middle of his responsibilities at the academy or at the academy high school). He had funny and effective ways to make sure that singers sang their ensemble parts exactly, and got every rest and cutoff and consonant exactly together. I particularly remember the exaggerated “sniff” he would give that would mark a vocal rest in the middle of a phrase. It was silly, but it worked!
Outside of work, he came to our house for Shabbat in Beit Shemesh... just twice, I think. The day he first came to visit, one of my neighbors was obviously impressed with him and later approached me to ask, “Who is he? Is he single?”
On the way back from the funeral, I asked Yisrael Lutnick – who spent more time with Haim than I did and probably knew him better – if he knew whether Haim had ever been in love. I hope so. I know he was so loved by the community. Speaking for myself, he is deeply, deeply missed.
Insurmountable loss
I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Haim for only one year, but in that short time, Haim changed me. It’s almost ridiculous to try to write about his gift as a musician ­– I don’t possess the language to describe Haim’s gift.
His personality, though, was infectious. While maintaining his serious nature when it came to his craft, Haim had an extreme goofiness about him that made everyone smile. He used descriptive words that people forgot were in their vocabularies, and suddenly we would all start saying things were “lovely” and be “counting blessings.”
He accepted compliments that were superfluous ­– because it’s almost silly to compliment genius – with grace and humility. He stuck to his guns about his needs as a performer while being respectful to those he worked with.
But the thing I will take with me, aside from memories that now make me smile through my tears, is that I learned to say “Baruch Hashem” from Haim. I was not one who said it before; in fact, it made me uncomfortable. But Haim said it with such ease about every situation – things that seemed difficult, things that were a breeze. He knew there was a higher power, and he acknowledged it always. And this loss that feels so insurmountable ­– I can’t say it about this, but I will say it freely about so many things in life thanks to Haim.
Baruch Hashem.
Wholly, unapologetically himself
Haim Tukachinsky was an amazing musician. He was the proud owner of an old phone that was held together by tape. He was kind and enthusiastic and funny as hell. He biked everywhere.
He would always make a face when I messed up a harmony. He knew where every single note needed to be and how long it needed to be held and where you were supposed to breathe, and we’d do it over and over and over until it was perfect.
His emails would often have many exclamation marks and smileys.
He made sure to let you know he enjoyed spending time with you. Haim was wholly, unapologetically himself. And there are so many other things that are precious memories from the intensive months I spent working on Next to Normal with him.
I feel so lucky to have gotten to work with him and know him. I found out he died this morning and I haven’t managed to start my day yet. Maybe if I stay in bed I won’t have to go through this day knowing he’s gone. But probably not.
Gone – just like that
I don’t know how to process it. Haim Tukachinsky, one of the most lively, smiley, funny, friendly, loving, talented people I know – gone. Just like that.
We never actually got to work on a show together, but every time he saw me he would act as if I was his best friend that he hadn’t seen in forever. It’s funny or amazing, but everyone says they felt the same. We promised each other that we would do a show together one day. Oh Haim, I’m so sorry.
The world has truly lost one of the most good-hearted, purest, most radiant souls.