Yom Daled….Chaf Zayin Sivan, Taf-Shin-Lamud-Gimmel….New York City…Dear Nikolai:
“How are you my dear Nikolai…”
When these words were uttered in Mastertone Studios EXACTLY 50 years ago today, the entire frum music business in the United States changed forever.
Just a year or so earlier, a group of ideological yeshiva bachurim in Brooklyn, led by (Rabbi) Mutty Katz, approached Rabbi Moshe Sherer (Zt”l) with a plan to have yeshiva boys run various outreach programs for Jewish public school children and Hebrew Day Schools in the tri-state area.
This immediate success was named JEP (Jewish Education Program) and quickly spread to the creation of a sister JEP program, run by Bais Yaakov girls.
In early 1973, after a lively Talmud Torah visitation on Long Island, filled with dance, song, and informative and inspirational stories, Mutty approached Yosef Chaim Golding and Moshe Hauben with an idea: one of the children at the school had a beautiful voice; perhaps we could produce a musical recording (record in those days) with mostly English lyrics, so that the JEP kids could understand and appreciate it. And, if it was successful, the proceeds would go to establish a JEP Scholarship Fund to help subsidize tuition payments for public school children who agreed to make the switch to yeshivos.
The song, “Nikolai”, composed by Heshy Walfish, English lyrics by Rabbi Chezky Kornfeld, and sung by Heshy Wolf, catapulted this first JEP record into thousands of homes, and the newly established JEP Scholarship Fund was the catalyst for many numbers of shomrei Torah and mitzvos as a result of these scholarships.