Sam Glaser is a popular composer and performer of soulful Jewish music. He is a deeply insightful Orthodox Jew and has just authored his first book called The Joy of Judaism. Named one of the top ten Jewish artists in the U.S. by Moment Magazine, Glaser tours annually on a fifty-city concert tour. He has a global reach; his tours bring him to Australia, Europe and Asia and throughout Israel, making him a unique ambassador for the Israeli cause. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.
Elise: What age were you when you started singing and performing? How did it all start?
Sam: I was born into a musical family. My mom is a pianist and my dad plays the trumpet. After dinner we would go to the piano and sing with all of our relatives. I wanted to make those piano hammers jump around like my mother did. I love singing and harmonizing and encouraging other people to sing.
I must admit I’m a bit of a ham. I have been performing since I was a toddler for anyone who would listen. I started writing songs when I was seven years old. I made my first album when I was eleven and started my first band in high school.
In my 20’s, I started taking on Shabbat and mitzvot and was inspired to write Jewish music. These songs were answering a spiritual call that I was hearing. I felt this urgent need to help awaken my fellow Jews to the power of their heritage and inspire them. My breakthrough song in the Jewish world was Hineni, written for a fundraiser album to help Soviet émigrés.
Elise: What do you see as your purpose in life?
Sam: I think that I have a deep connection with Hashem. I feel that Hashem loves me and is with me all the time. So, when I am singing about G-d, it is very personal and real for me. What I try to do is take that deep love and connection that I have naturally, expressing what is in my own heart to help others get that same sense of connection. Every move we make towards Hashem benefits us and all our fellow humans, inevitably making the world a more joyful place.
Elise: Tell us about your new book The Joy of Judaism.
Sam: The Joy of Judaism is a practical guide to powerful spiritual living and is filled with stories, humor and insight. It’s a seventy-chapter overview of the various aspects of Jewish life, from holidays to rituals, lifecycle events to affiliation, which serve to bring life satisfaction and a peaceful planet. I include various adventures from the road to demonstrate the continuous presence of Hashem behind the scenes. Thankfully, it became a #1 Amazon bestseller in Jewish Life and has been excerpted in hundreds of publications.
Elise: According to Jewish Music Group Online, you are considered to be the hardest working man in Jewish music today. With over 25 albums produced, along with your annual tour which plays for over 100,000 fans, what drives you?
Sam: I am driven because I love being with people. Singing with people, teaching, encouraging, laughing. I love seeing them smile, seeing them grow. That gives me the greatest nachas.
Elise: Please tell us about your religious journey.
Sam: I grew up in the Conservative movement of Judaism. I recognized that most of my peers saw Judaism as good food, like rugelach and bagels, and lots of guilt. The more I learned, the more I recognized that, as we say in our prayers, the Torah and mitzvot are our “life and length of our days.” I met amazing role models and discovered vibrant Jewish communities where 24/7 Jewish life was a celebration. It filled my heart and soul so much that I decided to not just talk about Judaism but actually take on mitzvot in baby steps.
Elise: Nietzsche once said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” What in your life experience could this statement be applied to? What difficulty did you overcome?
Sam: One difficulty I faced in my LA public school was feeling like I didn’t fit in. I was craving acceptance and trying to fit in with the various cliques. It was very hard for me and I silently suffered. Things got especially tough in high school since I felt small and didn’t think I was ready physically to be in that environment. My growth spurt didn’t kick in until I was finishing 11th grade. I was always the “little guy” and felt left out.
My high school experience gave me a sense of humility and an ability to resonate with people who feel they are not good enough in some way. Perhaps because I, too, have gone through this, I am able to empathize and help them find a way out of it.
Elise: What albums are you working on?
Sam: Lots of new music for my clients in my recording studio. Thankfully, even with the virus, the studio has stayed busy. I currently have five albums of my own in the works right now. The one that is about to come out is a new musical for families called Hatikvah the Musical. I will star with a multi-generational cast around the US, as soon as live music is feasible. The way it works is kids will be studying it in their Hebrew schools and day schools as part of their Israel education module. After they have worked on the material for a few months, I show up in town, do a dress rehearsal with this ad hoc local kids’ choir and the local actors and put on a show for the whole community. It’s following the model of my Kol Bamidbar project, a musical based on the Five Books of Moses, which has launched in over forty cities around the country.
I have another album called The Power of the Soul, a dozen neshama-based songs that communicate closeness with the Creator.
My new Joy of Shabbat album will be the first of a series related to my book, The Joy of Judaism. It features all new music I have written and produced based on celebrating Shabbat.
And finally, still in production is the Glaser Family Shabbat Experience. Since my immediate and extended family loves singing around the Shabbat table, the album chronicles sweet harmony-intensive versions of the classic Shabbat songs.
(Sam Glaser’s downloads and CDs are available at www.samglaser.com)