Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the 18th-century founder of modern Hasidism, was once asked why his followers worshipped in an ecstatic style full of singing and dancing. He responded by telling a parable about a street-corner fiddler who played with such skill that everyone who heard him began to jig. A deaf man, unable to hear the beautiful sounds, walked by and wondered if the world had gone mad. “Why are they jumping up and down, waving their arms and turning in circles in the middle of the street?” he asked.
“My disciples are moved by the melody that issues forth from each and every thing that God, blessed be He, has created,” said the Baal Shem Tov, as the rabbi was known. “If so, how can they keep from dancing?”
Just such an exultant spirit infuses the performances of Lipa Schmeltzer, a wildly popular Hasidic performer who will be headlining a concert at the WaMu Theater of Madison Square Garden in New York on Sunday. Mr. Schmeltzer, who is 30, grew up in New Square, a village in Rockland County, N.Y., founded in the 1950s by the strict Skverer Hasidic movement. He was born into a culture that required its young to devote long hours to intensive study. Young Lipa wasn’t cut out for it. Even the deaf man could have sensed that.