Have violin, will travel: That was Mark Weingarten’s mantra as he trekked two hours by bus each way from his yeshiva in Yavne to Jerusalem to play music at Hadassah Hospital. “I figured I would just go around to each patient, play for a few minutes, say good Shabbos, and move on,” he recalled.
One Friday, however, he played for a patient, but instead of leaving the room when he finished, the two began to talk. “This is where I got the idea in the back of my head that you can use music to create relationships with people.”
Fast-forward one year. Weingarten, a pre-med student at Yeshiva University, is looking for something productive to do with his free time. He and his friend Gavriel Apfel settle on “Music Vs.” — an initiative whose goal is to create connections between people through the universal language of music. The project, in which volunteer musicians visit hospitals and nursing homes, has grown and now has an international reach, with 300 participants at Yeshiva University and Stern College, 25 branches across America and Israel, and chapters launching in Uganda and South Africa.
What sets “Music Vs.” apart from other such programs, Weingarten explains, is that its volunteers don’t just play music. “The music is a means to an end of establishing a connection. … If I were to just walk into a hospital room without my violin, it becomes an awkward situation. There is such a disconnect that pervades the room because why should they open up to a complete stranger? Music allows for a common connection, and it gets them used to the idea that you are there.”
For Weingarten, what matters most is that by doing chesed, he is acting out what he learns. “We learn Torah at YU. An integral part of that learning is doing chesed and reaching out to the community. This is what Torah values are. ”
Saddle up: Aside from founding “Music Vs.” Weingarten is a semicha student at RIETS, assisting with stem-cell research, the founder of the YU Classical Music Society, and an equestrian who helps others through equine therapy.