The Greatest Success
By Rabbi Fischel Schachter
Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik Reprinted with permission from Torahanytime.com
…He will pay double (Shemot 22:6)
As a young boy, Alex Clare had a unique knack for both composing and playing music. Even as a young sixteen-year-old, he performed as the drummer and backing vocalist of a band, where he remarkably excelled. But then something happened which got him thinking.
Sitting one day with his friends, Alex didn’t look too good. “I know I have a whole career ahead of me which includes a lot of money-making,” he remarked, “but suffice it to say, I am just not happy. I am looking for something more, and what I have now is not providing it.”
Alex, although far from Torah observance, appreciated and valued his Jewish heritage. And so, he began to learn more about Shabbos and kashrus and explore the meaning of Torah and mitzvos. It was the beginning of a riveting and life-altering journey, but something which Alex fully accepted and embraced.
At the same time, his career moved along and met tremendous success. At age 22, he signed a contract with Island Records, a Major record label. “But,” he told them, “I am an observant Jew and cannot play on Shabbos or other holidays.” Notwithstanding this condition, the label agreed to work with him. And so, things began to take off. Alex released his debut album – The Lateness of the Hour – which the label expected to be a big hit.
But, as it turned out, despite the tremendous investment spent on the record, it didn’t catch on as anticipated. The music was great, but Alex’s name was not well-known enough to attract a large clientele. Looking to augment Alex’s exposure to fans and the media, the label began making big plans for Alex.
But there was one problem.
In the music and concert world, Friday nights are important nights. But for Alex, they were important for a different reason: Shabbos. But, of course, his insistence on not performing then brought with it less opportunities to spread his name and fame, which his label wasn’t the happiest about. Especially when Alex had to turn down the offer to tour with Adele, a renowned English singer-songwriter, because it would conflict with Pesach, his label was especially disappointed. But, despite this all, Alex was still valued and someone they wished to accommodate.
But then Alex received a message one Saturday, which was also Yom Kippur. The label sounded very excited. Of course, Alex waited to listen to the message until after Shabbos, but when he did hear what it was about, he was quite surprised.
“You’re not going to believe this!” they said. “Live Lounge, a segment on the BBC radio station, told us that they had a cancellation and want you to play live! This will be in front of a national audience and be broadcasted over all of Europe. You will receive national coverage and have thousands of listeners. This is it! This is what we’ve been waiting for. The sales of your record will break through the roof!” Alex listened closely, although he knew that they were forgetting something very important which would nix the entire plan.
“And you won’t believe it! They want you to perform Thursday night! We were so scared it was going to be Friday night, but it’s not. This will be great… talk soon…” As Alex finished listening to the message, he took a seat. He couldn’t believe it for two reasons. For one, this would be the opportunity of a lifetime. It was this concert which would put him on board with other big performers and boost his career farther than he ever imagined. But he also couldn’t believe one other detail. Thursday night was the first night of Sukkos. He couldn’t perform.
Bravely picking up the phone a little while later, Alex called back and related the circumstances. “This is absurd!” the label stammered. “What do you mean you cannot do it? We already put up enough with you. If you cannot agree to perform this time, we will have no choice but to cut your contract!” Knowing that being released of his contract would result in being blacklisted all over and just about end his career, Alex felt as if the world was caving in.
But then he reminded himself of what he had learned the other day on Yom Kippur. He had read about the unwavering commitment of Rav Amnon of Mainz (author of U’Nesaneh Tokef, the liturgical poem recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), who had given up his life rather than renege on his Judaism. Inspiring Alex, he suggested that they look to reschedule to a different night. “I am terribly sorry,” Alex said, “but either we reschedule or I do not perform.” But the label wouldn’t hear of it.
And so, the contract was cut, leaving Alex in a trying and difficult predicament. On top of everything, he still had to repay the musicians he had hired to perform with him. Yet, he had no idea how he would ever do so. Aside from this, he had no means of paying his monthly rent.
Approaching his rabbi (Rabbi Dovid Tugendhaft of Nishmas Yisroel in London) for some guidance, Alex broke down. “Everything was going great until just recently. I was becoming more Torah observant and my career was going well. I was even able to work around performing on Shabbos. But, all of a sudden, this opportunity to perform in England came up and left me now penniless.” Looking empathetically at Alex, the rabbi reassured him. “You remind me of Avraham Avinu. He was waiting and waiting for ninety-nine years to have a child, and then he was asked to sacrifice him. He was asked to give up his most precious and beloved son. You too, at your moment of greatness, gave up everything. But, somewhere hidden in this story, there is blessing to be found.”
Alex went on to move to Jerusalem and study in a yeshiva where he could grow in his knowledge and breadth of Torah. By now, Alex had come to terms with his situation. He in no way regretted making the decision to refrain from playing on Shabbos and holidays and bearing the subsequent consequences. Now, life was different, yet meaningful. He had finally found that purpose he had been searching after for many years.
But then the unexpected happened.
One day, Alex received a call from Microsoft. Although Alex had been blacklisted and out of contact with anyone for months, Microsoft had finally tracked him down. They wanted to use his first hit “Too Close” as the soundtrack for an ad launching the new version of Internet Explorer 9. “Could we do so?” they asked. Sure enough, Alex agreed.
The next thing Alex knew, the song was literally all over the world. It was being played on television worldwide and picking up enormous traction. It became the number one hit in Germany, number four on the UK Singles Chart, number seven in the US and received 45 million views on YouTube. And his debut album, which had previously flopped, now sold over six million copies.
And that is the story of Alex Clare.
It is much easier said than done, but here was someone who was not only ready to give up everything for Shabbos and Yiddishkeit, but actually did. And without question, Hashem handsomely paid him back. The renown he was ready to give up forever came back to him. But this time, it was even greater than before. He was not merely spreading his own name; he was spreading Hashem’s name in the profoundest of ways and making a grand Kiddush Hashem.
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