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November 1, 2014 / 8 Heshvan, 5775
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Stardom 101: Lipa Goes To College

For the last two years, Lipa Schmeltzer has traded his microphones for textbooks and the concert stage for the classroom.

Lipa Schmeltzer

Lipa Schmeltzer

He is a singer, an entertainer, a performer, a composer, a lyricist and perhaps the most revolutionary force to ever hit the Jewish music world. But for the last two years, Lipa Schmeltzer has donned another guise, trading his microphones for textbooks and the concert stage for the classroom, as the colorful artist has headed to school in pursuit of a college degree.

Schmeltzer’s dream of obtaining a higher education began approximately two years ago as he drove past the local community college and began to contemplate the possibility of earning a college degree. Stopping off at the registrar’s office, Schmeltzer inquired as to the enrollment requirements and was told he needed a high school diploma.

“I never got an education other than biblical stuff,” reported Schmeltzer. “I called up someone in New Square and he got me a paper saying I had graduated high school.”

Not surprisingly, the registrar at Rockland Community College, a two-year school which is part of the State University of New York system, informed Schmeltzer that the paper he was holding was of little value. As English is actually Schmeltzer’s second language, he spent eighteen months working towards his high school equivalency diploma, taking classes at the Rockland County Board of Cooperative Educational Services as well as studying with private tutor Chaim Glovinsky in order to pass the series of five tests which would award him a General Equivalency Diploma and allow him to enroll in college.

Now completing his first full semester at RCC, the 34-year-old Schmeltzer is a firm believer in the value of proper schooling.

“I never had the opportunity to get an education,” explained the superstar. “It’s not fair what is going on in many communities today. People are getting married yet they have no way of supporting themselves and one day they wake up and realize they can’t manage. Even if someone disagrees with the idea of going to college there are still programs which can provide a college degree so that they can make something of themselves and support their families.”

Schmeltzer, who is pursuing a dual associate’s degree in performing arts and liberal arts, a two year process, took twelve credits in his first semester and hopes to take a full 18 credit course load for the upcoming spring semester. Among the courses Schmeltzer plans to complete in his first full year in college are acting, dance, musical theater, English, psychology and pluralism and diversity.

Both Schmeltzer’s classmates and the faculty at the college laud his exuberance, his talent and his determination.

“Lipa is kind, enthusiastic and nice to everyone,” said classmate Neidin Loughran. “Everyone in our acting class respects him, his beliefs, his decision to enroll in college at his age and his passion for performing.”

“Lipa has never boasted about his career but he is a superstar to us,” added department chairperson, Patricia Maloney-Titland, who was also Schmeltzer’s professor this past semester. “His manner, his work ethic, his creativity, everyone enjoys what he brings to the table. Lipa clearly inspires people and if anyone can be the messenger to remind us that we all need to find common ground to unite us, he is going to be that guy.”

In fact, Schmeltzer views his time at RCC as an opportunity not only for his personal growth but that of other Jewish students as well. Rabbi Dov Oliver, director of the RCC Hillel, which also doubles as a Chabad House, had nothing but praise for the college’s most well known musical personality.

“From his first days at RCC, Lipa has been here offering to do whatever he could,” reported Rabbi Oliver. “He has helped me put tefillin on kids and he brought his entire family for our annual Shabbat dinner. He made kiddush, sang zemiros, did badchanus and literally made his way to every single table in the room, making everyone feel good. Once, at our weekly parsha shmooze, Lipa spoke about his life, how unlikely it was that he would have ended up in college, explaining that you never have to accept your circumstances as the end game, you can control your own destiny and work towards what you believe. He made a very powerful impression on the students.”

Enrolling in college as an older student is just one of the many projects the enterprising Schmeltzer has undertaken. The entertainer is inordinately proud of the shul that he founded after relocating to Airmont, New York, several years ago. Having faced many challenges in his own life, Schmeltzer took great care to ensure that the shul be a place that is open and welcoming to everyone.

“I was a guy who wasn’t always welcome everywhere and I know what it is like not to feel comfortable walking into a shul,” recalled Schmeltzer. “For a long time I didn’t always have a place to daven on a weekday. I want everyone to feel welcome here, from those who come every day at 5:30 a.m. for the Daf Yomi shiur, to those who only come occasionally.”

Fellow congregant Yoely Weiss describes the Airmont shul as a place unlike any other.

“It is a loving, accepting environment, that isn’t chassidish, yeshivish or modern,” said Weiss. “It is everything and for everyone. There is a seriousness in the shul for true yiddishkeit and clearly people respond to that because it is jam packed every morning.”

Not an official rabbi as of yet, Schmeltzer hopes to add that title to his long list of credentials one day and is currently doing a twice-weekly online semicha program via Skype.

“I don’t know if I can finish the whole thing,” admits Schmeltzer.

Despite a hectic schedule that begins at 6:30 a.m. with a vasikin minyan and includes concerts, weddings, a newly released music video, Schmeltzer remains dedicated to his goal of getting a degree.

“I try to tell people the value of an education,” explains Schmeltzer. “You never know what’s going to be fifteen years from now and having a college degree opens a lot of doors, doors that you might need one day in the future.”

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18 Responses to “Stardom 101: Lipa Goes To College”

  1. Aryeh Sklar says:

    Amazing… Inspiring…

  2. Boris Tuman says:

    We just know that he will not go to Brooklyn college

  3. ישראל Dovi says:

    ילד מפגר מהתחת.

  4. ישראל Dovi says:

    ילד מפגר מהתחת.

  5. join my English composition course ar gamla college Its taka ametzia see you LIPa.

  6. He should have gone to YU.

  7. All the more reason people should consider going to college.

  8. Interesting piece Airmont and the RCC are much more distant than the 15 minute drive to New Square. Wondering if he got his high school education in New York, had to take Regents exams, etc…

  9. Adina Salfinger says:

    Good on you Lipa. I am SO proud of you, and have also contemplated the same route!

  10. As an interview I appreciate the content. I have come to rely on the fact that , with the Sandy Faska Eller byline, I know that I will get the facts reported accurately.

    I remember the story of a shamash in a shul who was shamas for over two decades when the board of directors determined that any shul employee must have a college degree. Not having one the shamash had to leave his post and he went into business making millions. When he was being interviewed it came out that he did not go to college. When the reporter expressed incredularity that this former shammas was "uneducated" he said, "imagine what you would be if you did go to college?"

    Replied the wealthy gvir, "That's easy, I'd be a shammas".

    My point is that one does not need college to be an entertainer. (proof is, look at Lipa.. he is an entetainer and he was before he went. College does not make him any better) I asked my Roshe HaYeshiva , about college and he told me that when he was younger he was enrolled to go to City College. His older brother complained to their father that the younger brother shouldn't go.

    The Tatte called in the younger brother and asked him what he wanted to do with his life. He replied that he hoped to go into Jewish education. His father explained that college is fine if its needed for parnossah…. to be a doctor, lawyer, accountant but to be in Jewish education, one needsa Jewish education….He furthur pointed out that one should only consider college if the salarys it will command are substantially higher than otherwise because the more one earns the more chovos and headaches he will have. College for the sake of a piece of paper is a waste of time and money.

    Smart advice. Who was this Tatte who gave his son such wise advise? His name was Morainu HaRav Moshe Feinstein ztl….

    By the way…. you might remember the name Joseph Tannenbaum….the one who gave so much tzedaka he has over 300 mosdos that carry his name. He was a master bridge builder (real bridges, like the ones that connect Brooklyn to staten Island, not bridges like elationships) He was a multi millionare who was brilliant at engineering etc….

    He had a third grade education…..

    Bottom line…. consult with your LOR and remember that Hakol bidai Shamoyim….

  11. Jill Meltzer says:

    I really like what he said about the importance of having an education in order to be able to earn a living and support a family. So much antisemitism stems from gentiles and non observant Jews seeing all the families living off tax payer money and government because they don't get an education that can lead to making a living. Yasher Koach Reb Schmeltzer! You a proving that you can be a torah learner, Daven and get an education and earn an honest living..

  12. Sue Grosman says:

    Jill, anti-semitism will occur no matter what, whether Jews have an education ,live off the state or any other reason, there basically is no reason for antisemitism to occur but it does.

    I think everyone needs an education. women need to learn how to budget and handle finances. Many religious women do not understand how to handle the finances and its wrong.

  13. Brad Salzman says:

    I don't think college is necessary for making a living. For many it simply places them in debt that they will be paying off for a lifetime, causing misery along the way.

  14. Ari Zev Katz says:

    I think this whole college debate is not so much about going to college in general, but rather the choice of colleges that people decide to go to. Just like buying a house, people need to go to colleges they can afford. There has been a perception for so long, that state colleges are so inferior to private schools, that people felt necessary to plunge into debt to go to them.

  15. good point Brad. a lot of Yeshiva educated people think a formal secular education is a magic wand to making a living. its not.

  16. Brian Kent says:

    He hada seder in MTJ two years ago.

  17. Brian Kent says:

    He hada seder in MTJ two years ago.

  18. Jill Meltzer says:

    yes, it does, but the more reasons we try to elimiate the better.

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