Every Friday night we gather together to sing, but have you ever stopped and wondered why music is such an ingrained part of Shabbat Services? It’s because music is healing. Music is spiritual. Music brings us closer to God than words could ever possibly take us. There is no one in our community more well aware of the power of music than Ted Greenberg. You may have seen him behind the drums or behind the bass, but today, I’d like to put him front and center.
Ted was born in Brooklyn but raised on Long Island to two parents who were both musicians and teachers. From a very early age, he was bullied for no other reason than the fact that he was Jewish. “I knew what antisemitism was before I really even knew what being Jewish was.” Finally, after years of abuse, he stood up for himself. He was never bullied again but, in the same swing, he created a version of himself that was cold, calloused, and a complete facade.
Although his parents made a living as artists, that was not the life they wanted for their son. “My parents didn’t understand reverse child psychology. Because they were both professional musicians and teachers, they told me not to do that. They should have told me to be a musician and I would have been a doctor or lawyer by now!” The only issue with all this was that Ted was such a skilled musician from such a young age that they had him playing in their band. By eleven, he was making more money than he knew what to do with. His piggy bank was bursting at the seams.
“I was very lazy. I didn’t know how to work at anything. Everything came easy to me,” Ted says in a somber tone, almost as if he feels as though he cheated life. It is hard to believe that he is in fact a lazy person, seeing as he plays 13 instruments. Yeah, you read that right. 13. Psshhh, he couldn’t learn 14? How lazy!
Ted’s lack of effort in his early life bled into his schoolwork. He cheated on tests so well that he made it to the National Honor Society. On one occasion, he took a three-hour State Regency Scholarship Test; the first question seemed too hard, so he filled out the rest of the answers at random. He finished the whole test in 6 minutes, sat there for an extra 2, and then left. Everyone in his class judged him and called him an idiot. When the results came in, he won the scholarship. When the dust settled and the school picked their jaws off the floor, he decided he wasn’t even going to use the money and instead go to music school in Philadelphia.
Ted attended Philadelphia College of Performing Arts to study under Gerry Brown, an accomplished musician and teacher who had worked with Stevie Wonder, Dianna Ross, and Lionel Richie—a couple of nobodies, really. One of his college professors recommended him for a job working for a wedding and bar mitzvah band that earned him more money than any college student ever needs to have. This directly led him to the Atlantic City scene. Ted sat in as either the drummer or bass player for every house band at every casino in the city. The 24/7 fast and loose lifestyle proved to be a wild ride for a young and impressionable Ted. Just like before, another opportunity fell onto his lap when he met an author who was writing a book about the famous Motown bass player James Jamerson. This book would later get optioned into a movie about the original Motown band (Standing in the Shadows of Motown). Ted was tapped to produce and engineer the music for this film, which earned him multiple Grammy awards. What made this all the wilder is that no one wins a Grammy while still living in Philly. He mixed the soundtrack in his basement!! So, he knew that it was time to finally go out to Los Angeles and see what all the fuss was about and pursue a new teaching opportunity. “Oh yeah, I’ve been teaching college audio production since 1991,” he says very nonchalantly as if he hadn’t had enough on his plate at the time. Throughout all of this success, all of the bands, all of the Grammy awards, Ted was teaching college students everything he knew and, by his own admission, a lot of what he didn’t.
Then in 2009, he was on his motorcycle and got t-boned by a truck that blew through a red light. Once he awoke in the hospital, he was told by two doctors that they couldn’t guarantee that he would ever walk again. “I was never grateful, thankful—anything, my whole life. Selfish. When they told me I wouldn’t be able to walk again, my whole life changed. I said, ‘Absolutely not. I am going to make a 300% recovery,” …and he did. Ted went to physical therapy and just completed his 14th year with his personal trainer. Through this process, that thick tough guy exterior was shed. Ted’s true form was finally unleashed. All this time, he had been hiding a truly sensitive and empathetic part of himself—the Ted we know today. “It was the worst and the best thing that ever happened to me. I wouldn’t be able to work here. I wouldn’t be able to give of myself to the residents here.” That “lazy” nature he hung onto had been discarded for a new work ethic and outlook on life. “I learned how to work. I learned how to try.”
So, how have we all been blessed by the presence of such a wonderful, caring, and talented musician? Well, before he left Philly, Ted was in a band with one of the former members of the group The Hooters, Eric Bazilian. Another member of this band was none other than the late Glenn Goss, a beloved longstanding member of the music department. They played together for a while and when it was time to come out to LA, Ted left the group. Fast forward to 2018, and Ted, who had not seen Glenn in years, reunited with him at lunch with Eric. This is where he first learned about Beit T’Shuvah, the music department, and the songs that move souls. A short time later, Glenn asked him to play in the band. On the first day of rehearsal, Glenn had a heart attack in the sanctuary and Ted brought him back to life using CPR. “That is the greatest thing I have ever done in my life. Save somebody’s life with my bare hands. Grammys? Psshhh! Who cares?”
After five and a half years as a part of the Beit T’Shuvah band, note by note, Ted has finally made his way onto the staff. His love for our house of outcasts simply cannot be put into words. “I don’t talk to anyone on the street. I am really shy. Here, I talk to everybody. I feel comfortable here.” That sensitive nature of his permeates through the halls and leads him to feel so deeply for every single resident, staff member, and community member he comes in contact with. He loves each and every one of you. I can promise you that. I hope his story has struck a chord with you today, but no praises I can sing will tell you more about what kind of beautiful and caring soul Ted is, more than this final quote:
“All I want to do is help. People’s pain and suffering charges me up to want to do something about it. I am Mr. Tikkun Olam. Repair the motha fuckin’ world.”
And guess what, Ted? You are.