How We Met: Dr Joe Berke & Matisyahu

'I embarrassed everybody. I fell asleep during Sting, but as soon as Matis started, I woke up'

Matisyahu, 30, is a Hasidic reggae musician whose work crosses over into rap, scat and beatboxing. "One Day", from his new album 'Light', was the official theme song of the 2010 Winter Olympics. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and two sons.

I moved to Brooklyn in 2002, where I went to a yeshiva [an academy for the study of Judaism] for two years. I cut myself off completely from the outside world. I didn't see my old friends, I changed my style of clothing, I stopped listening to music, I spent all day learning Torah and I got indoctrinated into the whole religious mindset in an attempt to recreate myself.

There is a very healthy way of making changes in your life, but there's also a very fine line of where you're disconnected from who you are. I got a little bit shaky in the process.

When the people who ran the yeshiva found out I sang, they asked me to perform at a reunion. One of the guys there, his daughter was getting married two days later and he asked me to perform at the wedding. This guy also happened to be a healer and he said, "Let me work on you for a little bit." Later on I got a bill for, like, $1,000, but among the things he told me to do – to ride a bike, eat certain foods – he said I should meet Ephraim Rosenstein, a therapist in Brooklyn.

So I went into therapy with Ephraim, which helped me tremendously. And after the therapy ended, we became friends and started learning together: philosophy, psychology... Then he became a co-writer on my music, on my lyrics.

Ephraim mentioned to me that this Joe Berke was his mentor in psychotherapy. Joe had started out working for RD Laing, who was, in the 1960s one of the first psychotherapists to use LSD with his suicide patients. Joe would sit in the room with the patient who was tripping on acid and make sure they were OK. And Joe had become religious later on in his life [as I had]. So I was kinda interested in him.

When I was in London for some shows one time, in 2006 or 2007, I went to Joe's house. We sat together and just talked. He's extremely wise and funny, and I feel a very strong closeness with him, even though we don't see each other that often. You don't see it that much these days that you have a friend from another generation like that, but he really gets me.

I like to ask him about his life. He just had a trip with Ephraim to the Ukraine – they went to the graves of the Hasidim and he saw all these sights; and he's run a psychiatric centre for 30 years. So I talk to him about these things, his experiences.

With Joe, there isn't anything I need from him or that he needs from me. It's just a simple love we have for each other. It's not as though we're spending hours on the phone or seeing each other all the time. It is what it is. There's just a certain appreciation each of us has for the other.

Dr Joe Berke, 71, is a psychotherapist who moved to London from New York in 1965 to work with RD Laing at the therapeutic community at Kingsley Hall. He established the Arbours Crisis Centre in north London in 1973 to offer psychotherapeutic alternatives to traditional psychiatric treatment, where he worked until his recent retirement. He lives in Highgate, north London, with his wife.

I was introduced to Matis by a friend of mine, Ephraim Rosenstein. Ephraim is a psychotherapist and a close friend of his. What happened that first time we met? I don't remember. It was just, "Hey Joe, I think you should meet this really cool guy." That was in Israel, in Jerusalem, about six years ago, and we've been close ever since. We meet up in Jerusalem, in New York, we've hung out around here [in London].

Matis had a big concert in Ramat Gan [in Tel Aviv] with Sting about three years ago. I embarrassed all my friends, my wife, everybody. I fell asleep during Sting, but as soon as Matis started the gig, I woke up. They sang together, it was great.

The last concert I went to in Jerusalem, in a place called Sultan's Pool, just outside the Old City, I went with my wife and I think we were the oldest people, amid 15,000-20,000 kids. After the concert, a bunch of kids came up to us. "Thank you very much for coming," they said. "Why are you thanking us?" I asked. "You have such a nice son." They thought he was my son!

I love his music, it's full of energy. Matis is one of the great singers of our generation. There was a singer called Shlomo Carlebach, a rabbi, and he electrified the Jewish world from the 1950s on by singing these beautiful Hasidic songs he'd written. The kids in the 1950s and 1960s were transformed by the energy coming out of that guy; people still play his songs all the time. The same thing with Matis now. The kids love the energy that comes from him. It's Hasidic Jewish reggae, it's wild. It's totally unexpected.

There's a book called Jewish Pirates of the Carribean [in which it's explained that] Jamaica was the first place where the Jews, after being expelled from Spain in 1492, could go and not be persecuted. It was the island. So maybe it's not surprising that Matis plays with a Jamaican beat.

When Matis comes to Jerusalem, we hang out at Ephraim's place; he lives in a settlement outside of Jerusalem, overlooking the Judaean Hills; he grows vegetables and flowers and trees down there and you can see for miles. It's like we're all part of a family together.

Matisyahu's third studio album, 'Light', is out on 21 June on 100% Records

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent