When it comes to charitable giving, Judah Lopkin of Teaneck makes a statement — punctuated by the lively beat of upside-down plastic buckets, which make very plausible drums.
The 16-year-old junior at Yeshivat Frisch in Paramus practiced for months before going to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village for a morning of performing on the plastic pails. Judah turned one bucket — they were all from Lowe’s — right side up and used it to collect coins and bills for City Harvest, a New York City food rescue organization.
“When you’re performing on the street, people just happen by with no expectations,” said Judah, who played for four hours on November 20. “I wanted to prepare enough so that maybe someone would stop by, listen for a bit, and drop some change in the bucket for City Harvest.”
During his practice sessions in his basement, Judah put together different beats and worked to improve his hand speed and stamina, he said.
“I wanted to combine my passion for drumming with charity in a fun way, and the idea of playing in New York City took off from there.”
With a sign advertising his age and charity-only mission, he collected $116.16 for City Harvest. That was after a homeless woman, who Judah encouraged to fish out some bills for herself, despite her initial reluctance to do so, did so.
“I was, like, take as much as you want,” Judah recalled saying.
People watched, danced, took videos and photos, and, of course, made donations. “Pretty much everyone said, ‘Thank you so much for what you’re doing.’” Judah recalled.
A listener brought him two hot dogs from a food stand, which Judah politely declined because he keeps kosher. The man gave the food to a homeless person, who then approached Judah and said: “You really have no idea what this means to me, what you’re doing and what he did.”
“It was such a beautiful moment, I almost cried,” Judah said. He signed up to volunteer for City Harvest again on Friday, December 23. Then, he and his mother, Rebecca Lopkin, will distribute fresh produce in Washington Heights. “Food insecurity is part of a massive challenge, of course, and I want to help out as much as possible,” Judah said.
Judah considered not wearing a kippah as he performed because of the rise in antisemitism, but in the end, he decided to keep it on. “I felt it was special to go out there while displaying my Jewish pride,” he said. “It was really cold and windy outside, but I made sure to be wearing the kippah the whole time. No one said anything about it.”
What he strives for is “the definition of tikkun olam, making the world a better place, which is literally everything that Jews stand for. Every Torah story points to ohr lagoyim, being a light unto nations.”
Judah has been drumming since he was 4 years old. Starting when he was in eighth grade, he began producing rapid-cut videos of drum tutorials, each taking several hours to make. His entertaining videos earned him an endorsement deal with a drum products company. He now has 12,400 followers on TikTok and thousands more viewers on YouTube and Instagram; his social media brand is @thedrumcell.
Judah says he looks up to Jimmy Donaldson, the widely popular YouTube video maker who goes by MrBeast. Alongside his fun viral videos, Mr. Donaldson leverages his fame and skills with the goal of ending hunger. He has raised $30 million to remove 30 million pounds of plastic from the oceans in a project called Team Seas.
“It’s tremendously inspiring and motivating,” Judah said.
Judah uploaded a narrated video about his Washington Square performance to TikTok. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. “This is really epic,” kahnfetti posted. “This is sick,” fettywap commented. “I’m glad you enjoyed, bro,” Judah responded.
Judah’s goal is to continue making entertaining videos and to help New Yorkers in need. He’ll be back at Washington Square Park to perform, he said.
He feels his drumming is filling a wider purpose. “For some reason, just playing the drums alone made me feel unfulfilled,” Judah said. “This experience is like, oh wow, I can do this hobby for something that actually matters.”