A blazing trail of heavenly joy
One of our greatest blessings, for Joshua and I was to be connected in deep bonds of loving friendship with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, since 1966. This heart and soul connection is continuing to this very day. When we listen to his songs over our CD’s, his melodies and stories penetrate our heart even deeper, as if he is right here with us. This is exactly as he wanted it to be. His life-long dream was to reach out to every soul in need of spiritual support and encouragement. The CD’s of his concert appearances are to be found in almost every available Jewish book and gift store.
Whenever his songs are included in the prayer services in any synagogue services every Shabbos, the attendance soon increases dramatically.
Like a blazing trail of heavenly joy, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the legendary wandering messenger of God, circled our world with his hauntingly beautiful melodies and unique soul stirring stories conveying worlds of teachings and spiritual insights within a few words. In the course of his life, he appeared in thousands of concerts and gatherings on several continents lifting multitudes to higher realms of loving awareness and joy. He became a legend and was called the “Dancing Rabbi” or the “Singing Rabbi.” He called himself the “Street Rabbi.” He was heard to say: “If the sick won’t come to the hospital, I go to them. If people won’t come to the synagogue, I go out in the street to them.” Anyone who had ever seen Rabbi Shlomo in action, even those who wanted nothing to do with religion, loved him and held him in high esteem. He was a singing prophet for our times, a giant in loving-kindness.
Rabbi Carlebach composed many hundreds of songs, each endowed with a unique, subtle gentle power of uplifting the soul. Within a few minutes of his appearance, his audience was drawn into a deep meditative state of receptivity, with a sense of peace, trust, and well-being. People relaxed in an aura of quiet calmness. At other moments, they would be stirred with rhythmic songs of rejoicing. The audience would clap, sing along and be swept up in a wave of sparkling joy, flowing from heart to heart. It was an uplifting, healing, purifying kind of joy. People would beam at each other, wishing only the highest blessings for one another.
Our first encounter
Like thousands of other young people during the sixties, my dear husband Joshua and I had already begun searching for life’s meaning and purpose while in our teens. In those days, there were hardly any Jewish books of inspiration translated into or written in English for beginners on their spiritual quest except for the prayer book and the works of Joshua Heshel. Eventually we realized that the only way to receive satisfactory guidance was to look for someone who radiated true joy, real loving- kindness, higher vision and strength. We went looking for role models who could inspire this love and joy. Since Joshua was then a student at the UCSF medical school in San Francisco, those special role models were not so readily available.
Very fortunately, in 1966, an event happened which, within a few hours, transformed our lives. We had been invited to an engagement ceremony celebrated in a large penthouse complete with a garden, trees and a fish pond. It was perched on the top floor of a high building on top of a hill in San Francisco. We arrived late and soon found ourselves standing in the dim light with a large circle of about 100 people listening to deeply stirring melodies, permeating the heart, melodies imbued with sweetness and depths. Melodies initiated by someone in the center of the circle. It was Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Time stopped. There was a unique gentleness and kindness in the air we had never experienced before, a quietness and deep peace, mingled with our own sense of wonder, surprise, and discovery. We felt we were beholding something extremely lofty and refined, something new. Yet we sensed we had always been longing for it. We hardly dared to believe it was really happening. The melodies lifted us from a place of elation to a state of spiritual ecstasy as we swayed arm in arm, singing our hearts out. We became one with the melodies, one with each other, one with the prayers and their lyrics: “For the sake of my brothers and friends, for the sake of my sisters and friends, please let me ask, please let me sing, peace to you…”
From that evening on, we felt irresistibly drawn toward the sacred wellsprings of our Jewish heritage. We were blessed with the soul-healing support of our most extraordinary mentor and friend, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Through his immense kindness, we were introduced to the wondrous and privileged world of Sages, of holy Masters. We became aware that there was a vast ocean of soul-healing teachings in our Jewish roots. For this we will be eternally grateful.
In those times Reb Shlomo, (as he was affectionately called,) was the first rabbi ready to travel to all corners of the globe in order to be in touch with young people like us. Through his meaningful, heart-warming approach, he reached out and inspired thousands of people by giving concerts and inspiring them with powerful stories permeated with depths of insight.
Being around Reb Shlomo also brought us the enduring and deep friendships of others who were on the same spiritual quest. We spent many unforgettable hours in joyful togetherness, in heartfelt prayers and singing during our Shabbatons (Sabbaths spent together.) One particular song would carry us into timeless dimensions: “The whole world is waiting to sing the Song of Shabbos, and I am also waiting to sing the Song of Shabbos.” Shabbos (Sabbath) also means the blissful state of awareness from transcendent realms.
Even though Joshua had a promising and lucrative career ahead of him as a physician in Pediatrics at that time, we knew we had to move to Jerusalem. We settled there with our 3 young children in 1968. Many of our dear friends soon joined us as well.
For so many people, Reb Shlomo was a most magnanimous, selfless, patient, devoted teacher, a giant Soul Master whose brilliant, profound knowledge revealed to us glimpses into the truth, the reality of the infinite kindness of the Almighty.
Ever so often during quiet, golden moments with a few dear friends, Reb Shlomo would get deeply focused. There was a certain grace in his demeanor, as he would gently strum heavenly sounds on his guitar. He was listening to melodies from on High and at times echoing them through his voice, until a new song would be born.
Each of Reb Shlomo’s melodies is completely unique, a healing balm to countless people. The gentle power of these sounds and words of prayer open gateways for us to receive the ecstatic joy, grace and harmony of higher realms of consciousness. As we listen to these songs in a prayerful, receptive mode, we can feel from within the call of the Eternal Presence. This call reaches out to us from beyond, past the restlessness and chaos of our world, calling to us from the deep, calling us “Return again, return again, return to the land of your soul… return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are born and reborn again…”
Connecting, opening doors, gifts, blessings
For the next 28 years (1966-1994), Joshua and I
were blessed with the friendship of our most beloved friend, Reb Shlomo. Together with countless other companions and friends, we basked in the glow of this priceless bond. Our lives were uplifted as we were showered with gifts upon gifts of joy in an all-embracing atmosphere of safety, inner confidence and well- being. Whether he was addressing an audience of many thousands or just a few friends, in Reb Shlomo’s company we soon felt enveloped in an indescribable peace infused with the loving Presence of the Infinite.
Reb Shlomo had a unique way of reaching people who wanted nothing to do with their Judaism. Often he would somehow manage to be invited to sing and teach at some Ashrams where he knew he would find many Jews. At other times, he would spontaneously pull out his guitar and sing for his entourage in a crowded coffee shop into the wee hours of the night. In the seventies he sang in the rain on Simchas Torah in Moscow’s Red Square at a time when it was extremely dangerous for a Jew with a beard and skullcap to do that.
Many times, after giving a concert, he would walk over at two or three a.m. to sing for the homeless in a park near the Hudson River, not far from his synagogue in Manhattan.
He was flown to many army outposts from Sinai to Lebanon during the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War and the War in Lebanon, as well as between the wars. (The soldiers were immensely precious to him.)
In 1988 he was the first person in over 70 years to go to the Soviet Union to appear in public performances of Jewish Music. Reb Shlomo reached out to over 50,000 Soviet Jews in the course of 23 concerts! It was standing room only with hundreds waiting outside the concert hall! All this was accomplished in three weeks! (Ever since then Soviet Jews have migrated to Israel by many hundreds of thousands).
In his own unique, quiet, gentle style, Reb Shlomo voiced deep soulful teachings through his apparently simple heartfelt words. When hearing his stories, his audience was transported into other realms of time and space. When he would speak about the great Masters of the past, we felt as if we were right there standing in their company, allowing their radiance to penetrate and strengthen us, awakening new faith within us. We could feel their awe and love as we merged with some of their soaring awareness and reverence for the Master of Creation. Our altered state felt wondrous and yet it also felt quite natural. Our mode of thinking and feeling shifted quite easily, as if we had always known how good it was, but had forgotten how to get ourselves there.
One most endearing quality about Reb Shlomo was a certain aura of complete inner freedom. Many significant people in his life sought to put great pressure on him to conduct his life in different ways. Some urged him to belong to a particular institution, to teach and conduct himself in a more conventional way. Some advised him to sing more professionally on stage, to structure his work more efficiently. Some begged him to create a successful organization and market his output to invest in savings or property. As much as Shlomo wanted to make people happy and feel useful, he couldn’t allow anyone to own him. His entire life’s work belonged to God and to each open and receptive soul. His boundless outpouring of loving, compassionate, encouraging wisdom melted away people’s inner turmoil, allowing them to grow in strength and confidence and receive higher guidance. This was all that he truly wanted.
Reaching out to all people, melting away resistances
“Kiddush for the first meal on Shabbos? It’s too early! What? It’s 2:00 a.m.? We want to sing some more!” The ‘Flower Children’ were celebrating the Sabbath with Shlomo. The room was packed, the atmosphere intense, receptive and focused. For hours they had been enraptured, sitting on the floor, listening to stories about great Masters, holy men and women, tzaddikim and Rebbes. The singing was up to high heaven. This was 1967. Reb Shlomo had created a vibrant center of inspiration and support in San Francisco called ‘The House of Love and Prayer’ for the countless Jewish youths who were searching for their spiritual identity. There was a big sign on the entrance door: “We get high on Shabbos”. It didn’t take long for those young hippies to realize that the joy, expansion and blessings from discovering their spiritual roots were much more attractive, safer, strengthening and promising than any kind of mind-altering drug. Today, many of them are living in Israel, absorbing its holy atmosphere, studying, enjoying their families and their many friends. They speak about the “House of Love and Prayer” as the crucial turning point in their lives. Reb Shlomo led this center for ten years.
Reb Shlomo’s great heart was reaching out to all people willing to receive. Aside from appearing in every corner of the United States, he also performed in India, Australia, Morocco, the South Pacific, South Africa, Latin America, even in Alaska. He sang in major concert halls in London, Paris, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Miami, Kiev, Leningrad, Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro, Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv, to name just a few. He was also respectfully welcomed in Germany, Poland and Austria. He sang in moshavim and distant settlements. He sang on college campuses and in parks, homes, and thousands of Jewish Centers, summer camps, and synagogues, infusing new depths of meaning and joy during Shabbatons and retreats. He sang in palatial homes, Israeli military bases, hospitals and prisons. Wherever he went, he left a powerful imprint that has remained in people’s hearts and minds ever since.
Foregoing all personal interests
Reb Shlomo was lavishly affectionate and caring with his wife, Neila, and their two daughters, Neshama and Nedara. He treated his wife and children with deep respect, knowing what immensely precious souls they were. He was painfully torn between his commitment to his work and being present for his family. We often saw him talking long distance on the telephone for hours with his children, helping them with their homework. He often spoke about them during his concerts and many times we saw him pray for them with utmost devotion.
Already in his early twenties, when he was studying at the Lakewood Yeshiva, Shlomo was considered the star pupil of the Rosh Yeshiva – the revered Rav Aaron Kotler – and he was already recognized as a genius in delving into the sacred teachings of Torah. He was respected by the great leaders of religious Jewry and expected to take a role of honored leadership. “These years of learning were the happiest years of my life” Shlomo told me.
Yet, in spite of all this, Shlomo was drawn to a different calling. He chose to dedicate his life to reaching out to the large majority of Jews who were distanced from their spiritual roots. He chose to be a humble companion, friend, and comforter, open and receptive to each person, gently inviting them to be willing to receive. Perhaps this was the greatest act of courage and love. Yet this decision dashed the hopes of many who expected him to be a brilliant and honored future leader. They were most apprehensive about his choice of carrying out this seemingly reckless, bewildering role.
Reb Shlomo gave support and acceptance to everyone asking for help. Over the years, many onlookers were disconcerted watching the motley crew of young people who would at times appear and follow him around – disheveled, barefoot, spaced-out hippies, vagabonds, spiritual seekers, broken souls, all kinds. Shlomo saw their inner beauty, their longings, and their search. He knew the precious, Divine spark residing in them. He was there for them, giving from his immense reservoirs of love. But many others were dismayed. “How can he allow himself to be seen in public like this?”
We heard him say: “There is so much hatred in the world, so many lonely people in pain and confusion; I wish I could comfort and hug each one.” And there were many people at his concerts needing a hug. Most of the people Reb Shlomo addressed in his public appearances were Jews alienated from their Jewish spiritual roots. He knew the only way for people to begin to heal and trust was through a sense of closeness, simplicity, laughter and spontaneity. He delighted in cracking funny jokes. With his unique ease and grace, he loved sharing insightful stories and bringing people close together as they sang in unity, creating a non- judgmental and relaxed atmosphere of trust and willingness to hear and to receive. Available to all, he was father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, best friend, counselor, mentor, guide, Rabbi, spiritual counselor and Holy Master. Each of these based on the need of each.
Opening the gates of unending inspiration
All his life Reb Shlomo was powerfully connected with great saintly men and women, the sages and Tzaddikim of our vast and extraordinary heritage, the awesome souls that bless our world with their presence. Shlomo had the gift to bring down their light, their example of compassion, wisdom and courage to us, making it alive, real and available. He accomplished this through the immense love that permeated his melodies, stories, and moments of focused learning together. Reb Shlomo created a way for our Tzaddikim to reach out to countless thousands. He opened the gates for his audience to access the unending inspiration, nourishment and comfort that can be found in the wellsprings of Torah wisdom.
Knowing this, Shlomo went through storms and the darkest darkness in this world to be with us, stay with us, shelter us, and illuminate our lives, bringing us reassurance, laughter, delight, joy, light and immense reservoirs of love. Even today many are experiencing his gentle and comforting presence, bringing to them moments of new awakenings, moments of loving communion with our Creator and each other.
Reb Shlomo identified with our human condition. He made himself one with the yearnings of every seeking soul and yes, he was connected with the Supreme, Eternal One in ways we cannot conceive. This gave him extraordinary energy and a radiance that encompassed, touched, moved and illuminated countless thousands who attended his concerts and gatherings during his fifty years of ceaseless devotion to his work. He was a true servant of God.
In spite of his fame, Reb Shlomo was so simple – accessible especially to those in pain. The little beggar he met in the streets of Manhattan was very important to him as well as anyone in need. The reckless, angry, rebellious youths, the searching, yearning souls, the mentally unstable, the traumatized holocaust survivors, those going through pain, abuse and tragedy, each found a place in his heart. He melted with joy when he encountered souls thirsty for deeper learning, souls yearning to discover the gems of Torah wisdom, yearning to taste true knowledge. His face lit up every time he would see children. Often he would empathetically remind his audience how very precious children are, pleading for them, encouraging parents to hug them many times every day, exhorting and begging teachers to take loving care of them.
Reb Shlomo’s privileged childhood
In the course of our close friendship, Joshua and I and many other friends spent hundreds of hours in Reb Shlomo’s company. Strangely enough, even after many years, he still remained a mystery to all of us. It was extremely rare when he would share what he felt and experienced in his private life (except in an occasional joke). During some of those rare occasions when Shlomo would share with his beloved friends some personal stories, we felt privileged to be there. The following accounts are related to the best of my memory:
Once, Reb Shlomo shyly gave us some details about his early childhood. We learned that the Carlebach family lived in the Spa resort town of
‘Baden bei Wien’ near Vienna. His father, Rav Naftali, was the devoted rabbi of a flourishing synagogue which was often visited by great leading rabbis from distant communities who came in the summer to bathe in the spa waters.
In a voice filled with reverence, Reb Shlomo shared with us:
“The happiest, most blissful moments in my life, the moments where I learned the most, were those when I learned the Alef Beis, (the Hebrew alphabet) sitting on my father’s knee. The first day we learned about the letter Alef… it was another world… I dreamed about Alef all night… so much there… And the next day it was the letter Beit… Later on as I grew up, I learned from many books, but it was never quite the same.”
“When I was four years old, I was assigned a private live-in tutor to teach me and my brother most of the day. This was not enough for me. In the evening I pretended to be fast asleep at the 7 pm curfew. My mother was very strict and had imposed this curfew, but when the household had retired, I would sneak upstairs to be in my teacher’s company to continue learning more Torah wisdom with him in the quiet hours of the night.”
With a slightly mischievous smile on his face, Shlomo continued:
“Another time, when I was six years old, the telephone rang, and as my parents weren’t there, I answered it. It was the Archbishop of Vienna. He was on friendly terms with my father. Soon we were discussing Torah together. The Archbishop was eager to know more about Yiddishkeit and he learned with me for over an hour. Later on he told my father how amazed he was with our conversation.”
“How old were you when you gave your first public address?” someone asked.
“Six years old. My father had gone away on a journey and was absent on the Sabbath. Someone was needed to give the address to the congregation during the Sabbath services. My mother stood me on a table and declared that I was the one assigned to give the speech. So that was how I gave my first discourse on the Torah portion of the week in a synagogue.”
Please call for help! She is going to drown herself!
“Please do not do this to yourself!” Shlomo begged the young woman who was desperately swimming ahead of him in the frozen waters of the North Sea.
“Go away, let me die!” She snapped back. She was a good swimmer and Shlomo had a difficult time trying to catch up with her with his clothes still on.
Shlomo had guessed right. While taking a walk on the sea shore, he had noticed from a distance a group of men surrounding a young woman, laughing, and jeering at her. Suddenly the woman broke away, ran to the sea and jumped in. Shlomo dashed over and shouted at the men: “She is going to drown herself! Call for help!”
The men only laughed. Shlomo tore off his shoes and coat and plunged into the ocean.
He was running out of energy and the girl kept swimming further out, yet he managed to catch up with her. He pleaded: “I am not going to leave you, but if you continue like this, I am going to run out of strength and we will both drown.”
Somehow, his words reached her. She turned around. Only through the help of the Almighty were they both able to make it back to the shore. Shlomo concluded: “Thank God she was safe. I noticed that the group of jeering men was still standing there. They had watched the whole scene and done nothing.”
The pained look of hurt and indignation in Shlomo’s eyes as he was telling this story remains engraved in my memory.
We heard from a few sources that Shlomo, in the course of his life, saved many people from their own despair and self-hatred. He would often ask for the telephone number of people he met. Sometimes he would call on the following day, sometimes years later. Most often his calls arrived at the right time, just at the moment when the recipient needed help the most – sometimes in a time of deepest darkness. One man was about to commit suicide. He hadn’t heard from Shlomo in more than 10 years, yet
Shlomo was guided to call him just at the moment he was going to take his life!
Shlomo often quoted Rabbi Nachman’s teachings. Once he softly gave one of these over to us: “Why do people hate others? It is because they hate themselves. When people have done something really wrong, their soul is crying. They don’t want to hear this cry. They refuse to hear it, and so they disconnect themselves from their soul. Then their self-hate is so unbearable that they have to let it spill out somewhere else and they end up hating others.”
Miraculous escapes from death
How did Reb Shlomo escape the Holocaust? We remember hearing some brief accounts from Reb Shlomo:
In 1939, my father and mother, my sister, my
14 year old twin brother Eli Chaim and I had to escape the Nazis who were occupying Vienna. Miraculously we had obtained a permit to travel to Lithuania. We were living in a rented house. We knew it was only a matter of a few days until the Germans would invade the area. To make things even worse, my father was injured. He had fallen
through a malfunctioning hidden trap door on the floor of our rented house! He was badly hurt, all bandaged and bedridden. The following day Lithuanian policemen appeared at our door to take him for interrogation. When they realized they would have to carry him on a stretcher, the policemen decided to return three days later. Before dawn on the next morning, my father took off his bandages and somehow was able to get up and leave. Where? He went to ring the doorbell of the private home of the Consul of Denmark at 6 am. A servant answered the door and my father gave him his greeting card. Moments later the Consul himself accompanied by his wife rushed over to greet him. He announced:
“You are sent to us directly from God. If you can answer our questions to our satisfaction, I will do for you whatever you are requesting!”
“By all means, it will be my honor and pleasure to answer whatever you need to know.” my father answered.
The Consul and his wife sat him down in their private study and confided to him: “Early each morning we both study the Bible together. We have been especially inspired by the Psalms of King David. This very morning, just a few minutes ago, we decided to study
the life of King David. It was fascinating. But then we came upon the chapter revealing details about his outrageous affair with Batsheva. We are shocked! And very disappointed! How could this man have done such a reprehensible thing? We are about to make the decision not to read from the Psalms any longer. Unless, perhaps you could elucidate our questions for us.”
My father was a descendant of King David’s lineage. He knew by heart all the oral teachings explaining what really had happened in that incident. He certainly knew how to reveal the greatness and sanctity of King David with the information handed down to us through the centuries, giving us many factors not yet known to Christians.
Then father, who was also well versed in history, asked the Consul:
“Were you closely associated with the previous King of Denmark?”
“Of course. I was one of his personal advisers.”
“Tell me, between us, perhaps you knew about his secret extramarital affair with a woman he used to visit every week in Germany?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Have you been able to ever confront him with this?”
“Of course not. I would have lost my job.”
“Well now, let us look at King David. He was a powerful King, yet he allowed someone to severely confront him. This was at a time in history when this kind of thing would never happen. And he admitted his wrong doing. And he fully repented on the spot!”
The Ambassador and his wife were edified and more than completely satisfied. My father received our visa to Denmark. From Denmark we obtained another visa to England. Soon after we arrived to England, we were able to board the last transatlantic ship bound for New York. All this happened through the constant help of the Almighty.
Response to a mugger
“Give me your money fast!” This was a threatening order. Shlomo was being attacked at gunpoint at night in the streets of Manhattan by a “black brother,” as Shlomo usually called them. Shlomo looked at him and answered with genuine compassion: “Oy, my sweet brother! I am sorry you have to do that for a living. I am also sorry that today I don’t have money on me, because today is our Sabbath and I do not carry money on this day.” The mugger relaxed, put his gun down and smiled. Shlomo offered: “I will be glad to give you some money tomorrow if you come pick it up at my apartment above the synagogue on 69th Street and West End Avenue.”
The next day, the mugger trusted Shlomo enough to pick up some “charity funds.” He left in awe and with a radically changed attitude toward some of the “white folks.” Later on a few incidents indicated that the word had spread in the underground world not to hassle this rabbi and those associated with him.
“A message of love and peace from
Jerusalem!” in Germany
In the 1970’s Shlomo received an invitation to perform in Hamburg, Germany at a Christian
‘Meeting of the Ways’ jamboree with Protestants of all denominations as well as Catholic speakers.
Germany? To go sing in this main city where just a few years ago, huge fanatic Nazi rallies had taken place? Shlomo was more than aware of the excruciating suffering, humiliation and murder of his six million brethren during the Holocaust.
Who was left of the many thousands of congregants and friends he and his family had known and cherished before? Who was left of his father’s five brothers, renowned and revered rabbis leaders of large communities in the main cities of Germany? Who was left of their many cherished children, families and countless community members? Except for a very few, they had all been hunted down and murdered. Reb Shlomo was constantly carrying in the depths of his heart the millions of souls who endured World War II. Every so often he would speak about them in his concerts, mentioning their dreams as they walked into the gas chambers.
Shlomo told us: “Going to Germany was a hard decision for me. I chose to go anyway, but first I had to travel to Jerusalem and stay there for a day to strengthen myself. Then I flew to Germany and arrived at the jamboree meeting. I found a huge outdoor gathering, about 10,000 people stretched out on a vast lawn, mostly young people. Nobody was listening to the speakers. Most of them were busy drinking beer, chatting with each other or with their girlfriends. I was wondering why I was there. I was praying:
‘Master of the Universe, please!’ I climbed on stage. I called out very loud: ‘My dear brothers and sisters, I am bringing you a message of love and peace from the Holy City of Jerusalem!’
Suddenly thousands of people stood up and walked toward the stage.”
“I began to sing and soon people were joining in, arm in arm, and singing with me. Then someone jumped on stage, grabbed the mike and announced: ‘I would like to express in the name of the German people, our deepest regret and most sincere apologies for what happened to the Jewish people’. And he began to cry. I put my arm on his shoulder and said:
“My dear brother, let us rebuild together from now on. Let us create a new future together.”
I continued singing and thousands of voices joined in, for hours.”
I can still remember the awed wonder on Shlomo’s face and in his voice as he concluded this story.
Bagels and Lox
To the tens of thousands of Jews who’s only affiliation with Judaism was at the very best eating bagels and lox, Rabbi Carlebach’s approach was a window of opportunity to their spiritual heritage. It introduced them to Chassidic teachings, tradition and song in a way they had never heard of. But for those schooled
in the strongly disciplined Jewish religious tradition, it was alienating and jarring that he would hug so many people, including women. In the Jewish halachic law, men are strictly forbidden to touch women except for their wives and close relatives.
Reb Shlomo was a descendant of a long line of great leading Rabbis and even though this world was so dear, familiar and precious to him, even greater was his desire to reach out to the many tens of thousands of Jews who were completely lost to their Judaism and who were intermarrying at an alarming rate, almost without exception. This ignorance was mostly caused by the destruction and fears generated during the Holocaust as well as the seductions of the present materialistic modern way of life.
Reb Shlomo was willing to sacrifice the respect of his peers in order to help rescue the 90% of the Jewish population needing a connection to their spiritual foundations. He knew they would return through an atmosphere of joy, enthusiasm, closeness and loving acceptance as long as someone was out there calling them to. This was before the days when the kiruv work of reaching out was popular and before welcoming strange looking youths with even stranger philosophies into homes for a Shabbos meal was considered possible.
Shlomo Carlebach was soon the favorite topic of heated discussions. People were offended by his apparent disregard of tradition and law and decided he was just a showman. Slander can spread like wild fire.
We heard Reb Shlomo say: “There is so much hatred in the world; I wish I could hug everyone in pain.” Reb Shlomo gave heartfelt loving hugs to countless men, women and children as if each of them was his own child. Many people told us his hug was a turning point in their life. In one of his recordings Reb Shlomo said: “I have walked in the streets of many cities of the world, people are so hungry.” And he would sing a song he composed to the words of a prophecy: “Days are coming, days are coming. There will be a hunger in the world. But the hunger will not be for bread, and the thirst will not be for water, but to hear the word of God.”
Over the years, new doors opened for those who showed a sincere interest in studying. Rabbi Carlebach was then able to send them to various centers of learning. Some he sent to Chabad, some to Israel to search out Chassidic groups, some to Neve Yerushalayim and some to various baal tshuva yeshivot in the old city of Jerusalem. Those who followed his advice invariably stayed, married Jewish partners and raised Jewish families in the religious, observant way of life.
A giant in selfless loving-kindness
Many times Reb Shlomo gave away his last penny. At times he didn’t even have a way to get home after his concerts! Here is a story related by his faithful friend, Itzik Eisenstat. He was helping Reb Shlomo at one of his concerts. On that night, one of Shlomo’s detractors came to the concert. Itzik knew him well. That man had often berated and teased Itzik for associating with Reb Shlomo, and to prove his point, he had come to the concert to spy on Reb Shlomo. He imagined he would see something outrageous, but all he saw during the interim were many grateful people opening their hearts to Reb Shlomo: parents with their children, elderly people, students, and businessmen. Then he saw someone sadly approaching Reb Shlomo:
“My friend, is there anything I can do for you?”
“To tell you the truth Reb Shlomo, I lost my job a few months ago; I don’t have the means to provide for my family. We have seven children.”
Reb Shlomo listened intently. He sighed deeply:
“I am so sorry, so very sorry… Please do me a favor. Wait for me until the end of this concert. Please don’t leave.”
At the end of the concert, Shlomo was paid a large check for five thousand dollars. He really needed that cash as he was usually short of money and had very few possessions of his own, except perhaps his clothes and books. But instead, he discreetly signed the check over and gave it to this man even though he had never met him before.
“Please don’t tell anyone.” he whispered to him.
The detractor was watching closely. He was in awe. From then on, he had nothing but praises to say to everyone about Reb Shlomo. Shlomo had given away all he could possibly give. This was his only way to live.
“Look who is coming! The crazy Shlomo Carlebach! He should be sent to jail!” jeered the man lounging on the porch of a house in Moshav Modiin.
“What do you mean?” his consort sitting next to him announced. “Jail is too good for him. He should be locked in a mental institution!”
The gentle, young new settlers of Moshav Meor Modiin had been terrified by these two aggressive outlaws carrying military guns. How did they get there? One night, without warning, they had simply taken over a house which happened to still be unoccupied. They had moved in and claimed it as their own. What was on their agenda?
These were the first few months of inexperience and insecurity in the settling of this Moshav. During the previous years twelve different groups of people had tried to settle there and had failed. These outlaws thought it would be easy to frighten and discourage these dreaming American settlers and have them move away. Perhaps they wanted to take over the Moshav.
Our kindly settlers sought to speak with them, but their appeals were only met with shouts and threats. The police were called, but for some reason they weren’t taking action. The situation was getting unbearable so Shlomo was asked to help, and he came rushing in from New York. He made several attempts to speak as a friend to these two outlaws but a reasonable conversation seemed quite unlikely!
So Reb Shlomo gathered his beloved students in prayer and engaged in deep teachings, together creating again those unique golden moments where problems and fears get washed away and are replaced with peace, laughter and trust in the help from Above.
Don’t worry, they will move out soon.” Shlomo said.
Two days later, the two troublemakers moved out without any more comments. Two days after that, the Moshav settlers heard that they had gotten into a fight in Tel Aviv. The man who had announced that Shlomo should be put in jail was himself sitting in jail, while his consort who had announced that Shlomo should be locked in a mental institution, was locked there himself. The whole situation had been suddenly, effortlessly, cleared up. Later on, Shlomo went to visit them in their respective places of confinement, to see what he could do for them!
Being cherished, renewed, transformed.
Reb Shlomo’s concerts and prayer services in the synagogue often transformed people through a profound healing of the heart. Many would emerge with a deeper sense of their true identity, purpose, and an awareness of being cherished by the heavenly, all powerful presence of our Creator.
Together we shared our sadness during the trying times of wars in Israel as well as in the memories of our nation’s past tragedies.
Together we were lifted into jubilant rejoicing as we sang, clapped and danced to his irresistible tunes of joy. We felt blessed in renewed trust. We could see the light shining from the beautiful faces of those present. Moments before, we had been in our usual ‘normal’ state. Now we felt like new people, loving and eager to share our joy and bless each other. Somehow we shifted effortlessly to the way we had always been meant to be. It was a glimpse of what Messianic times will be like.
The loving kindness flowing from the depths of Reb Shlomo’s heart was like a mighty river – continuous, powerful, and healing. He was a descendant from an illustrious line of great rabbis. His father and five uncles had been loved and revered rabbis in major towns in Germany. He was a descendant of an illustrious lineage of tsaddikim, including the Taz and the Bach – tracing back, through 18 branches, all the way to King David. And indeed he honored the Psalms of King David more than anyone, through his melodies composed to the lyrics of the Psalms – sacred words he had prayed all his life. Reb Shlomo’s melodies allowed these words to penetrate the hearts of his audience and suddenly the precious light these ancient words held was revealed to us. We felt renewed. Today, more than ever, many years after Reb Shlomo’s passing, countless thousands continue to experience this sense of warmth and well-being when hearing these melodies.
He profoundly inspired his musician friends who were at times privileged to spontaneously accompany him in his concerts. Some of them have now created their own bands and are committed to continuing Reb Shlomo’s work, inspiring the lives and hearts of countless souls from all walks of life, especially the young people all around the world.
Reb Shlomo’s last song
Once, someone asked Shlomo: “When you leave this world at the end of your life, where do you think you will go: to Heaven or to Hell?
“I don’t care where I will be,” he answered, “as long as I have a telephone.”
In the year 1994 Shlomo knew his days were numbered. Later on, a dear mutual friend confided to us that on Yom Kippur he had secretly told her: “I feel the angel of death is standing near me, please pray for me.” A few weeks later he boarded a plane to visit his family in Toronto, Canada. The plane was about to take off. Someone sitting behind Reb Shlomo asked him to sing a melody. Shlomo began to sing. The moment he sang the words “Chasdey Hashem” (The loving kindness of the Almighty) he silently leaned forward in his seat. Seconds later, he was gone, gently, quietly, peacefully. He just “took off.”
In his last years, Reb Shlomo had been flying all over the world, relentlessly pushing his weary body weakened by a heart condition, beyond the limits of exhaustion. He was passionately committed to reaching out to as many souls as he possibly could, for he knew that with that loving connection he could continue helping us beyond time. We realize that now his soul merges with the awesome company of the great Masters and Tzaddikim. Together they can lift us up, reach out to us, touch our hearts, and guide us in the right direction. We can sense that since Shlomo was so immersed in the Presence of the Almighty while living in our world, he can now reach out and be present for us more than ever, even from the unknown heights he is now reaching. Most of our companions feel him closer than ever. Often he has come to them in guidance through dreams, in deeper realizations and also, for many, in miraculous interventions.
His message of absolute loving kindness shines through every veil. He is here for those who knew him and also for an increasing number of people who have never met him. They can sense his unique, heartwarming, comforting presence with them as they listen to his voice on many audiotapes and CDs. He is there through his songs, his deeply moving stories, and his empowering messages of soul wisdom and depth of insight, conveyed in utmost simplicity. Many Shlomo Carlebach CDs and books are available in English and Hebrew in Jewish bookstores. His melodies are now heard in countless synagogue services, in yeshivot, schools, summer camps, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, in all types of concerts, at gatherings, Shabbatons, retreats, weddings and celebrations. Many of these tunes have become classics.
Whenever the members of a synagogue choose to include these melodies in their services, the prayers become vibrant and alive, and the attendance multiplies within a few weeks. The melodies infuse the services with enthusiasm, young people come flocking in and the synagogue becomes a joyful, supportive center for many more.
Does Reb Shlomo have a telephone? He has more than that. He has been given a limitless heart to heart communication system that ever keeps expanding.
Many wonder, “Where does this power to affect people come from?”
Throughout his life, Reb Shlomo loved people and delighted in them. He was gentle, gracious and kind, praying for all, teaching with boundless patience and perseverance, holding back nothing, serving all, every day, with joy. It seems that because of this Shlomo was blessed, and still is blessed, with abundant Divine assistance to continue inspiring us. The heavenly sweetness and healing quality of his melodies enter countless searching, longing hearts, bringing peace and strength, gently leading us into real devotion in prayer.
Over the 28 years of our invaluable connection with him, Joshua and I have been uplifted, supported, inspired and guided in most joyful, fulfilling, powerful ways. We will ever thank the Almighty one for this.
We know that Reb Shlomo is still here for you and me, whether we were acquainted with him personally or not. He is a conduit of blessings from on High, a call from our infinite, loving Creator.Our favorite CD’s are:
ƒ Open Your Hearts
ƒ Holy Brothers and Sisters
ƒ Sing my Soul
ƒ Children of Jewish Song
ƒ Kabbalat Shabbat
ƒ Nachamu Ami
ƒ Yisrael Betach BaHashem
ƒ Sh’vochin Asader
ƒ Shlomo’s Greatest Stories in 4 volumes. Parts 1-
2-3-4 (also 4 volumes of great stories in Hebrew)
ƒ Haneshama Lach
More are recently being produced by Shlomo’s daughter, Neshama Carlebach. She is gifted with a beautiful voice and has sung Shlomo’s melodies in concert. She has touched thousands.
from the book: Masters and Miracles – By Liliane Ritchie