Friday, November 14, 2003

The Carlebach Phenomenon

The Carlebach Phenomenon
The Awareness Center's Daily Newsletter - November 14, 2003

Marcia Cohn Spiegel of Los Angeles, has studied addiction and sexual abuse in the Jewish community and has spoken to some 60 groups through Brandeis University, the University of Judaism, the Havurah Institute, along with many Jewish women's organizations, synagogues and Jewish community centers. She doesn't mention Rabbi Carlebach at all in her talks. Following such talks, women come up to her, even in the women's bathroom, to pour out their own stories, she says, "not seeking publicity or revenge, but coming from a place of shame and isolation." Consistently through the years women have come forward to share their stories explicitly about Rabbi Carlebach, Speigel says.

Spiegel states that in the years years, a number of women have approached her "in private and often with deep-seated pain" about experiences they had when they were in their teens. "Shlomo came to their camp, their center, their synagogue," she wrote, "He singled them out with some excuse...Getting them alone, he fondled their breasts and vagina, sometimes thrusting himself against them muttering something, which they now believe was Yiddish."

The other typical story, she says, is recounted by women who had gone to Rabbi Carlebach, "for help with problems, or who met him when they studied with him. They were in their 20s or 30s when it happened. He would call them late at night (two or three o'clock in the morning) and tell them that he couldn't sleep. He had been thinking of them. He asked, Where were they? What were they wearing?"

The Carlebach phenomenon
by Marion Fischel <>
Jerusalem Post - Nov. 13, 2003

Last Saturday night's Ninth Annual Shlomo Carlebach Yahrzeit Concert at Binyanei Ha'uma was packed to the rafters.

A large crowd of men danced at the right of the stage, spilling over into the adjacent aisles. Still others stood alongside their seats and danced. The crowds sang along with the performers; everybody knew the words; everybody was smiling.

The 2,500 Jews in attendance were from all walks of life and of all ages. They were gathered to celebrate the life and commemorate the passing of the "singing rabbi" who inspired so many.

"This year's concert was the best ever," said Aura Wolfe, 45. "The participants performed his music as opposed to their own versions of his songs and melodies."

In the previous eight years, says Michael Brand, 47, chairman of the Shlomo Foundation, the members of the foundation organized the concert, but this time they decided to hire professional producers Ariel Peli, 29, and Jonty Zwebner, 46, in order to reach the "essence" of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Feedback from the public indicated that more of a "yahrzeit" feeling was desired, and less of a rock-concert atmosphere.

Zwebner is co-producer of the annual Beit Shemesh Jewish Rock and Soul Festival that takes place during Succot. He also brings musical acts to Club Tzora (at Kibbutz Tzora) on Thursday and Saturday nights.

"We were asked to make the [Carlebach] concert unplugged, more acoustic, less electric, to give it a softer tone," says Zwebner. "We asked the artists to play only original Shlomo material and we concentrated on having a majority of artists who hadn't even known Shlomo but were

One of those performers was 23-year-old Shlomo Katz. Katz also serves as hazan at dozens of Shlomo minyanim around the country.

Today there are nine Shlomo Carlebach synagogues in Israel, five of which are situated within the greater Jerusalem area: Efrat, Ma'aleh Adumim, Mitzpe Yericho, Har Nof, and Beit Shemesh.

Jerusalem also houses Shlomo minyanim in the new Shir Hadash synagogue in Baka, the old Shir Hadash in Nahlaot, at Yakar in the German Colony, and at the Western Wall.

So why is the Carlebach phenomenon even more powerful in the aftermath of Shlomo's passing?

Brand, who both founded and runs the Ma'aleh Adumim Shlomo minyan says it's because, "When Shlomo was around there were no minyanim because Shlomo was the vehicle, he was the one. The only places where his nusah was used were the places where he himself was, which were his synagogues on Manhattan's Upper West Side and on Moshav Mevo Modi'im."

However, The Happy Minyan in Efrat was started by Dovid Zeller, a close follower of Shlomo's, a year before his death. Zeller says he decided to establish the minyan because he became so steeped in Shlomo's melodies and songs, that that was his own preferred way of praying.

"These minyans appeal to people who may be intimidated or feel left out in larger, more traditional synagogues," explains Brand. "The atmosphere that is created and the way people are welcomed reflects the attitude of Carlebach himself. He never sat at the front of the synagogue but rather at the center or the rear and got up to welcome new arrivals personally."

When Shlomo was alive, Brand continues, he was not accepted by mainstream Orthodox, "because he believed that Jews who are lost to their roots are in a situation requiring intensive care, and that the measures that must be taken to ensure their survival cannot always be ordinary ones."

Carlebach was also well-known for going into discotheques and ashrams, and pulling Jews out.

"Of course his very presence in these places was frowned upon by the establishment, who questioned why he was there in the first place and whether he didn't have a personal agenda which pushed him to frequent these places," says Brand.

Carlebach was also generous in the dispensing of hugs - to men and women.

"If he felt someone needed a hug he would give it to them, and often they needed it very badly," says Brand.

Naturally, this was not acceptable halachic behavior and many rabbis would not allow their students to attend Carlebach's concerts or his learning sessions.

"Nevertheless," says Brand, "most religious people recognized that whether or not it was their approach, what he was doing was in fact beneficial to the Jewish people as a whole."

Brand also notes that many of those who were brought back to their roots by Carlebach ended up becoming very Orthodox and even criticizing [Shlomo] for his more liberal-seeming approach.

Yitzhak Attias, a frequent attendee at the Har Nof minyan, says back in the '80s, he used to host Carlebach along with up to 70 of his followers at seuda shlishit meals on the roof of his Old City apartment.

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