During the 1960’s there was a movement called the “Death of God” that arose in American theology. Some of its advocates felt that God, in the traditional way many of us think of as an almighty Higher Power, had died during the Holocaust. As a result, large numbers of young people became lost souls, believing that they were left entirely on their own, without a compass to find direction in their lives.
One theologian who flatly rejected this notion was Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The Singing Rabbi, as he was affectionately called by his followers, was born in Germany in 1925. He and his family moved to the United States in 1939.
Carlebach’s father was a renowned rabbi, and someone who would open his house to all strangers. This was a trait that greatly influenced Shlomo in his later life. Hasidic ultra-orthodox Judaism had a fervor that fascinated Shlomo during his early years. He found his passion in it, leading him to become a rabbi. He decided to focus his rabbinate certification on outreach to young people. Rabbi Carlebach decided that music was the best way to perform this outreach. The Hasidic melodies were very appealing to many young Jews who had lost their connection to Judaism.
Shlomo Carlebach became nationally known when he became the only religious leader to participate in the Berkeley Folk Festival in 1966. He performed alongside musicians Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Joan Baez. According to one observer, “when the concert ended, Shlomo had in tow hundreds of fans whose hearts he had opened during his performance. A virtual unknown at the start of the show, his charisma, warmth and authenticity had instantly transformed him into a kind of Pied Piper of Judaism.”
As a result of this sudden popular appeal in the San Francisco area, Rabbi Carlebach opened an outreach center there, called the House of Love and Prayer. It provided a home and shelter to Jewish and non-Jewish young people who had run away from the homes of their parents. Torah study classes, as well as regular Sabbath and High Holiday services were held there. This was the second facility that Carlebach had owned. The other was the Carlebach Synagogue in New York, which also held Torah classes and regular religious services.
Carlebach’s other high profile musical performance was on a visit to Russia during the Moscow Peace Festival in 1989. He performed in front of large numbers of Jews, inspiring them with a spirituality they had been lacking for so many decades during the Cold War.
Rabbi Carlebach’s international influence also extended to Israel, where he was chauffeured by the Israeli military to visit soldiers during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. This differed from other entertainers who visited soldiers, since Carlebach’s presence was regarded as being inspirational to troops fighting in a war. A religious community, or Moshav Modiin , was founded by him in Israel in 1976. Its purpose and programming was the same as the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco.
Shlomo Carlebach died in 1994 at the age of 69. As a final addition to his legacy, the Singing Rabbi’s melodies permeate the liturgy of many Jewish and non-Jewish religious services.
Two YouTube videos of Rabbi Carlebach below, include one in which he has gotten into a very high spiritual state. The other is one in Montreal, Canada at the time when Soviet Jews were finally leaving Russia at the end of the Cold War.
Barry Dwork, author and owner of Peace of Music, October 29, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Barry Dwork is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Barry Dwork and Peace of Music with appropriate and specific direction to the original content