Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's Good Side
Date: April 27, 2009 01:46AM
There has been a good amount of information published on this website, mostly by me, about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Moshav Me’or Modi’in and the Carlebach movement in general.
What needs to be shown besides all the negative and problematic aspects of the BT movement and its leaders, is also the positive side of it which I why I went back a few times. Rabbi Yeshua Witt once told me that of all the people who came to him and left, I was the only repeat customer. The purpose of this posting is to display the reasons I came back. One reason is that my paternal grandmother was Orthodox and I have some of it in my blood. When my grandfather married her, he was Orthodox too.
I met Shlomo when I was 15 in 1974. I started going to his concerts when I was involved with Jack Hickman. I was also close to Hickman too for awhile but not close enough to be hurt by his homosexuality. But this posting is about Rabbi Carlebach and his good side.
As I mentioned already, Shlomo and his music were remedies for my depression in my youth. I took up playing his music on the guitar and I still listen to him and his daughter Neshama.
One day, I saw him after a show before I went to Modi’in and I asked him if I could play his guitar. This was between January 30th of ’77 and May of ’78 as I took up the guitar the day before my 18th birthday and left the USA for Israel in ‘78. Shlomo told me I could play his instrument and I am wondering just who else was given clearance to do this. I don’t even know if Yeshua Witt ever did it. He even told me what his favorite niggun was and I am pretty sure that no one else knows it even his widow Neila. I won’t reveal what he told me though.
Anyway, I drove the poor rabbi up a tree in Israel when I started to accompany him in concert. While I could do a kumsitz and play and sing as a solo act, I couldn’t play in a band as I couldn’t hear my guitar above everyone else in the chevra and not even when I accompanied Shlomo as a duet.
Shlomo used to turn sideways on stage so I could see his fingers dart around the guitar’s fret board. He really bent over backwards for me and that is an additional reason why I still love the man. And don’t be mistaken, he was a big, important person but I felt that after I was abused by my father, who came from a frum home and after being abused by anti-Semites growing up on LI, NY that I had the right to tag up with a major rabbi. And Shlomo was really a saint in many ways.
One day, Shlomo took me to Lod city near the Moshav. He asked me to play Esso Einai – Psalm 121 - and I couldn’t and got very flustered and sad. He said, “Oh, Reuven” and he bought a steak for me. One of the really frustrating things was that our ranges different and I couldn’t sing with him. One day, I figured out that I could sing, Chemdat Hayamim, “The happiness of the Shabbat” or something to that effect paraphrased and he was so happy as I could sing it loudly. He was smiling very hard. I never saw him smile like that before or since anywhere.
One of the things that being with him and going to Israel at his invite did for me was to let me experiment and put things in perspective. I no longer tortured my family about why they weren’t Orthodox and I realized my own limitations. Conservative Hebrew school was good but in Israel I got to see just what being an Orthodox Jew was affording me as lifestyle and it showed me, well, it showed me that I never was going to become the next Rav Moshe Feinstein and I wasn’t going down in history as the Vilna Gaon or the Ba’al Shem Tov either. They used to call me “Shlomo Carlebach Jr.” in Ben Yishai, however. I wish I could have lived up to it in many ways.
And Shlomo told Yeshua Witt to take good care of me and while I bombed out in Israel, I found a lot of love and support in the Carlebach movement. When I had problems with my ex-wife, her family called Shlomo up and he defended me. He knew me well enough to know that I was not a bad guy and he, unlike Lubavitch, treated me like I had a track record with him. He also couldn’t figure out why I left him and after I came back to him a month before his passing, he didn’t know how badly I got burned by Chabad and Yeshua Witt was infuriated at Chabad over what they did to me.
I may have mentioned it before but he didn’t just sing beautiful songs and tell wild stories. He gave people ethical teachings too and it was very important. On the Nachmu Ami recording, (“Comfort ye my people”) he goes on to say that you see a poor Jew (he helped out non-Jews too unlike a particular rabbi that I have very little in the way of good feelings toward) and you just came from the Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem and had a big breakfast so it is unfair that you don’t give the poor person some tzedakah (“charity”) when he may not have eaten for a week.” His was a much needed influence in a day and age where so many popular singers and performers are shallow and unspiritual and even worse unholy
Shlomo died October 20th in ’94 and I miss him very much. He used to call me “Reuven the Holy Weightlifter” even though Rabbi Nachman of Breslov put down “bodybuilders.” He saw the good side of people and he could also himself see his own limitations.
It is problematic though when you see how he didn’t patch things up with those women he abused and it hurts me that he messed himself up. It is also sad that his family didn’t allow those women to vent and Neila said, “All they want to do is hurt his legacy,” but I am sure it’s not the case because from what I know no one else on this site even discussed the issue and also from what I know, they vented to that hotline that Lillith magazine put up and were heard from no more. In many ways he was really a great man and his loss is a big one for a lot of people especially me.