Monday, August 25, 2014

Twenty years on, the real and radical legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

By Maayan Jaffe
JNS.org - August 25, 2014


“He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” wrote Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994, following the Oct. 20 passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Twenty years later, more robust accounts of Carlebach’s life have come to the surface. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy.” This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s “The Soul of Jerusalem” hit the shelves.

But even the authors will admit that this larger-than-life, soul-hugging rabbi’s legacy cannot be fully captured in black-and-white pages. 




“Shlomo did not seem to fit any restrictive, defining label,” Ophir told JNS.org. “Reb Shlomo was… a charismatic teacher who combined storytelling, sermonic exegesis, and inspirational insights into creating a new form of heartfelt, soulful Judaism filled with a love for all human beings.”

Carlebach—born in Germany, from where his family fled following the Nazi invasion—in March 1939 immigrated to New York from Lithuania, just six months before the Nazis invaded that country. In 1945, the family moved to Manhattan so his father, Rabbi Naphtali Carlebach, could take over Congregation Kehilath Jacob on W. 79th Street. After his father’s passing, Carlebach assumed leadership of the synagogue, today known as “The Carlebach Shul.”

It was from his home base at The Carlebach Shul that Shlomo Carlebach set up the first known Hassidic outreach program, Taste and See God is Good (T.S.G.G.). According to Ophir, the organization was based on the idea that, as Carlebach said, “You cannot begin to talk to people about God unless you have first given them a taste of God is good.”



In 1968, Carlebach established the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco, the first Jewish commune. 

“His empathetic approach toward the spiritual imports from the Far East was radical for an Orthodox rabbi,” said Ophir.

Everything Carlebach did was radical. He traveled to Germany in the 1960s to teach people whose parents had murdered scores of Jewish people that the time for peace and forgiveness had come, recalled Ben-Zion Solomon, whose home is next door to the late Carlebach’s in the central Israeli community of Moshav Mevo Modi’in, also known as the “Carlebach moshav.”

Carlebach was a scholar in his own right, studying at some of the most renowned American yeshivot. He later connected with the Lubavitch movement, whose leader at the time, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, encouraged him to go into outreach. This mandate was the start of what became his calling, serving as the rabbi of the hippie movement. 

He had followers around the globe. Many young Jews returned to a Torah lifestyle as a result of their relationship with Carlebach.

In 1963, philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, founder of Birthright Israel, set up a company called The Shabbos Express to help Shlomo channel his talents in a business-like manner. Steinhardt told Ophir, “I knew Shlomo quite well and I was perfectly prepared to accept his eccentricities. … Shlomo, however, continued to travel the globe in altruistic style in disregard of conventional time and business.”

Daughter Dari Carlebach said in a previous interview that her father was caught between two worlds—the religious/yeshiva world and the hippie world. She said her father had a huge desire “to love and heal the world,” and he did it with “such heart and grace and empathy.” 

Shlomo Carlebach’s unbridled passion might account for why it has taken this long to begin to canonize his legacy. Solomon recounts the way that his rebbe could focus on whoever needed him at the time, that “whoever he was talking to, he became their best friend.” 

Solomon and wife Dina met Carlebach in California. Carlebach encouraged Solomon to learn in Israel and eventually to make aliyah, and then handpicked his family to live on the Carlebach moshav. 

Solomon recalled that when he arrived in Israel he was told by the Orthodox-affiliated Diaspora Yeshiva that his wedding to Dina was not valid, as they did not have a ketubah (Jewish marriage contract). He called Carlebach in a panic. The rabbi told him to get some wine and cake and meet him at the Shabbos House in Jerusalem at 1 a.m.

“We’re waiting for Shlomo and then we see him coming down the block with 300 people. … We were singing and dancing until daylight,” Solomon told JNS.org.

Carlebach is best known for his Jewish music. “He’s universally accepted as the father of Jewish music,” said Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman of Mevo Modi’in.

Leslie Pomerantz and Michael Hoffman are both Jewish song leaders. Pomerantz told JNS.org that Carlebach made Jewish music “accessible” and taught song leaders the value of using music for engagement.

“For him, it was not a performance, but an inclusive process,” Pomerantz said.

Hoffman said he was raised at Jewish summer camp, and when he became a song leader he envisioned Carlebach to be another Debbie Friedman, whose music had a significant influence on the liturgies of Reform and Conservative Judaism. He recalled that when saw a picture of the late rabbi, “I was like, ‘Wow!’”

Hoffman described Carlebach’s music as “timeless” and noted how people have forgotten that many immensely popular niggunim (tunes or melodies) were in fact composed by Carlebach. For example, it was Carlebach who in 1965 invented “Am Yisrael Chai” for the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry movement, which was later adopted for Jewish causes as a theme of resilience and perseverance. Other famed Carlebach compositions include “David Melech Yisrael,” “Od Yeshoma,” and “Esa Einai.”
Recent books work to shed light on Carlebach’s Torah teachings, which followers say were the basis for his tunes. 
“It wasn’t music for music’s sake. It was a part of a bigger Torah vision he wanted to share with the world,” said Trugman.

Author Shlomo Katz told JNS.org he first connected with Carlebach’s teachings at the age of 14 when a classmate shared his headphones during recess. 

“I put on the earphones and I was transported instantly,” Katz recalled regarding the music and teaching he heard. “I knew my whole world was about to change because my neshama (soul) was more alive than ever at that moment—and it never stopped.”

Katz has devoted his professional life to collecting, transcribing, and teaching Carlebach’s Torah teachings, which can be found on tens of thousands of tapes and in hundreds of journals across the world. 
Solomon said he used to learn Talmud with Carlebach every morning at 5 a.m.


“He said things a gaon (genius) would say,” said Solomon. “Those special mornings taught me a whole other aspect of learning Torah.” 

But Carlebach’s legacy is not without controversy. He faced allegations that became public in a 1998 Lilith magazine article, claiming he routinely made sexually suggestive late-night phone calls to female acquaintances and that he physically molested numerous women over the course of decades. Such accusations naturally provoked fierce controversy about how to remember a man many considered a saint.

“Can you imagine, in a period of a month, after one of his yahrzeits (anniversary of death), getting 50 phone calls about the same person from all over the world? He has victims in Israel, the U.S., Australia, South Africa—any place he went, he had victims,” said Vicki Polin of the Awareness Center, a non-profit with the mission of ending sexual violence in the Jewish community. “He did a lot of kiruv (outreach), but what about those who converted to other faiths—walked away completely—because of this assault?”

Carlebach’s followers have rejected those allegations. And this generation, said Katz, is hungrier than ever for his message.
“Today’s youth won’t compromise for anything less than something that touches the depths of their own souls, which is really what [Carlebach] does through his teachings—so mind-blowing and deep, but in the same instance… he puts the sweet inside, so it goes down in a way that resonates,” Katz said.
Nechama Silver recalled meeting Carlebach in the 1970s at a coffee shop concert in Pennsylvania. She said he “turned me on to yiddishkeit (Jewishness).”

“I remember saying, ‘Is this guy for real?’” she said. “He is the realest thing you will ever meet.”

Monday, August 18, 2014

Former Vic teacher to be extradited from Israel on sex assault charges

By AAP
The Australian News - August 18, 2014

THE former principal of a Melbourne Jewish girls’ school who fled Australia in 2008 after being accused of sexual assault has been arrested in Israel and is facing extradition.

The federal Attorney-General’s Department has confirmed Malka Leifer was taken into custody in Israel after an extradition request from Australian authorities.


The mother of eight left Australia six years ago after she was sacked as principal of the ultra-orthodox Adass Israel School Elsternwick following allegations of improper conduct with students between 2001 — 2008.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General’s Department said Ms Leifer was wanted to face prosecution in Victoria for alleged sexual assault offences.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said an investigation continued into complaints of historic sex offences at an Elsternwick school. Both the department and police said it would be inappropriate to comment further, given the matter was now before the courts.

Adass Israel school, which has around 50 pupils, caters to the ultra-orthodox Adass Israel Community in the Melbourne suburbs of Elsternwick and Ripponlea.

Manny Waks, founder of Tzedek, a support group for Jewish victims of child sexual abuse, said he welcomed the development.

“It should be seen in the greater context of the ongoing child sexual abuse scandal that has been plaguing the Australian Jewish community in recent years,” he added.

“Many victims are no longer willing to remain silent, and neither is the community.”

He added: “I hope and expect that the Adass Israel School will co-operate fully with the police.”

The arrest is one of a string of scandals within the Jewish community. In 2008 David Kramer, a former teacher at Yeshiva College in Caulfield, Vic, was jailed on child sexual assault charges in the US.

Allegations were made in the 1990s that Kramer, now 53, had abused boys while teaching at Yeshiva but the alleged incidents were not reported to the police.

Kramer was dismissed by the school and reportedly was asked to leave the country.

Vicki Polin, of the US-based International Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault, said at the time of his arrest in the US that she had been contacted by several former pupils and parents of the school.

“I have been told that Kramer abused over 30 boys in his time at Yeshiva,” Ms Polin said.
She said when parents complained to the school, Yeshiva Centre head, Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner — who died in July — told Kramer to leave.

“He paid for him to leave — he gave him a ticket,” Ms Polin said.


After Leifer’s arrest, Adass Israel school principal Professor Israel Herszberg said in a statement: “The school has and will continue to co-operate fully with the authorities but otherwise is unable to comment further where the matters involving Mrs Leifer are before the courts.”

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Chicago's Northshore

© (2014) Photographs by Vicki Polin
Music by The Beatles - "Hey Jude"

Took one last drive up Sheridan Rd. Making stops at the Baha'i Temple, Plaza Del Lago, Tower Beach, Glencoe Beach, and Grosse Point Beach.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lake Glenview - Glenview Naval Air Station

© (2014) Photographs by Vicki Polin

Music by Simon and Garfunkel - "Flowers Never Bend"

Went for a walk on a beautiful summer day around the park that was once the Glenview Naval Air Station, in Glenview, IL.  Wish I had more time then I did.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pat Benatar Concert in Elk Grove Village, IL

© (2014) Filmed by Vicki Polin

This was filmed on July 15, 2014 at the Pat Benatar concert in Elk Grove Village, IL.  Not bad for a woman in her 60s.








Thursday, July 10, 2014

Montrose Harbor (July 10, 2014)

© (2014) Photographs by Vicki Polin
Music by Styx - "Come Sail Away"

One of my favorite places inside the city limits of Chicago is going to the bird sanctuary at Montrose Harbor and walking out onto the pier way off into the lake.  This is a place filled with so many childhood memories.


Monday, July 07, 2014

Call To Enchantment: Lake Glenview

© (2014) Photographs by Vicki Polin
Music by Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai - "Call To Enchantment"

Every time I stroll around Lake Glenview, I'm filled with memories of driving past the former Naval Air Base, which has since been renovated nature wonderland.  My hope is that this film clip will help those who watch be filled with calmness and a sense of inner peace.