Biography of a ‘singing rabbi’

Natan Ophir explores the life, mission and legacy of Shlomo Carlebach.

The Singing Rabbi
Photo by: Courtesy
One summer’s day in 1961, two young men, both at the dawn of their respective careers, sat opposite each other in a train from Man- chester to London. The previous evening, Shlomo Carlebach – the elder by a dozen or so years, and on his first professional visit to Britain – had entertained a group of students at a kumzits in Prestwich, to which I had been invited as a representative of the press. Finding ourselves similarly bound for a Shabbat break in the metropolis, we met again on the journey and chatted animatedly about his musical aspirations.

“In America,” I subsequently wrote, “Shlomo Carlebach needs no introduction. His very name conjures up the solidly built, black-bearded, joyful face of the young hassidic singer, as well as the tunes he loves. His power to turn around thousands who thought Judaism was dead has caused him to be described as the ‘Jewish Pied Piper of Hamelin.’ With the song comes an unburdening of the soul, an uplifting of the spirit. Shlomo’s best audiences are invariably teenagers, dissatisfied with life and striving to fill a vacuum.

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