Grapevine: Writing about the Singing Rabbi

Audiences at Carlebach concerts are almost always of a wide-ranging age group, with the younger generations in the majority.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach 311 (photo credit: courtesy: PR)
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach 311
(photo credit: courtesy: PR)
AUDIENCES AT Carlebach concerts are almost always of a wide-ranging age group, with the younger generations in the majority.
Last Saturday night at the OU Center in Jerusalem, in contrast, there were a few young people, but the overwhelming majority were senior citizens, some of them members of the peer generation of Carlebach – who was born in 1925 and died in 1994.
The reason for the gathering was the official launch of the most recent of Carlebach biographies – this one by Natan Ophir, published by Urim Publications, whose founder Tzvi Mauer was present to help with sales. Also helping out were photographer and graphic artist Michael Horton, who illustrated the cover and photographed the evening’s proceedings, and singer-accordionist Howie Kahn, who for five years in the first half of the 1970s was Carlebach’s accordionist and appeared with him in concert halls throughout North America and Israel.
Ophir was pleasantly surprised to find a full house well before starting time, and Kahn commented that if the evening had been billed as a Carlebach concert rather than a book launch, it would have started at least an hour late. Ophir spent years amassing, verifying and researching material for the book, which he described as a microhistory, in that so many of the anecdotes about Carlebach’s life and events in which he participated were supplied by people whose lives he had touched. Carlebach’s daughter, Neshama, believes it to be one of the most comprehensive biographies about her father that anyone has written to date, and writes in a foreword that Ophir’s portrayal will now enable others to fill in the spaces.
Constantly anxious he had missed out on an important story or had included material that might be inaccurate, Ophir was encouraged by his parents, Prof. Eliezer and Dr. Esther Offenbacher, to go ahead and publish it, and make whatever corrections necessary in the second edition or in the Hebrew one, which is due to come out in a few months.
Ophir asked how many people in the audience had personally known Carlebach, and the hands of nearly all those present shot up. There were even people present who said it was because of Carlebach they had become religiously observant.
Kahn still goes back to the old country to perform, and said Carlebach has become a bigger phenomenon in death than in life – having an impact on people who never knew him. Quite a few of the people who did know him did not allow advancing age to stop them from dancing when Kahn was playing. From the expressions on their faces, it was easy to guess they were back in the 1960s and 1970s.
Ophir credited Carlebach with inventing the spiritual weekend retreat known as the shabbaton, and was adamant that there were none until Carlebach introduced them.
Many of the contributors to stories in the book also supplied Ophir with photos. Others he took from the Government Press Office, including one taken of a Carlebach audience in Ariel on Independence Day, 1981. Sitting in the front row alongside each other and applauding were Menachem Begin and David Levy.
SOME PEOPLE naturally attract trouble and Beitar Jerusalem’s new owner, Eli Tabib, is one of them. When Tabib was the owner of Hapoel Tel Aviv, he was highly unpopular and there were two incidents in which grenades were thrown at his home in Kfar Shmaryahu. He’s not exactly popular with the fans of Beitar Jerusalem either, and recently was again the target for an explosion.
This time, he was saved by an alert neighbor, who noticed the grenade under his car just as he and his wife and their two children were about to drive away. The grenade was defused by a police sapper, but Tabib’s friends are urging him to get out of the game while the going his good. It’s not certain whether the culprit was a fan of either of the two teams, or simply someone with a grudge against Tabib for some other reason. But there’s a limit to how long anyone’s luck can hold out.
Tabib’s friends are trying to convince him of this – but so far with little success. He’s dug in his heels and intends to stay with Beitar.