With her latest release Believe, Neshama Carlebach examines personal and universal problems to transform darkness into light. The 12-song album approaches life’s challenges with grace, beauty and uplifting music.
Carlebach has been performing – often alongside her father the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach – since she was a girl, but with Believe her own voice is amplified with a collection of original songs.
Can you talk to us more about your single “Always With Me”?
“Always With Me” is a song about love and finding connection. So many of us carry a great deal of pain and burden; too many of us feel alone and powerless; too many of us have lost loved ones and don’t know where we belong. For me, “Always With Me” is a testament to human resilience and strength. We will cry and fall apart and grieve, but then we will get up, feel the love that is always there and find the way to rise again – together.
When I heard the devastating news about the synagogue shooting in San Diego, I was shaken to my very core. Through waves of grief, one of my first lucid thoughts was, “I’m glad I chose to not go to shul to today.” How sad that this has become an understandable response for a person of faith, to consider self-isolation in the face of a hateful, murderous attack upon sisters and brothers, fellow human beings.
We’re living in a world where we just don’t know if we’ll make it through the day while doing regular things. Going to the supermarket, going to synagogue, to school. It’s terrifying. The reality of the violence in our world makes us feel vulnerable and fragile and small. On these days it’s hard to know where our protection actually comes from.
STAMFORD, Connecticut — Neshama Carlebach sits in her car in a deli parking lot, listening to her new song “Believe.” She beams when the words, “I close my eyes so I can see all that can be / We will rise, I do believe,” pipe through the speaker — but not for the reasons one might think.
The song shares the name of her forthcoming album, which drops on her website on March 29. It features 12 all-original songs performed by her band, along with a new gospel choir led by Pastor Milton Vann. Yet, the smile that lights up Carlebach’s face isn’t born of knowing her new album “Believe” will soon be released into the world (although Carlebach is proud). Rather, it is because she has found tranquility on the other side of turmoil.
NEW YORK — Neshama Carlebach says she is figuring out how “to both love and not love” her father.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, a spiritual leader and musician whose soulful melodies penetrated the hearts of people across the religious spectrum, is the man who made her into who she is today. A singer and composer in her own right, Neshama, 44, first shared a stage with him at the age of 15. She refers to him having been her “best friend.”
But something has changed since the rabbi died in 1994 at 69.
Neshama Carlebach said that as she got ready to deliver her June 12 talk at Congregation Emanu-El, her first impulse was to scream and run out of the room.
It was the sixth time this year the 43-year-old musician was addressing such an audience, all of them since she began speaking publicly about her father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, and the allegations of sexual assault that have swirled around him since his death in 1994. Spurred on by the #MeToo movement, she began to acknowledge these multiple charges in early January, when the Times of Israel published her op-ed, “My Sisters, I Hear You.”
The number of women victimized by her father over the years is not known; many who traveled in his circles estimate it was in the hundreds, or higher. The charges ranged from sexually charged late-night phone calls to overly long, inappropriate hugs with teenage girls that sometimes ended with him ejaculating. Many of his accusers live in the Bay Area, but given his reach and how much he traveled, others are scattered throughout the country and beyond.
His family members had never spoken about these allegations until Neshama Carlebach took the plunge this year. A musician who has built her career on performing her father’s music and serving as a standard-bearer for his musical legacy, she says her singing career has suffered from the fallout surrounding her father, including a recent push to ban his music from synagogues. If his music isn’t sung, she told the crowd, neither is hers.
Originally published by TimesOfIsrael.com
My friends, I humbly come before you. I am grateful to have this privilege to share what I hope will be a contribution to the conversation we are now engaged in in this moment of transformation.
I acknowledge that who I am – my very name – might make it hard to receive anything I might wish to offer. Still, our tradition teaches us that silence is consent, and I cannot remain silent in the face of so much pain.
II. I hear you
My sisters, I hear you. I cry with you. I walk with you. I will stand with you until that day when the world commits to healing and wholeness for all, for the countless women who have suffered the evils of sexual harassment and assault.
I pledge to walk through this narrow-bridge world with you, listening to your hearts, hearts that sing with pain and strength, resilience and passion, feelings that resonate to Heaven as loudly as any song I’ve ever sung.
It is up to us all to both work to heal from what has happened and also to create, educate and transform the future. It is one thing to seek healing from past wounds, but we must also work to invent a future that empowers all of us to bring holiness to the way we treat each other. This commitment to learn from the pains of our past and honor each other means that there must be a plan of action we all invest in.
I walk on this journey with you. Every fiber of my being is looking for the light to heal our brokenness – mine included – and to see what we can do together to radically change the status quo that for so long has disempowered women, voice, body and soul.
What our world needs today is nothing less than a revolution in the way human beings view and treat each other.
I am in this conversation. I am also broken. I see, I hear, I witness.
Neshama Carlebach, is a musical powerhouse, who is sharing her memories of her father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, as she tells the tale of pain, legacy, and transcendence to “return to where you are born and born again.”For those who don’t know who Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was, he was a Jewish rabbi, religious teacher, composer, and singer who was known as “The Singing Rabbi” during his lifetime. Carlebach is considered by many to be the foremost Jewish religious songwriter of the 20th century, in a career that spanned 40 years. He composed thousands of melodies and recorded more than 25 albums that continue to have widespread popularity and appeal. His influence continues to this day. A musical written about his life, Soul Doctor, opened on Broadway August 15, 2013, but it Neshama who carries on his legacy.
After Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s death allegations of sexual impropriety were waged against him.
(J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — Rabbi Menachem Creditor met Neshama Carlebach 10 years ago when the popular Jewish singer headlined a concert at Creditor’s shul, Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California. They struck up a friendship, which eventually turned into love and, now, an engagement.
The couple will wed next summer at a ceremony in New York.
By then Creditor, 41, will have completed his tenure at Netivot Shalom and moved to New York, where Carlebach, 43, lives with her two sons.
“Neshama and I stayed in touch over the years,” said Creditor, who has three children from his first marriage. “About a year ago, our conversations somehow shifted. We started seeing each other in a new way. A coalescing of all the sharing we’ve done over the years turned into a beautiful romance. Close friends became best friends.”
(JTA) — Top Jewish musicians with large Orthodox followings will hold a benefit concert to support JQY, or Jewish Queer Youth.
JQY provides crisis and support resources for at-risk LGBTQ Jewish youth from Orthodox Jewish homes.
Among the artists who will perform at the December 17 concert at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York, are Matisyahu, Neshama Carlebach and Eli Schwebel, the organization announced.
Sandi DuBowski, director of a 2001 documentary about gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews trying to reconcile their sexuality with their faith, “Trembling Before G-d,” will be honored with the inaugural JQY Trailblazer Award.
“My music is about providing hope and comfort to those who need it. LGBTQ Jewish youth, especially from Orthodox homes, deserve to know that they are loved,”” Matisyahu said in a statement announcing the event.
“I pray that my music sends a message of love and inclusion,” Carlebach said in the statement.
“No human being should ever feel like an outsider in our community.”
Over 70 percent of JQY participants from Orthodox families have contemplated suicide, according to Rachael Fried, the organization’s assistant director and JQY Teen Drop-in Center coordinator.
The Drop-in Center is based at Congregation Bet Simchat Torah in Midtown Manhattan.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s music is present in worship and at Jewish celebrations all over the world. He is one of the most influential Jewish musicians of all time and continues to be an inspiration 23 years after his death.
Reb Shlomo’s daughter Neshama Carlebach continues to share his message as she performs his music and her own at venues worldwide.
Neshama, the original “Soul Daughter,” has been through her fair share of struggle and success since her father passed away suddenly in 1994. At the age of 20, exactly 31 days after Reb Shlomo died, Neshama was on the road, singing in his name on a tour that he had booked.
“In my mind, I was replacing the most beautiful, important person that ever lived,” she said. “It was a really painful time for me.”
This tour marked the beginning of Neshama’s own whirlwind career. She is one of the only Jewish artists to have sold more than a million records, and was also a six-time entrant in the Grammy Awards and toured the world consistently.
“I didn’t stop when I got married or when I had my two children,” she said. “I nursed through a concert once. At one show, I was nine months and two weeks pregnant, and I was having contractions while I was on stage. I loved my work but also didn’t know how to stop.”
Neshama didn’t break from her busy schedule until 2012 when she got divorced. “’My whole world came crashing down,” she said. “I realized that I didn’t know who I was, that I didn’t really understand myself. After my divorce, I know I mourned my father for the first time.”
So began a period of introspection and finding herself. From 2012 to 2016, she performed rarely and took time off to discover her place in the world and get in touch with her feelings. “I was falling apart completely, and then this moment was a rebirth for me,” she said.
OCTOBER 5, 2017 – Singer/songwriter Neshama Carlebach, a passionate advocate for inclusion in synagogue, will headline Congregation Shirat Hayam’s Shir Lanu (“One Song-Every Voice”) Inclusion Initiative Celebration October 27 and 28.
“When you’re accepting people who are different than you, it means that you have acceptance and love in your heart. Period. And if you don’t have love and acceptance in your heart, that’s not a place to pray,” the six-time entrant in the 2011 Grammy Awards said by phone last week from her New York City apartment.
One of Shirat Hayam’s stated missions is to support and provide opportunities for families and individuals with special needs as well as the LGBTQ community, interfaith families, elders and everyone who seeks a genuinely respectful, compassionate and responsive synagogue experience.
“I believe that hands down, this is one of the most important missions in the Jewish world right now. Every single synagogue should have this mission attached to their synagogue statement,” Carlebach said.
Shir Lanu – One Song, Every Voice. That is the name of the dynamic inclusion initiative at Congregation Shirat Hayam of the North Shore. The Conservative Jewish congregation in Swampscott has emerged as one of the bright stars among the synagogues that have partnered with the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project (RSIP).
Over a decade ago, the Ruderman Family Foundation made disability advocacy and inclusion a top priority of its philanthropic mission. RSIP is just one of the foundation’s latest endeavors on behalf of disability rights. Synagogues that participate in the project are vetted for their commitment to any person who walks through their doors, especially those with disabilities.
In May 2016, RSIP and Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) celebrated synagogue inclusion in an event called “Opening Doors to Jewish Community.” Rabbi Julia Watts Belser, a professor of Jewish studies at Georgetown University’s theology department, was the keynote speaker. At that same occasion, Neshama Carlebach and Josh Nelson welcomed RSIP’s newest congregational partners and affiliates with their music.
This year singer-songwriter Neshama Carlebach will be back in the area supporting RSIP’s work at Shirat Hayam on Oct. 27-28. She will perform with her band and the Glory to God Gospel Singers with whom she frequently collaborates. In an interview with JewishBoston, Carlebach noted: “I perform at a lot of events, but it’s a rare gift when I want to be a part of one after the event has ended. I was blessed to sing at the RSIP program in 2016, and I was profoundly moved. I cried throughout the evening. It was so beautiful and powerful. I sobbed at the way Julia Watts Belser connected the merkava—the chariot—to God’s wheels. After that speech, there is almost not a day that I don’t see a car wheel or a bicycle wheel when I don’t think about God being on wheels.”
Neshama Carlebach, a leading superstar in Jewish Entertainment, is continuing the legacy established by her father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.
Like her father, Neshama’s talent and charisma captivate and endear her to people of all ages, faiths and backgrounds. Neshama has performed and taught in cities worldwide, has sung on the Broadway stage, has sold more than one million records, and was a six-time entrant in the 2011 Grammy Awards.
Neshama was one of the creators of the Broadway musical “Soul Doctor”. In November of 2016, Neshama was inducted into the Brooklyn Hall of Fame, where she received a Certificate of Congressional Recognition for her work.
Neshama is currently touring with a new band and gospel choir and joyfully raising her two sons, Rafael and Micah.
Four years after her last tour, Neshama Carlebach is once again on the world stage singing the beloved songs of her late father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, and sharing his message of love for all humanity.
Neshama will be in Ashland for an April 7-8 “Legacy” Shabbaton featuring a concert, storytelling, teaching and conversation, all intermingled with music.
After four years spent in courtrooms in an “intense divorce,” Neshama says she emerged with an even stronger sense of self, a restored relationship with God and a renewed commitment to share her father’s legacy of music and love for humanity. She resumed her appearances in October of last year and was gratified to be so in demand after her hiatus with bookings across America, Israel and even Cuba.
She was not grateful to find that the world needed her father’s music, message and love more than ever. The U.S. election was the most divisive ever, and religious divides in Israel were heated. During Hanukkah, she was singing with the Women of the Wall at the Kotel when they were set upon by screaming haredi women, an event from which she is still reeling.
Neshama Carlebach’s albums have sold 1 million-plus copies — but she views her success as a way to help others through the pain of life transitions toward inner strength and spiritual growth.
“Music brings healing to our souls,” says Carlebach, who will perform at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Oct. 29 with the Glory to God Singers, led by Rev. Milton Vann. She last performed at the Fox in 2011.
A single mother with two sons, ages 6 and 9, she says going through a painful divorce left her with a special empathy for women who raise children alone. “I’ve experienced a lot of pain and loss. It’s a gift to be able to take what I’ve gained and encourage others to create new strength and understanding in their own lives.”
Born in New York and raised in Toronto, Carlebach began singing at age 5, and sang with her singer-songwriter father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, for five years before his death in 1994. “He was the pioneer of Jewish modern music,” she says. “He wrote more than 5,000 songs,” sung in countless Jewish schools and synagogues. “He was the biggest influence in my life — and my best friend.”
Singing mostly her father’s songs, she calls her music “Jewish soul.” Her name, Neshama, means “soul.” Currently singing with a Baptist gospel choir, she embraces a message of unity and spirituality.
In 1994, when Neshama Carlebach, then a teenager, joined her father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on stage they broke the taboo of kol isha, the Orthodox prohibition of women singing before men. It was also the first and last time she’d appear with her father, otherwise known as the Singing Rabbi. A few months later he suffered a fatal heart attack.
Today Carlebach, 41, in her own right a star in Jewish entertainment, continues to break barriers while both carrying on her father’s legacy and charting her own unique path. Whether it’s performing with an African-American Baptist church choir or singing before the People’s Climate Change March in 2013, Carlebach still sees music as a way to give voice to the voiceless.
“I believe we can have a wonderful world. I believe we can heal through music. That’s the voice I want to sing to,” Carlebach said, sitting inside New York’s jewel-like Café Lalo on a raw February day.
Music — and the lack of it — has healed Carlebach, and allowed her to realize that sometimes the best way to hold on to someone is to let them go.
Neshama Carlebach has traversed the universe of Jewish music. Each step she’s taken has brought her to a wider audience. And, each step she has taken along her path has been accompanied by controversy.
Carlebach will appear in concert at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 6, at Congregation Beth Israel, 5600 N. Braeswood Blvd. The concert also will feature Beth Israel Cantor Daniel Mutlu, songwriter Josh Nelson and Rev. Milton Vann and the Glory To God Singers.
Carlebach’s father, the charismatic Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, brought his daughter, Neshama, on stage to sing with him in her first public appearance as a teenager. For some in the Orthodox community, hearing father and daughter on stage together was transcendent, a bridge between Reb Shlomo’s compositions and the next generation. For others in the Orthodox community, Neshama’s onstage singing voice was a religious scandal, a violation of kol isha. A Talmudic prohibition, kol isha prevents a man from listening to the singing voice of a woman, because it is arousing and thus immodest. (There is rabbinic disagreement regarding the scope of the prohibition.)
While Reb Shlomo was alive, he confronted the issue directly. Upon introducing his daughter, during what turned out to be his last tour, Reb Shlomo told those in the audience who might be offended to go outside while she performed.
Our high school, the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto was, as its name indicated, a community school. Kids entered ninth grade from the spectrum of Jewish day schools — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Sephardic. But it was also a community school in a different way; we were a small group (graduating class of 110), and we looked out for one another. So when one of my classmates starred, in that first year of high school, as Titania, Queen of the Fairies, in a local production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a bunch of went to see her. None of us knew her very well yet (nor each other), but we loved watching her. “She’s a born performer,” whispered one of my classmates.
That couldn’t have been a more prescient observation I thought earlier this month, watching Neshama Carlebach perform with Joshua Nelson, another star of the shul circuit, at the Jewish Center in Princeton, New Jersey, hundreds of miles and in a country apart from the one where I first saw her on a stage. Still sprinkled with fairy dust, Neshama belted out songs that give life to her “soulful” name, songs that left the crowd beatific. All around me, faces were lit up with rapture; people swayed and sang along; some broke into spontaneous dance. When I went to give my old classmate a hug after her performance, I had to fight off dozens of other admirers who wanted to give her a hug, not because they also knew her, but because they loved her without needing to know her.
Some people might think Neshama built her career on her father’s legacy. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was one of the greatest Jewish singers and spiritual leaders of the 20th century. “Soul Doctor,” the play about his life, might have had a sadly short run on Broadway, but its existence speaks volumes about his incredible influence as a “Rock Star Rabbi.” Every Jew knows his music, even if they don’t know it’s his (“Am Yisroel Chai” is but one example). As The New York Times put it in his obituary, “Rabbi Carlebach put the words of Jewish prayer and ceremony to music that is heard at virtually every Jewish wedding and bar mitzvah, from Hasidic to Reform.” But this is my personal memory of the man: he was Neshama’s father. And one time, I think it was in 11th grade, he came to our school, guitar in hand, an aging hippy with an infectious smile, and played music for our class. “Hey, Neshama’s dad is pretty good, isn’t he?” I asked one of my friends. “Like Neshama,” he agreed.
(JTA) — As the August premiere of the Broadway musical “Soul Doctor” drew to a close, the daughter of the show’s subject, the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, took to the stage.
Neshama Carlebach invited the cast and audience to join her in singing her father’s legendary hit, “Am Yisrael Chai,” which became widely recognized as an anthem for the Soviet Jewry movement. The refrain, “Od avinu chai,” translates as “Our father lives on” and is derived from the question Joseph asks his brothers in the book of Genesis.
Although “Soul Doctor” is slated to close on Sunday after 32 preview performances and 66 regular performances, there was no mistaking the significance of the lyrics.
“This was the culmination of 10 years of work,” Carlebach told JTA. “It was a moment of triumph for my father that he was on Broadway. But it was another step in the journey. I know there is more work to be done.”
The unconventional life and music of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach comes to life, with a little help from his kin.
“Hello, ‘A Pure Soul That Descended to This World,'” I say into the phone, greeting Esther Neshama Tehora Shucha Carlebach with the English translation of her given name. Laughing, she shoots back brightly, “I assume no responsibility for that name.”
That was laid on her by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (1925–94), who, in addition to being her father, was “the father of popular Jewish music” and is now the subject of a Broadway musical biography, Soul Doctor, opening Aug. 15 at Circle in the Square.
It is stacked with the songs Carlebach used to bring his musical culture up to contemporary speed, hastened in that direction via a relationship with jazz singer Nina Simone—an improbable, but powerful, alliance.
Even the diminutive of her moniker, Neshama, was a stumbling block at recess. “When I was young, I felt very burdened by the name,” she admits. “Plus, it was a very different-sounding name. People would say, ‘What? Michelle?’ I get a lot of that.”
But given the direction her career has gone, which is step by step in her father’s footsteps, it’s a good thing that Soul is, literally, part of her name.
My dearest friends, near and far,
We are about to receive the Torah (the essence of G-d’s message to us), on the holiday of Shavuot this week. I wanted to share a little piece of my own recent Journey, heading towards the Mountain to receive the Word of G-d…
Human beings are infinite. Our fears and disappointments may allow us to hide from our own powerful energy, but truly, we are infinite. Sadly, many of the trappings of this world, including the Words we depend on for our deepest communication are finite and limited. To say that your child is “extraordinary” or that a sunset is “beautiful” doesn’t even begin to describe the depths of that which we witness, or to express the breadth of our emotionality.
Still, there are moments that are (as my father would say) “Beyond the Beyond,” moments of infinite, abundant, Joy and Truth, where we can fully access the power of who we are. These moments are rare gifts but can be missed completely if we allow our own limitations to interfere. Personally, I beg for these moments, live for them, pray for them. They sustain me as a Mother, as an Artist, as a human being.
We learn that where prayer (Tfilla) ends, song (Shira) begins. Music is often the only way to express the depth, the immense endlessness of all we long for, of all we can have inside. This is why I sing, I know we are all capable of so much more…