New book reveals controversial private life of late Rabbi and musician Shlomo Carlebach
Special for the AJT
The Real Shlomo is published at the onset celebration of the 20th anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on October 20, 1994. Since he was and is still very much “alive,” I feel an obligation to the Jewish world to provide an introspective view of the complex individual that he was. My book is not strictly biographical; rather, it is an integrated presentation through the lenses of biography, psychology and ethnography.
Shlomo lived a life of great color and difference in comparison to that of many people. It was also a life which left unanswered questions which have been added to by accusations, both past and present. These matters bothered me, not only as a Jew, but as a human being.
As a result, I began my research, seeking out the people who knew him personally, as well as those who wrote about him. It involved interviewing family members and friends from his yeshiva days, filtered by my understanding of the world from which he came. After my findings, I realized that there was more to Shlomo’s story than I initially perceived. This lead to a year-long exploration of his life; it ended with going into his “soul.”
The book spans the years from 1940-1960, Shlomo’s life at ages 15-35 years, the years when he formulated his life’s mission, actualized his maturity, and cemented his relationship with his parents.
The manner in which this book is written, is to present Shlomo as he was. On one hand he was a traditionalist, came from a rigid family, and appreciated the old shtetl (Eastern European village) lifestyle. Simultaneously, he tasted the new world. He experienced the “-isms” of the ‘60s and beyond. He balanced both.
The book is about an individual who moved through both worlds. He was no Holy man, nor did he want to be perceived as one. He knew quite well where his weaknesses lay. Shlomo did not fully discard his past. He always appreciated his background, his learning, his Yiddish, and his Chasidut.
Shlomo is the epitome of an average man who is in constant struggle, wrestling the dichotomy of highs and lows. There is no such thing as being on middle ground; rather, constant motion is the way of life. I see this in Shlomo and cherish his tenacity and courage as an average human being with all of life’s struggles.
At times, he publically ridiculed religious behavior, such as excluding women from singing in public. Shlomo rationalized this by saying that the people who were drawn to him were not vessels for some halachic laws. However, his dream was that one day these same people would come around and appreciate all of Jewish law, including issues pertaining to women.
Shlomo was neither black nor white, he was grey. He was not simple and unwavering grey but rather, he was a continuum of grey – sometimes black-grey and other times white-grey.