‘Soul Doctor’ and the Awesome Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
I can’t remember exactly the first time I heard Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach sing, or the first time I met him, but I do remember feeling pride when I heard his voice.
My lifelong rabbi, Rabbi Avi Weiss, always sang Carlebach’s soulful songs, and I remember seeing Carlebach perform multiple times when I was in my pre-Bar Mitzvah years at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.
I remember personal encounters with Rabbi Carlebach, and they always stirred something in me. The man loved yiddishkeit (Jewishness), and it was awesome to be exposed to G-d through his love of music. Reb Shlomo’s warmth and essence always made me feel rich with pride in our people.
As a teenage member of Betar, the youth movement of Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, being a strong Jew always appealed to me, as did Zionism – but the boring “religious experience” was of much less interest. Music helped change that. Through Carlebach’s music, one could see that it was possible to reach beyond ourselves and touch others, and be touched by other cultures and beliefs in a way that was not only respectful to our traditions, but to the greater world.
Reb Shlomo’s music hit the right notes for me and for so many; he was often called a soul doctor. Today, I am blessed to be a regular attendee of the Carlebach Shul on the Upper West Side, and enjoy it immensely.
The new amazing, awesome Broadway show Soul Doctor, brings back so many memories: Of hearing Carlebach sing “Am Yisroel Chai” outside of the United Nations during Soviet Jewry marches. Of booking Reb Shlomo to play at SUNY Albany when I led the Betar group, and having him insist on talking to each student for hours on end every year he came. Of seeing him at various locations, and him calling me “Ronny Ron Ron” and laughing “Hey, Holy Jew.” Of Rabbi Avi Weiss singing his niggunim at my wedding.
Millions of people have positive memories of the man – and every synagogue in the world today has gatherings that feature his songs.
Above all else, perhaps Reb Shlomo taught us how great it is to be Jewish. The Torah and being a good Jew aren’t limited to those wearing black slacks and white shirts. Today, I often listen to his music or his stories – of which there are so many great ones.
The Broadway musical “Soul Doctor” is an awesome show based on Rabbi Carlebach’s life. It is playing eight shows a week at the Circle in the Square Theater at 50th Street near Broadway. Go see it – you’ll love it.