Finishing a week long series celebrations of the life and music of Rav Shlomo Carelbach zt”l was a massive memorial concert at Binyanei Ha’Uma in Jerusalem on Saturday, November 19, 2016. Carlebach, whose unorthodox approach to orthodox Judiasim made him one of the most controversial, yet beloved Jewish figures of this generation. In 1966, as Jefferson Airplane and Pete Seeger rocked a music festival stage in Berkley California, a young Rabbi sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to bring Torah to the hippies of San Franciscoat prayed in the wings before going on stage to sing. He was a brilliant young Torah scholar who truly lived out his for the love for all of Israel, and is believed by some to have been one of the first people to truly begin the modern day kiruv movement. Ironically his stories and songs have become even more popular since since death on Heshvan 16, 5755, October 20, 1994.
With images on screens behind the house band of winds/brass, violin, drums, bass, electric guitar and keyboard, the rotating artists at the Carelbach tribute concert were as electric in style and dress as the audience themselves. One fan, David Sternhill’s, remembered how his father Mendel travelled with Rav Shlomo for many years between California to New Orleans. He brought a group of young friends with him to pay their respects, and shared personal Shlomo stories with concert goers outside. They all raved about Chiki Sofer’s havdala as one of the highlights of the evening because it got over 50 guys racing around the stage within the first five minutes of the show. Sternhill said that he was impressed by the diversity of singers. “It just shows that Shlomo’s songs have expanded to all different kinds of people, in all walks of life.” Moshe Shechter his friend added, “all types of people from all backgrounds, mizrachi, Chassidim, men, women, all of Israel young and old.” Case in point, the Slomon Brothers with their blue grass style rocked the house while Israel Nachman’s opera cantorial of momkomocha brought people to tears. You could really feel the love and dedication the performers had for their beloved rabbi, as Aaron Razel came to sing several songs including Shifchi Kamayim despite his wife gave birth eruv Shabbat. Other notable numbers were Nati and Pinni Shitz singing gam ki leech, Yitzchok Meir singing ahavat olam and melech ranchman, and Udi Davidi performing tov l’hodot.
Even 22 years after his death, his life is celebrated by people all over the world. Stevie Eisenberg remarked, “I always commemorate Reb Shlomo’s yirtzhait, but this year, being in Israel, was like no other before. Visiting the grave on Thursday, davening Friday night at the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem with Yitzchak Meir, and the moving concert on Saturday night, it was a 3 day yontiff!”
A man identifying himself only as “Mr. Cohen” said knew Shlomo Carlebach well, and was at Shlomo’s last concert just 12 days before he died. “It was a very emotional moment when I heard that he passed away. It was Thursday evening when someone told me about it. I attended a concert at 305 West 79th street and it was really nice, special, and nobody knew what would happen 12 days later. I would like to correct one area of general information that says he was on a flight from London when it happened, it’s not true. It was on a flight between LaGuardia to Montreal. I happen to know the person who took him. He arrived from another flight, and he was on his way to see his kids. When the person saw the way he looks and feels, she tried to convince him ‘maybe take a later flight or go next time you need to have a little break’ and he said, “no I love my kids. I need to see them and I want them to know how much I love them.”
Artists of all areas came from all over Israel to hear their hero, “I’m very glad I came. I like the songs of Carlebach and wouldn’t miss a chance to hear them live.” said Tzivya Levi, a painter. Beyond any controversy he saw in his life, his songs remains legendary. Mr. Cohen beamed with pride as he continued telling personal stories to a gathering crowd of the next generation of listeners, “It’s more today then ever. The very fact that there’s so many kabbalat Shabbas Carlebach style it tells you something. There isn’t a wedding where you don’t have one of his songs. Whether it’s here (in Israel) or the United States or other places around the world.in every wedding they play him. The very fact that there are so many songs being sung 22 years later tells you something.”