Introduction: Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994) and the Stories We Tell".

Author:Cohen, Judah M.
Position:Essay
 
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This issue originated in a panel co-organized by Natan Ophir and me for the American Jewish Historical Society's 2014 Biennial Scholar's Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Ophir, whose recently published biography of Carlebach incorporated numerous interviews and media materials, keenly sought additional venues for expanding and deepening the conversation beyond the few, largely musicological, studies that comprised the current literature. (1) Aware that I had given a paper on Carlebach at a Jewish music conference in 2004, and penned the Carlebach entry in the second edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica, he approached me bring the subject to the American Jewish Historical Society. My colleague Shaul Magid and journalist Ari Goldman signed on, as did Judaic artist and Carlebach student Shonna Husbands-Hankin. Non-traditional historians all, we each sought to fill the lacuna of Carlebach scholoarship in our own way.

The panel prompted a mixed reaction, generating a series of questions about the contents and methods of historical scholarship. How could one speaker begin by describing the gathering as a "convocation" and encouraging everyone to sing a Carlebach nigun [melody] together? How might speakers' personal recollections reinforce or subvert scholarly discourse? How did scholarship and personal narrative interweave, and what could be called reliable or meaningful? And could Carlebach's relationships with women--a deeply sensitive topic that strikes at a fissure between spiritual and cultural elevation--pass with only a few brief comments intent on moving the spotlight back to music and ministry? Indeed, these responses, combined with a thriving insider literature and an active series of stakeholders, seemed to reinforce the compatibility issues of "Carlebach studies" with conventional scholarly history. What approaches and resources, then, could we use to integrate Shlomo Carlebach, a widely influential figure whose influences seem nearly ubiquitous in contemporary American Jewish life, but who left a shallow paper trail, into existing narratives of American Jewish history?

Thanks to generous moral support from editor Dianne Ashton, and Natan Ophir's eternally optimistic initiative, this issue presents a continuation of that effort. In one sense, the contributions here offer attempts at translation: while historians regularly face the dilemma of transforming life into text, Carlebach's case lacks many of the conventional texts that guide historians in formulating a...

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