Rabbi Shlomo Carle bach: Life, Mission, and Legacy. By Dr Natan Ophir (Offenbacher), Jerusalem, Israel: Urim Publications, 1014. 504 pp.
It has been twenty years since Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach passed away. Since then, many volumes have featured collections of Reb Shlomo's inspirational stories, his commentary on the Torah, and other tales. Natan Ophir's ambitious biography of Carlebach is the first attempt to present the story of Carlebach rather than the stories. As Ophir explains in the preface, his goal is "a critical biography. As opposed to subjective and interpretive biographies, this genre entails meticulous research, detailed footnotes, and scholarly annotations in order to piece together dates, names, and places. The aim is to evaluate the life of the subject by setting forth minutiae that become meaningful through the prism of the historical backdrop and the colorfulness of the cultural settings" (13). Having said that, Ophir soon admits his own personal connection to Carlebach and the struggle he encountered to be objective in his writing.
To understand Shlomo Carlebach's development and impact, it is necessary to examine the cultural shifts which were taking place during the second half of the twentieth century in both secular and Jewish circles. Ophir does an admirable job of describing the changing face of Jewish youth in America, especially the many disenfranchised children of Holocaust survivors who were searching for meaning that they were unable to find in Judaism. Through personal interviews, Ophir chronicles many stories of Jewish youth who were seeking answers in Eastern religions and who were brought back to Judaism by Carlebach's warmth, unconditional love and acceptance, and his version of Jewish practice and ritual. Ophir also brielfy profiles Yogi Bhajan, Sufi Sam, and Swami Satchidananda, three gurus with whom Carlebach was competing for these Jewish souls. Perhaps Carlebach's message was most realized in the formation of his "House of Love and Prayer" in San Francisco in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where the "holy beggars" found a place to rediscover their roots.
Ophir divides the book into independent sections with self contained chronologies. For instance, Chapter 8 discusses Carlebach's relationship with Israel between 1959-1994, while Chapter 9 discusses his work on behalf of Soviet Jewry and his travels to Eastern Europe and Russia between the years 1965-1989. The isolation of topics makes them more...