By Cindy Mindell
WEST HARTFORD – Jewish entertainment superstar Neshama Carlebach made headlines in 2013 when she announced before an audience that her soul had “made an aliyah” to Reform Judaism. The proclamation, made at the Union for Reform Judaism biennial, raised eyebrows throughout the Jewish world: Carlebach had grown up in an observant Jewish household. In an essay explaining her decision, published on JTA.org, Carlebach said of her family, “we also danced along the fine line of progressive Judaism.” That home would prove to be one of the most influential in the shaping of 20th-century Jewish life.
Carlebach is the daughter and protegee of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l, a charismatic Orthodox rabbi known worldwide as “The Singing Rabbi,” and beloved for his Chasidic-influenced songwriting, his musical legacy, and his outreach to Jews of all backgrounds. Trained in singing and acting from age five, she began performing with her father when she was 15. Her professional career started soon after the rabbi’s death in 1994. Like her father, the younger Carlebach has made a name for herself with her voice – singing for audiences of all backgrounds around the world, and speaking up for social justice and equality.
Carlebach will spend the Feb. 10 Shabbat Shirah weekend at Beth El Temple in West Hartford.
“We are thrilled to welcome Neshama Carlebach to Beth El Temple on Shabbat Shirah because it’s a Shabbat of song, of powerful women, and of our collective journey,” says Rabbi Ilana Garber. “Neshama will lead us in her beautiful music and all will be inspired by her soulful energy. She will also share her personal story, one of strength and faith. And she will guide all of us on our continued journey – from the Sea of Reeds to the Promised Land and all the way to today – so that we too might sing and engage in the holy texts of our tradition.”
Carlebach’s work as a female performing artist is grounded in Jewish tradition, yet she continually breaks new ground. In 2012, she performed at an interfaith peace summit at Mount Fuji, Japan and at the gates of Auschwitz on Yom Hashoah, and was tapped by the Forward to record an alternative version of Hatikvah that spoke to all Israeli citizens. She has performed widely with the Bronx-based Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir and recorded an album with the group in 2009. In 2013, Carlebach was invited to co-lead High Holiday services in Manhattan with Storahtelling theater troupe founder, Amichai Lau-Lavie, at the launch of his new project, the experimental Lab/Shul Jewish community.
Now 43, Carlebach has performed and taught in communities around the world. She has sold more than one million records and was a six-time entrant in the 2011 Grammy Awards. She has brought her voice and her writing talents to Broadway as a performer and a creator of the muslical, Soul Doctor, based on her father’s life. Her ninth recording, Soul Daughter, features performances by the original Broadway cast. Carlebach is currently touring with a new band and gospel choir and raising her two sons, Rafael and Micah.
Neshama Carlebach Community Havdalah & Concert: Saturday, Feb. 11, 7 PM, Beth El Temple, 2626 Albany Ave., West Hartford. For more information and tickets: bethelwesthartford.org, (860) 233-9696.