Anyone who met Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach knew they were in the presence of someone extraordinary. Known as the guitar-laying rabbi, he reshaped Jewish music, created a unique outreach that embraced everyone regardless of background, and brought new life to Judaism around the world. Carlebach began as an emissary from Chabad Hasidism but morphed into a messenger of love and acceptance for all people. His music, with compositions numbering in the thousands, is sung in services across the breadth of the Jewish community. Often people do not even know that it was Carlebach who composed these “traditional” tunes. He reached out to hippies in the Haight-Ashbury and Jews in the former Soviet Union, brought a new spirit to Jews in Israel, and had a word of encouragement even for the beggar on the street.
This is the first extended biography available in English. It chronicles in exquisite detail the arc of Reb Shlomo’s life. We hear of his concerts, when and why he composed certain tunes, and who accompanied him. We learn of people whose lives were changed through their encounters with Carlebach. His charismatic power is evident. As with many leaders, there is a controversy surrounding him, and that gets recounted in this volume as well. For some readers, the detail may be excessive, but I found that its cumulative effect gave a feel for Carlebach’s tremendous impact.
This book tells an important chapter in the life of twentieth-century Jews.
This review appeared in the third issue of Congregational Libraries Today