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 for answers in Middle Eastern religions and who were brought back to Judaism by Carlebach’s warmth, unconditional love and acceptance, and version of Jewish practice and ritual. Ophir also briefly 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.
This review originally appears in the American Jewish History Journal (April 2015).