If Only Modern Israeli Leaders Were Like Rabbi Carlebach’s Hippies

January 15, 2014

By Rabbi Gideon D. Sylvester carlebachbioWeb1

My great aunt was a difficult woman. She loved nothing more than to bait my father, regaling him with graphic descriptions of frying the bacon for her son’s breakfast. Then puffing on her cigarette, she would dismiss our entire heritage with one sentence: “Religion is the source of all conflicts.” She was not alone in her views; sadly, her aggressive image of religious Jews is becoming increasingly pervasive. It need not be that way; Judaism commits us eternal watchfulness, moral responsibility and, where possible, peaceful coexistence with our neighbors. It also promises that ultimately we will live side-by-side, even with the wicked of the world. So it’s depressing to hear the naysayers composing obituaries for the American led peace process, even as it soldiers on.

Dr. Natan Ophir’s new biography of the hippie scholar, musician and storyteller Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy,” offers a wonderful antidote to my aunt’s perspective and the negativity of some of our people. Carlebach was indeed deeply attached to the biblical land of Israel, a proud Zionist and a lover of the Jewish people. He also loved humanity.

As he entertained Israeli troops during a round of heavy fighting, he told journalists that what made the Israel Defense Forces special was that as each soldier loaded their weapon; they silently prayed that before their bullet reached its target, the messiah would arrive to end all wars.

His love of peace was rooted in the Jewish sources, but perhaps it also owed something to his intriguing relationship with the rebellious Jewish American hippies. As an Orthodox rabbi, he worked tirelessly to return them to the fold, but he also admired their idealistic search for meaning and their peace-loving ways.

Ophir writes that after the Six Day War, foreseeing the urgent need to build bridges with Arabs who had fallen under Israeli rule, Carlebach made the following outlandish proposal to the Israeli government:

“Give me 5,000 free tickets to bring holy hippies from Los Angeles and San Francisco and we will go to every Arab house in the country and bring them flowers and tell them we want to be brothers with them . . . we have to live together.”

When he performed at a women’s prison in Ramleh, he Read the rest of this entry »


Biography Torah teacher / A Revolution of the Old

July 10, 2012

Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholarby Shoshana Kordova

We’ve all been told not to judge a book by its cover, but as it happens, the cover of Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar is actually quite instructive, especially when compared with another recent book on the same subject. On the front of Yael Unterman’s English-language book is a fuzzy photograph of an elderly Leibowitz standing in front of a blackboard, her face dominated by the thick black rim of her glasses and her hair modestly concealed beneath her signature beret. By contrast, the cover of a recently published Hebrew-language biography features a crisp image of Leibowitz as a young, smiling woman, her heavenward gaze unmediated by spectacles as a breeze ruffles her unrestrained hair.

And indeed, Hayuta Deutsch’s Nehama: The Life of Nehama Leibowitz (Yedioth Ahronoth Books and Chemed Books, 2008) allows the reader to see just how the old woman the one remembered, respected and loved by the many former students quoted in Unterman’s book – went from being the young Nehama facing the wind to the venerated, yet eminently accessible, Torah scholar and role model she became.

Though Deutsch’s book does more or less gloss over Leibowitz’s role in Diaspora Judaism, it is much more of a classical biography than Unterman’s; it progresses in chronological order, and puts Leibowitz’s accomplishments squarely in the context of her family (including her outspoken and controversial philosopher-scientist brother, Yeshayahu Leibowitz) and of the events and prevailing trends in her native Europe and adopted homeland of Israel, lending an added depth to the reader’s understanding of where Leibowitz was coming from.

The first section devotes a single cursory chapter to Leibowitz’s youth, from her birth in Riga, Latvia, in 1905, all the way through to her early years in Mandatory Palestine, where she moved in 1930 with her husband – her father’s younger brother, Yedidyah Lipman Leibowitz. (Though there has been much speculation about the reasons behind Nehama Leibowitz’s marriage to an uncle three decades her senior Read the rest of this entry »