December 24, 2015
By Judah M. Cohen
Natan Ophir’s book, a major new study of Shlomo Carlebach, doubles as a treatise on researching modern figures who exist most vividly in the followers’ memories and recordings. Scholarship today must reckon more than ever with nonwritten sources. Commercial sound, image, and video repositories such as YouTube stand alongside nonprofit efforts such as the Internet Archive (archive.org), institutional portals at museums and research centers, digital archives at national and university libraries, and massive and growing personal media archives in home collections. Charismatic leaders still often present their ideas through written texts; but the immediacy of audio/visual sources, coupled with expanded options for their creation, dissemination, and preservation—whether on cassettes or the internet—can now match or exceed the significance of their textual output. Faced with such a range of materials, how will scholars organize and interpret them? Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson offers some hints of the emerging situation: though the author of a considerable written oeuvre that continues to anchor his intellectual legacy, he remains the subject of a huge, even growing collection of images, audio, and video. But what about a significant and influential thinker whose media presence vastly outweighs his written work?
Few twentieth-century figures offer as interesting a case in this regard as Shlomo Carlebach. Despite a slight literary output, Carlebach’s vast array of teachings—in person and in performance, preserved in memory and on recording—continue to occupy a formidable space in contemporary Jewish life and in reverberating circles beyond. Understanding his worldview, however, arguably requires a fundamentally different scholarly paradigm for research and analysis. Ophir takes on this challenge with intelligence and enthusiasm; and his consideration of Carlebach as “a modern day Baal Shem Tov” (pp. 425–427) late in the book perhaps best characterizes the result.
Actively recognizing a sometimes hagiographic level of hyperbole that accompanies his subject, Ophir views Carlebach’s spiritual and intellectual legacies as a universal “Hasidic” message, which he documents in large part through the eyes and narratives of others. Read the rest of this entry »
October 26, 2015
A review of “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission and Legacy” by Rabbi Natan Ofir
By Izabella Tabarovsky for The Times of Israel
When asked about Rabbi Carlebach’s music, Timothy Leary, that dedicated explorer of mystical experiences and expanded states of consciousness, is reported to have said: “If I had ever had a chance to listen to Shlomo’s music before I ever took drugs, I would have never needed to take them in the first place, that’s how powerful his music was!”
This testimonial is one of many filling the pages Natan Ofir’s meticulously researched and documented book, “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission and Legacy.” For the devoted followers of Carlebach, the book is a wonderful opportunity to re-encounter the man they knew and loved in a rich new context. For those who are just discovering his music, the book offers a wonderful starting point for a journey that can lead as far as the reader wishes to go. Read the rest of this entry »
June 4, 2015
By Ilka Gordon, AJL Reviews
Dr. Natan Ophir has written an extensive and scholarly biography of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994). Ophir grew up on the west side of Manhattan not far from Rabbi Carlebach’s synagogue and therefore had a personal relationship with Reb Shlomo. Rabbi Carlebach fled Europe with his parents and twin brother in 1939. In America Carlebach studied in the Lakewood Yeshiva and later the family moved to Manhattan where he became a follower of Chabad. Under the direction of the sixth Lubavitch Rebbe, Carlebach was sent to college campuses to reach out to unaffiliated Jewish youth. He began composing and performing his original, and intensely moving compositions. His charismatic singing and playing mesmerized audiences. Rabbi Carlebach was the innovator and still most influential composer of Jewish music today. His songs are still sung all over the world and Carlebach synagogue services are very popular. In Dr. Ophir’s book we discover Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s life through the eyes of people whose lives were changed by his love of all humanity and his outreach to all people. Included in the book are copious footnotes, a timeline of his all too short life, an extensive bibliography, sites and Youtube videos where his music can be accessed, a discography in Hebrew and English and an index of all Carlebach songs. Recommended for the music and biography collection of all libraries.
November 26, 2013
by Greer Fay Cashman
In advance of the 19th anniversary next month of the passing of the popular Singing Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who even from the grave has influenced thousands of young Jews to approach religion with open hearts, Dr. Natan Ophir has published a new, comprehensive biography of the charismatic Carlebach. It includes a foreword by the singer’s daughter, Neshama Carlebach, who has followed in her father’s footsteps and become a popular singer in her own right.
An excerpt from the foreword shows the extent of Neshama Carlebach’s appreciation for Ophir’s dedicated work: “I know that Dr. Natan Ophir has worked to clarify the diversified aspects of my father’s rich career. He has recounted relevant events and unearthed a surprising wealth of factual evidence. Undeterred by the daunting task, Natan has worked to present a comprehensive portrayal that will now enable others to come forth and fill the many spaces in time. I appreciate his sincere connection to my father’s legacy, and I know the world will benefit greatly from his devoted efforts at constructing this first book length biography.”
Some of Shlomo Carlebach’s closest associates, who continue to disseminate his legacy, have read review copies of the book and expressed high praise for the definitive biographical study, and its meticulous research and attention to detail. Although other books have been written about Carlebach and all have been eagerly snatched up by his followers, there is consensus among the reviewers that none are as comprehensive and allencompassing, in terms of the rabbi’s life, music, concerts and contributions to Jewish liturgy, as the work produced by Ophir.
This review originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post
November 3, 2013
A wonderful evening of Reb Shlomo Carlebach at the OU Israel Center. 130 people enjoyed the music and recollections of Howie Kahn and the presentation and stories and history of author Rabbi Dr. Natan Ophir (Offenbacher) on the occasion of the launching of his new biography on Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.