Soul brothers: a memoir.
Such spiritual intimacy was the foundation of the partnership shared between the two luminaries and grandfathers of Jewish Renewal, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, z'l, and Reb Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, z'l. In thinking of one, we must now think of the other, for together they ushered forward the essence of a resurgence and renewal of Judaism after the Holocaust, lighting a spark of divine spirit wherever they went. Together, they created a new form of heartfelt, soulful Judaism. They spoke the language of the times, with their souls rooted in Jewish tradition and their energies soaring with new possibilities.
Like troubadours and traveling maggidim, storytellers and folk teachers of eras past, these two dynamic personalities were vagabond rabbis in the new age, bridging the old world and the new. Born in Europe and escaping to the United States, they were sent together to college campuses as outreach emissaries of the Lubavitcher rebbe beginning in 1949. There, they taught, listened, counseled, and sang. Over the years, they uplifted the downhearted and brought flocks of thousands back to their spiritual home in Judaism.
As we now reflect upon the nearly twenty-two years since Reb Shlomo's passing, and two years since Reb Zalman's passing, we can contemplate their shared decades of global work. Perhaps there are some deep wells to explore about their shared journeys and the motivations that propelled them. Perhaps there are layers to uncover about their inspiration, their styles of influence, and their passion to dance with the evolving times. How did they stay current, yet solidly connected to the old while exploring the new?
It's time for a new era of contemplation, examination, and detective work. As historians and spiritual treasure hunters, it is incumbent upon us to let the reflection of the light of these two giants of Jewish Renewal inform us, move us, and carry us forward with a passion and dedication, an impulse of exploration and continuity, as we carry forth the torch of the wisdomkeepers into the dawn of the next unfolding era.
Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel shares her story: "The first time I met Reb Shlomo was in 1967, my first year at university in Cleveland, when he came to do a Shabbaton at Hillel. I had no idea who he was or what was going to happen to me. I was an enthusiastic prayer and song leader in the Conservative youth movement and had never heard of Hasidism.
"Reb Shlomo spoke to some higher transcendent place in me where we could leave our limited beliefs and become One. I had no words for this experience, yet I knew I had tapped into something true for myself. This included a pure love of God, and the heart connection of people through song and bringing down new melodies. His music inspired me and his presence and teachings gave me new life.
"The following year I married Daniel Siegel, and we began our journey together. He developed a connection with Reb Zalman in Winnipeg as a rebbe, colleague, and spiritual mentor. Daniel went on to become a rabbi and dedicated his life to serving the Jewish people with the awakening of newly acquired skills and texts of Hasidism and the support of a real teacher. That was the story of the two of them, Rebs Shlomo and Zalman, for us--the heart and the mind. For each of us, our creative process was reflected more fluently through one teacher or the other." (1)
Both Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman touched so many souls, uplifted so many, brought them back into the Jewish fold. How did they stay rooted in the past, each with significant Jewish backgrounds, while unfolding into the present moments that kept unfurling with new branches and leaves on the living Tree of Life?
Rabbi Sarah Leah Grafstein of Scottsdale, Arizona, shares this story: "One of the greatest gifts about Reb Shlomo was his authenticity about being in the moment. He stepped up and said what needed to be done, in the moment. You have to count on divine providence to see what needs to be done in order to heal, transform, and uplift. Reb Shlomo was a living, walking, breathing sefer (holy book) who lived everywhere. He was so busy saving the world, telling each person how special they are." (2)
Reb Shlomo's melodies lifted the spirit to prayer, and his Torah teachings and stories opened the gates to wisdom of the divine sparks in each of us. Certainly, with Reb Shlomo, his greatest teachings were about the emanation of God's love for all, and the unity that transcends illusory differences, from the holy beggar to the rich merchant.
Reb Zalman's intellect reached into the realms of the cosmos, to Gaia consciousness, deep ecumenism, evolving technologies, and even prehistoric reptilian minds--all things bound by the Oneness, the love of the living God, in whose presence we express our gratitude.
Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin compares the two in this way: "In terms of development of renewal, Reb Shlomo became a teacher for a whole generation of musicians; he taught us where to go fishing for the melodies. Really, the core of the renewal musicians looked to him, and he created and modeled for us; that's the way it unfolded. Reb Shlomo was an unbelievable, inexhaustible source of music, and Reb Zalman, he was the weaver. Zalman was trying to figure out the global puzzle, and was brilliant at that. He was looking for the connections of all the spiritual traditions and the essential piece that Judaism brings to that global puzzle for shleimut, for wholeness." (3)
How did they share evolving ideas? With Reb Shlomo traveling the globe, and Reb Zalman rooted for many years with academic teaching and family responsibilities, they called each other in the time before the internet, and occasionally shared the same events. Often, they tag-teamed, and one would go where the other could not, to spread their light and teachings. They appeared together in 1994, at the twentieth-year reunion of the Aquarian Minyan in Berkeley, Calif., which was videotaped.
They were interweaving their spiritual lives for decades, and I recall one event I attended where they were present at the same time and place. It was Tisha B'Av 1976 at Moshav Mevo Modiim in central Israel. Yitz and I arrived late, in the dark, by taxi from Jerusalem. We had spent the early evening reading Lamentations by candlelight, sitting on the stones at the Kotel, chanting with the multitudes, surrounded by a ring of soldiers on the rooftops.
At the moshav, the davennen had ended earlier, and the chairs were placed for the rebbes out back behind the shul, in the garden patio. There, we found them sitting together in council, inviting each person, one by one, to approach them with the question of his or her deepest brokenness that needed fixing--a laser-focused moment of articulation to ask for a blessing for healing, and repair. With complete attention, and radiating love and concern, the two rebbes spent hours that night welcoming each person into their presence. The line snaked into the wooded pathways in the dark, with perhaps 200 people waiting their turn.
It was an authentic demonstration of engaging with passion in the present moment with these eager spiritual seekers. They honored the tradition of "yechidusin which rebbes heal and fix the souls of individuals, transforming the brokenness of the world and opening the gates to joy, healing, and renewal, both personal and planetary.
As the years have passed, the emergence of the teachings of the two strands generated by these two teachers has created an illusion of two different paths of renewal, forged by these two different men. I'm not so sure it's accurate, for we know that they called each other, they consulted each other, they performed weddings for each other, and they considered each other holy brothers.
Reb Sarah Leah recalled an incident in 1987, showing the intimacy of the two rebbes and their relationship with each other. When Sarah Leah was just receiving smicha (private rabbinic ordination) from Reb Zalman and was alone with him in the Emlen Street B'nai Or house in Philadelphia, she walked into Reb Zalman's home office and discovered him sitting in a big chair, talking in Yiddish. "I thought he was talking to his mother, the conversation was so endearing. But it was Reb Shlomo he was speaking to. The closeness of their relationship was shown by how they spoke to each other in their mother tongue, Yiddish, in such a warm and familial way. Reb Zalman got off the phone and said, 'Reb Shlomo will sign your smicha.'" (4)
Today, Carlebach minyanim, which sprang up spontaneously after Reb Shlomo's passing, often erupt in joyous song and prayer in many neo-Orthodox settings. Here few people actually knew Reb Shlomo in person and he is seen from a lens of Orthodoxy. Their image of him perhaps rigidifies his actual life and limits a perspective of his impact, without the recognition of his vast influence in both non-Orthodox and nonreligious settings (the gatherings of Russian Jewry, for example). In America, the arrival of Ruach retreats in the 1980s integrated a more observant following, where Reb Shlomo was the centerpiece, with Orthodox teachers surrounding him with their traditional discourses and contemporary interpretations.
On the other side of the continuum, the biennial Kallah and annual Ohalah rabbinic conferences of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal begun in the late 1980s, both initially revolved around Reb Zalman with an expanding cadre of creative, evolving teachers who were and are exploring new Jewish expressions of liturgy, prayer, music, and the arts.
Though these may seem radically different spiritual gatherings revolving around these two vibrant teachers, really, both Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman were together ushering in a new era of passionate Judaism, while connected in heart and spirit, though it may have taken different forms.
Barry Barkan, a spiritual leader and founding member of the Aquarian Minyan in Berkeley, California notes this about their commonality: "It was such an honor and privilege to be with Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman. Each was different, yet contained within him the capacity of the other with the same quality and intensity the other could give over. Reb Shlomo gave over the transmission of Hasidism in the 20th twentieth century as he gave over pure experience and pure teaching. Reb Zalman gave over a way of understanding it in a systematic transmission. Another way to say it is, that even though Reb Shlomo came more from the heart and Reb Zalman was more from the head, Reb Zalman's heart was also huge and Reb Shlomo's head was huge." (5)
Who did these special rabbis see as their top students, their beloved musmachim (those receiving smicba)? Whom did they ordain? Many of the musmachim are now in their 60s and 70s. What ideas do these people share as commonalities of the deepest teachings of their rebbes? How did both rebbes integrate the changing world of Israel's birth and growth, American civil rights, peace movements, environmentalism, and feminism? Which women leaders did they ordain or recognize? How did they integrate the transformative challenges of such issues? These and other questions are worthy of more investigation and documentation.
Indeed, both Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman lived through changing times of social upheavals, of continual waves of new and unexpected forces seeking to emerge. Their European childhoods deeply steeped in old world Judaism in their kishkes, evolved into new world struggles, sorrows, and yearnings, filled with new issues, new visions, and new situations. Both rebbes were able to maintain their rooted connection to their Jewish heritage and deep wisdom sources, while integrating new and evolving communal circumstances that demanded an updated version of contemporary truths. They were also real people with real human problems. As the ritual of Havdalah shows us at the close of Shabbat with candle and spice, where there is light, so too there is shadow.
Both Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman generally steered clear of overt politics, always keeping a deep eye on the spiritual truths underlying the waves of change. Both responded to the profound and deep hunger for spirit, for God, for Judaism, expressed in a generation struggling to integrate huge transformations in the social arena. They were soul weavers in a time of lost tribes, bringing together consciousness and community.
To learn from these great teachers, we need to see both what is spoken and what is implied, to read from the white spaces between the black letters of their lives. The Jewish questions are ones of evolving civilization, history, storytelling, musicology, and ethics. They ponder mysticism, science, cross-culturalism, peacemaking, community, continuity, and vision. They involve mistakes, and stumbling, and times of stepping forward again. They are times filled with loneliness on the path of the trailblazers, and with living Torah.
The two rebbes were bonded by a shared drive to reconnect lost Jewish souls, and to uplift the world with a passion and belief that there is an essential depth of purpose in Judaism to share and pass forward. Through the longing and hopefulness of his stories and melodies, Reb Shlomo brought his gifts. Through the quest for universal interconnectedness and expansive thought, Reb Zalman brought his gifts. They shared music; they shared stories; they shared Torah. Together, they were called on a soul level to express a Jewish message of spiritual values imbued with heartfelt teachings and a deep, common bond. As Reb Yitz noted, "They spoke the same language. Their souls were rooted in that drive." (6)
Both Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman loved to tell the Hasidic stories of the Baal Shem Tov and Reb Nachman of Bratslav. Deep in the forest, a voice is calling out, "Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe. Do help me remember how to keep the story of the fire in our hearts, the deepest mysteries of our collective souls, the tellings of our ancestors, the light in the darkness. How do we know to see the way? How do we find the candle to light the flame of the soul in the dark?"
The wisdomkeepers know the way. And soon, we, too, will become the ones to keep the wisdom safe. Let's honor the true soul brotherhood of Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman, and continue to shine their lights into the future, for a blessing, a healing, a song, a story, a prayer.
Barry Barkan, a founding member of the Aquarian Minyan in Berkeley, California, is director of elder programs at the Live Oak Institute. Reb Zalman and Reb Shlomo recognized him as a Baal HaBracha--a master of blessings.
Rabbi Sarah Leah Grafstein leads Ruach Hamidbar, a Jewish Renewal congregation in Scottsdale, Ariz. Ordained by both Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman, she also works as a videographer, an oral historian, and recently led a group to Israel.
Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin is rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, Ore. Ordained by Reb Shlomo as a Baal Tefillab, a master of prayer, he received rabbinic smicha from Reb Zalman, and was commissioned by The Cantors Assembly as a hazzan. A composer and recording artist, Reb Yitz plays cello and guitar, and is known for his composition "Treasure Each Day."
Rabbi Daniel Siegel, former rabbinic director of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, is the first rabbi to be ordained by Reb Zalman. Cofounder of Or Shalom in Vancouver, he is a former congregational rabbi and now works as a scholar, mediator and consultant.
Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel is a spiritual director in the ALEPH Ordination Programs. Co-founder of Or Shalom in Vancouver, she is also a former spiritual leader of B'Nai Or Boston. She is well known for her inspirational melodies and recordings in the Jewish Renewal movement.
Shonna Husbands-Hankin is a writer, Judaic artist, Jewish spiritual director and community organizer. She offers workshops and spiritual tours exploring creativity and Judaic themes, including at the Aleph Kallah. Her Judaic artwork has influenced the development of Jewish Renewal, with egalitarian ketubot (wedding contracts) and women's Tallitot (prayer shawls) and is found throughout the country in private collections and enwrapping women in prayer. She has published numerous articles in Jewish magazines, including Shema and issues of the annual Reb Shlomo yahrzeit magazine Kol Ghevra, edited by Emunah Witt. Her art also appears in Traditions by Sara Shendleman, and she consulted with Natan Ophir in the development of the Jewish Renewal chapter for his book, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission and Legacy. Reb Shlomo z"l and Reb Zalman z"l were her teachers for many years.
(1.) Personal interview with Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel, April 10, 2016, Eugene, OR.
(2.) Telephone interview with Rabbi Sarah Leah Grafstein, March 27, 2016.
(3.) Skype conversation with Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin and Aleph Kallah pro gram coordinators, Feb. 29, 2016.
(4.) Telephone interview with Rabbi Sarah Leah Grafstein, March 27, 2016. The Emlen St. B'nai Or house where Reb Zalman lived in Philadelphia served as a shul and meeting place until the mid 1990s when he moved to Boulder, Colorado. P'Nai Or is the same organization with an updated name, meaning "faces of light." gram coordinators, Feb. 29, 2016.
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|Title Annotation:||rabbis Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, z'l and Shlomo Carlebach|
|Publication:||American Jewish History|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2016|
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