Monthly Archives: June 2014

Ophir’s Carlebach: the inclusive message and healing power of a true original

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy, by Natan Ophir (Offenbacher), Urim Publications. 503 pages. Hardcover $39.95.

In this monumental biography, the author strives to capture the facts about and legend of the man who was the Pied Piper of late twentieth-century Judaism. In so doing, Dr. Ophir provides a portrait of several decades in North American, European, and Israeli culture through a very special lens. These are decades of spiritual revival, experimentation, and the reconfiguring of traditional religious institutions. In the realm of Jewish experience, Rabbi Carlebach (hereafter “Shlomo,” as most people came to know him), was a central figure, most likely the presiding genius, of what is still an ongoing revolution.

Dr. Ophir divides the book into two main sections: The Mission and The Impact. carlebachbiofrontcover

The Mission traces the evolving sense of purpose that shapes Shlomo’s unusual career. Here, the author introduces the Carlebach family’s European background and “Rabbinical Legacy” until the relocation to Brooklyn in 1939 when Shlomo was fourteen years old. The Carlebach’s are centered in Brooklyn for six years and then Manhattan into the early 1950s. Shlomo’s education is provided in detail, particularly the influence of the major Hasidic communities of Bobov, Modzitz, and Chabad. In New York, the Bobover Rebbe repeated his father’s pattern of developing “kindergartens, schools, synagogues, and Talmud academies.” Shlomo and his twin brother Eli Chaim had a strong relationship with this group.

Importantly, Shlomo was attracted to the Modzitzer Rabbi whose community was involved with musical composition. He studied and went to summer camps within this community.

Most formative, however, was the influence of Chabad. A frequent visitor to Crown Heights, Shlomo, in his own way, became a Chabad disciple. Eli Chaim married into the Schneersohn family. Well before the neo-Hasidic renewal movement was popular, Shlomo was tapped to be an emissary, partnered with Reb Zalman Schachter. By 1950, Shlomo was launched into his outreach career as a special assistant to Menachim Mendel Schneersohn (the 7th chief Lubovicher Rebbe). He and Zalman were to be “outreach messengers to ‘lost souls’ outside of the committed Hasidic camp.”

Shlomo studied, informally networked, traveled, and – most importantly – played his guitar. He set liturgical phrases to new tunes that would, over the decades to come, seem like they had always been around. At the beginning of his career, “the Singing Rabbi” was an oddity. Before long, he was famous. Through the 1960s and 1970s, he was a phenomenon, attached powerfully to these important decades of youth rebellion, peace and environmental advocacy, folk music, and communal life. Shlomo did, indeed, bring young people back to Judaism and strengthened the engagement of those already involved.

Natan Ophir

Natan Ophir

Some say he was too liberal with his hugs, but his message was joy. He spread it across the Americas, Europe, and Israel. He was everywhere and anywhere. His records sold in astonishing numbers, given what was truly a niche genre. His last name became an adjective: a Carlebach Shabbat (“Shabbos,” he would say), a Carlebach farbrengan, a Carlebach service.

In his book’s second part, The Impact, Dr. Ophir details the extensive outreach and “wide reach” of the global rabbi. At times, the pages read like an annotated planning calendar, the main text supplemented by page notes that include generous amplifications as well as sources. The author is careful to portray Carlebach’s innovative manner as an adaptation of traditional Hasidic modes. But what an adaptation. As Ophir writes:

In retrospect, Reb Shlomo initiated a concept that soon became so popular that it received a new name – a “Shabbaton.” The term entered modern parlance as a colloquial expression for a Shabbat experience replete with singing, spirited praying, communal meals and Torah study. But in actuality, this is a Neo-Hasidic innovation of Reb Shlomo. He redesigned the Hasidic Shabbat, expanded it to be gender inclusive, and pioneered ways of ‘getting high’ on Shabbat. Today, the idea of a “Shabbaton” is taken for granted, but in the late 1960s the idea of transforming an Orthodox type celebration of Shabbat into a social –spiritual-emotional happening that is open to all was a rather avant-garde concept.

Reb Shlomo

Reb Shlomo

Perhaps you haven’t heard of The House of Love and Prayer, an alternative commune for Jewish hippies. Developed (where else?) in the San Francisco area under Shlomo’s inspiring tutelage, it was a place for all kinds of communal events – and a crash pad. Fostering its own special Jewish dress code that blended observant norms with hippie styles, it was just what lost souls and disenchanted seekers needed. Many of Shlomo’s most able disciples were spiritually nourished and gained leadership skills in one or another manifestation of the HLP.

Through the 1980s and up to his death in 1994, Shlomo’s global spiritual healing continued. In the chapter “Lifting the Iron Curtain,” Dr. Ophir records the power of Carlebach’s melodies, particularly for “Am Yisrael Chai,” in rallying world Jewry to the eventual liberation of the Soviet Union’s Jewish population. Shlomo’s influence on Jewish Renewal rabbis is described at length, as are other aspects of his rich legacy.

Though it is (deliberately) skimpy on Shlomo’s personal life and on the antagonism his outreach style sometimes generated, Dr. Ophir’s biography is a great gift, unlikely to be superseded for decades to come.

We can be especially grateful for the valuable appendices: a Timeline, a Bibliography, a list of Sites Accessed, a Discography, an Index of Carlebach Songs, an Index of Names, and an Index of Places.

This review appears in the July-August 2014 Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County) and the July 2014 issues of L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties) and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota /Manatee).

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“Sun Power” will turn you on and light you up

Neville Williams, Sun Power. Forge. 385 pages. Hardcover $27.99.

This fine, valuable book is at once the story of a personal journey and of a crucial industry. Though the fascinating story is complex, the author presents it with sharp-edged clarity. The lengthy subtitle says it all: “How Energy from the Sun Is Changing Lives Around the World, Empowering America, and Saving the Planet.”  sunpowerfinalcover

Or, as the great George Harrison put it in his timeless love lyric, “Here Comes the Sun.”

For several decades, Neville Williams, a former journalist, has been at the forefront of the struggle to bring the transformative technology of solar electricity to the masses – indeed, to everyone. He has founded companies and non-profit organizations that have planted the seeds for a solar energy revolution across the globe. In Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, remote areas of China and Japan, Africa, and many other light-starved communities that the power lines never reach, the photovoltaic miracle has helped people leap from the kerosene-dependent nineteen century into the twenty-first.

In such places, affordable electricity has created a much higher standard of living, bringing new opportunities by which impoverished peoples can lift themselves up.

However, solar electricity should have a high priority everywhere, especially as the antidote to the continued nightmare of burning fossil fuels to create electricity.



Aside from being a clean technology that drastically reduces the carbon footprint wherever it replaces generators fed by coal or petroleum or natural gas (itself relatively clean), solar electricity is remarkably dependable. Furthermore, no one can control supplies (and thus prices) by hoarding sunshine.

For Mr. Williams, great frustrations have accompanied the growing number of successes in the solar electricity industry. He has tragic stories to tell about risk-adverse bureaucrats, many found at the World Bank, who seem to spend more time obstructing progress than assisting it.

Supposedly intelligent decision-makers keep asking about the costs of the distribution system when, in most cases, there is no distribution system and thus no distribution cost: the power plant (panel of solar cells) is on your roof, dummy, and it’s not burning anything and thus not fouling the air.

There have been – and still are – powerful forces at work to maintain our addiction to oil and related energy sources, whether imported or domestic. When vested interests are challenged, no amount of successful demonstration projects can change energy czars (public or private) into believers. The good news? Established energy companies large and small are finally hedging their bets by getting into the solar energy field in a big way. Perhaps, at last, they see the handwriting on the wall. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the June 25, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Sun Power


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YA novel explores limits, privacy, blogging – and Naples, too

Don’t Call Me Baby, by Gwendolyn Heasley. HarperTeen. 304 pages. Paperback $9.99.

What’s an old-timer like me doing with a book written about teenagers? Well, my granddaughter is one, and I think she’d love this book. It’s aimed right at the middle school to high school crowd: it’s sensitive to their concerns, colorful, and well-focused on the problems of mother-daughter relationships as well as the overwhelming role that communications technology plays in their lives.  DontCallMepbc

Imogene is the main character and the narrator. The lucky fifteen-year-old lives in Naples, Florida and attends a private school. She’s soon to enter high school, and the thought of no longer having to wear a school uniform delights her. Imogene’s adoring mother is a successful blogger who is able to supplement the family income by having enough readers to attract advertisers. Writing as Mommylicious, Meg Luden is a blogger for other mommies who fills her postings with photos and updates about Imogene’s life.

For example, she loves to post photos of a disheveled Imogene waking up.

Imogene, often called Babylicious on Meg’s blog, hates all of this. And, in truth, she’s is being seriously exploited by her mom, whose dedication to her blog and her readers seems to far outweigh her concern for Imogene. Imogene has become an internet presence, though she hardly recognizes the character that bears her name. She wonders how her mother could have so little understanding of who she really is.

Imogene shares her outrage with a school friend who well understands the dilemma of the blogging mom. As the daughter of Veggiemom, Sage Carter is not pleased to be part of her mother’s online campaign for healthy eating: “Sent Sage off to her first day of ninth grade with this spinach and kale smoothie. Yum!!!” Of course, a photo shows a disgruntled Sage with her beverage. The real Sage is dying for junk food.



Don’t Call Me Baby is essentially about the adjustment of boundaries that is needed as children reach those years of strong identity formation and wished-for independence. The negotiation of boundaries is almost always a problem between parents and adolescent children, but here it is brought into startling and frightening vividness through the unwitting disrespect these mothers show their daughters.

Certainly in Imogene’s case, her mother abuses her authority. And Imogene needs to do something about it.

Everything else in Meg’s life has become subordinated to her blog. She is always looking for the next photo, the next bon mot, the next touch that she can give to her Imogene character – whether truthful or not. Meg is blind to her addiction and to the fact that she is damaging her relationship with her daughter. And here she is, giving advice on being a great mommy. . . .

To read the entire review, plus Q & A with the author, as it appears in the June 12, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly, click here Florida Weekly – Heasley 1 and here Florida Weekly – Heasley 2.

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A grand passion that transcends time, but is rooted in place

The Widow’s Walk, by Robert Barclay. William Morrow. 320 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.

Since retiring from a career in business and industry-related consulting, the man with the pen name Robert Barclay has developed a remarkable second career as a romance novelist. The latest title from this Coral Springs resident follows the successes of If Wishes Were Horses and More Than Words Can Say. Ante-Bellum culture, architecture, time travel, and other paranormal occurrences combine to make “The Widow’s Walk” intriguing and heartwarming.  WidowsWalkPB

When young Massachusetts architect Garrett Richmond decides to purchase and restore the 1830ish home called Seaside, he knows that the task will be enormous, given the sorry condition of the house due to neglect and vandalism. However, it has been a dream of Garrett’s to meet such a challenge and reside in such a splendid Ante-Bellum home. In spite of the contrary advice of family and friends, he embarks on the journey.

What he discovers is that Seaside is haunted – but only for him. That is, the cry of a woman’s voice, unheard by others, reveals the suffering of its 150-year resident, a beautiful young widow named Constance Elizabeth Canfield. Like a ghost, she is caught between two worlds: the world of 1840 New Bedford, and the ongoing present. She has witnessed all the tenants since her husband Adam’s ill-fated voyage on his whaling ship, but she has had no presence to them, as she does to Garrett. She has lived a solitary half-life for seventeen decades. For Garrett, at first skeptical of a hoax of some kind, she proves to be very real – and overwhelmingly attractive.

Slowly, hesitantly, their passion grows and with it their sense of a shared destiny. Whenever they touch, it’s as if a cosmic energy bolt flows through them. They struggle to find out how to understand their unfathomable relationship, eventually turning to a woman learned in the ways of psychic and otherworldly phenomenon, Dr. Brooke Wentworth. She assures them that all of their difficulties have been a test of love and that there is an action they can take, though great risk is involved, that can possibly free Constance. However, there is a chance that Garrett will forfeit his freedom, if not his life, and end up in Constance’s lonely, shadowy netherworld situation.



Mr. Barclay ties present to past and both to a malleable sense of identity and corporality by creating scenes in which Constance briefly returns to the life that was severed so many decades ago. What she encounters “back then” gives clues to the future, but she returns disturbed and frightened. This “flashback” experiences happens several times. Matters become even more complicated when Garrett is also taken back to that time of Adam’s final voyage. Of course, for Garrett it is not really undergoing a flashback as he is not returning to 1840s New Bedford – or is he?

To read the entire review, as it appears in the June 5, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly, the June 11 Fort Myers edition, and the June 12 Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions,click here Florida Weekly – Barclay 1 and here Florida Weekly – Barclay 2


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