She is a Grammy-nominated singer with a magical voice that fits her name, which means “soul” in Hebrew. She knew she wanted to perform from the time she understood the meaning of the word. Her “Jewish hero” nomination says that when she sings, “You want to close your eyes and take it all in. Your body energizes with spirituality and goodness. She leads by example in wanting to be better in this world and bridge gaps with others. Her messages are filled with love and hope, and her voice is angelic.”
Neshama Carlebach is all that and more. Her late father, the legendary Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, whose deep spirituality and love of all humanity filled every song he wrote and touched every person he enountered as he changed the face of Jewish music, is “the light above me,” she said. She had sung with her father for the fun of it, but her career began in earnest three weeks after her father’s death. As she explained, “My calling came in the sadness of his death. He had a year of shows booked. I was asked to take the shows. I felt pressure and sadness. I didn’t want the world to forget him. I cried through the shows for years.”
She added, “At first I felt compelled to sing, knowing in my heart he would have wanted me to. The beginning was a time of great sorrow, as I traveled around the world singing for thousands of people, all of us unable to accept the fact that we would never again be in his holy presence. I eventually discovered that by singing I was not only continuing in my father’s way but was accomplishing my own life’s work as well. The high moments on stages around the world have given me the deepest inspiration.”
Carlebach said that her “higher calling” came a few years later when she connected with David Morgan, a manager who encouraged her to use her own voice while continuing the legacy established by her father. Her current manager, Mark Ambrosino, who she describes as “a big Italian rabbi,” is the reason she is touring the world, she added. According to Carlebach, “these men are my two wings who allow me to be who I am.”
Another mentor, Rabbi Avi Weiss, brought Reverend Roger Hambrick and the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir to his Orthodox synagogue. Carlebach was impressed by how the singers’ “holiness manifests itself, how they put their heart and soul into their singing” and how they helped to bring her interpretation of Judaism to a whole new level. With her band and the choir, Carlebach sings her father’s incomparable melodies and inspiring original compositions. The collaboration is “an electric coming together musically,” she said. “The reason we’re doing it is that music brings people together and transforms souls. With Carlebach music and the wonderful style of the choir, we’re opening the door even wider to make the world a healed place.”
This “perfect collaboration” has been going on for six years. The all-volunteer choir includes three musical sections, plus the reverend. Between 15 and 25 people sing in the choir when in New York, and 7 to 10 choir members travel with Carlebach.
Carlebach’s seventh recording, Higher & Higher (Sojourn Records/Sony) showcases the rare intersection of faith and talent. Written by Shlomo Carlebach and performed by Neshama Carlebach and the choir, the songs preach in the least secular way, extolling life and its living to the fullest, rather than an exact path.
In addition, Neshama Carlebach has started a project called Soul Journey, an extension of the work that she has been doing worldwide “to bring hope, healing, soul raising and
fundraising to communities and charities through music. Its mission is to enable communities around the world to host musical, educational and spiritual experiences that they might not otherwise be able to afford. She hopes to unite and strengthen Jewish communities worldwide, together with various interfaith and interracial neighbors. Envisioned as an intimate encounter with hands-on, experiential music and learning, Soul Journey seeks to empower, unite and uplift through the universal power of music. It continues the mission of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, whose music and teachings were built upon the simple, yet profound, belief that love can unite and heal the world.
“My father always said that when we sing, it’s like we’re praying twice,” Carlebach said. “When I am on stage I experience prayer in the deepest sense. Somehow, when we don’t have the words to express all that we need, music says it for us. Music can somehow break our hearts and allow us to feel so whole all at the same time. This miracle is what I feel when I sing. I thank G-d every moment of my life that I have the honor of praying and singing with the people I meet all over the world.”
She concluded, “My father was everywhere and still is present in the world. When I sing, I feel like he’s here.”
Neshama Carlebach will be at Congregation B’nai Israel, 2111 Bryan, Tustin, for a Scholar in Residence Shabbat during the weekend of December 9 to 11. On Friday, December 9, she will lead Kabbalat Shabbat for the Congregation, including several Shabbat songs with Cantor Marcia Tilchin. After dinner, Carlebach will offer a 45-minute presentation about “Jewish Spirituality and Music.”
On Saturday, December 10, there will be Tot Shabbat with Carlebach and the PJ Library, after which she will participate in the morning prayer service with Cantor Tilchin and offer a 20- to 25-minute D’var Torah. Carlebach will attend a community Shabbat lunch, after which she will participate in a Q&A session with Rabbi Elie Spitz about her life and her father.
On Sunday, December 11, Carlebach and her band, Reverend Roger Hambrick and members of the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir, will perform a community bridge-building concert. There will be a dinner reception and CD signing for CBI Patrons after the concert.
Please call or e-mail the Congregation B’nai Israel office at (714) 730-9693 or firstname.lastname@example.org to make reservations and purchase tickets. For more information about Carlebach, visit her website at www.NeshamaCarlebach.com.