By Shelley A. Sackett
Singer/songwriter Neshama Carlebach, a passionate advocate for inclusion in synagogue, will headline Congregation Shirat Hayam’s Shir Lanu (“One Song-Every Voice”) Inclusion Initiative Celebration October 27 and 28.
“When you’re accepting people who are different than you, it means that you have acceptance and love in your heart. Period. And if you don’t have love and acceptance in your heart, that’s not a place to pray,” the six-time entrant in the 2011 Grammy Awards said by phone last week from her New York City apartment.
One of Shirat Hayam’s stated missions is to support and provide opportunities for families and individuals with special needs as well as the LGBTQ community, interfaith families, elders and everyone who seeks a genuinely respectful, compassionate and responsive synagogue experience.
“I believe that hands down, this is one of the most important missions in the Jewish world right now. Every single synagogue should have this mission attached to their synagogue statement,” Carlebach said.
Last May, the synagogue received a selective Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project (RSIP) grant to further its inclusion work. The Ruderman Family Foundation is a Boston-based philanthropic entity that advocates for and advances the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout society.
Michele Tamaren and Amanda Clayman co-chair Shirat Hayam’s Shir Lanu inclusion committee and attended the gathering for the cohort of new 2017 RSIP affiliates. There they met Neshama Carlebach, who performed for the group.
“We were deeply moved by her soulful ability to lift hundreds of us in that room,” Tamaren said. She and Clayman stayed and connected with her after the concert. When the Shir Lanu committee started planning the October inclusion event, Tamaren and Clayman invited Carlebach to be the weekend’s artist-in-residence and to perform a community concert Saturday night with her gospel band, The Glory to God.
Neshama Carlebach is the daughter of renowned Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the folksy, guitar-playing Orthodox rabbi who created hundreds of uplifting melodies, including many that are part of Shabbat services in synagogues all over the world. She sang with her father until his death in 1994, when she launched her own professional career.
She has sold more than one million records, performed and taught in cities worldwide, and co-authored the Broadway play, “Soul Doctor,” based on her father’s life. In 2016, she was inducted into the Brooklyn Hall of Fame, where she received a Certificate of Congressional Recognition for her work.
Carlebach credits her father for instilling in her the desire to bring inclusivity, love and wonder to the world. “My father gave that to me in my ear and in my heart from the moment I was born. That’s what he stood for. There’s no way I could have been any different,” she said.
She has done several events with the Ruderman Family Foundation. “I have never cried so much in my life, sitting and hearing these inspirational people talk about how they have struggled in their wheelchairs and how doors have been shut in their faces,” she said.
As the weekend’s artist-in-residence, Carlebach will provide inclusion teachings at the Friday, October 27 evening “Holy, Happy Hour Minyan” and the Saturday, October 28 morning “Nosh and Drash” Shabbat services. “Her teachings will focus on the Jewish imperative of inclusion,” Tamaren said.
Saturday evening, she will perform with her band and members of the spirited New York gospel choir, The Glory to God Gospel Singers, at Congregation Shirat Hayam, 55 Atlantic Ave, in Swampscott.
Reflecting on today’s divisive political climate, Carlebach thinks her father would be broken-hearted about the pain in the world and would have tried to do everything he could to bring healing. “Under his influence and in my own heart, I hope to try to do the same,” she said.
“There’s a song I sing called, ‘Y’hi shalom b’haylech’ – ‘May there be peace in your borders and tranquility in your castles.’ My father spoke about that all the time, that true peace comes from within the castle,” she said.
She paused for a few moments, then added, “I know you can’t heal what’s going on now with a song, but it would be great if all the world was waiting for was that one right niggun (Jewish religious melody).”
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit shirathayam.org/Neshama or call 781-599-8005.