Op-Ed: Broadway's "Soul Doctor" Touches the Soul
Having grown up in Rabbi Avi Weiss’ Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, singing many of the prayers is something I remember with nostalgia. I have many stories about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach as well - a man I knew and respected and hosted on multiple occasions.
Today, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, at the Carlebach Shul, I enjoy attending services (although my kids complain that I unconsciously sing and hum Carlebach’ niggunim - hassidic melodies - throughout the week, to their annoyance.)
Shlomo Carlebach’s music remains lastingly important and rich, and his soulful prayers are sung all around the world. When he left us, I and millions of Jews felt painfully bereft, for there was no one like him before his presence and no one has yet to capture his power, combined with deep faith, in a way that resonates with our people as his work did.
When I heard about the new Broadway show "Soul Doctor", I had to know more. Writer Daniel Wise took his own journey and penned a book chronicling the life and experiences based upon Reb Shlomo's writings. That book is now a play, an exhilarating musical journey through the triumphs and tribulations of a man who became a cultural phenomenon.
Today, it is shown on Broadway in an amazing way which all of Am Yisrael, the Jewish People, must experience. The musical set to Reb Shlomo’s comforting and beautiful tunes is matched to new lyrics that help tell the story. It shows the Carlebach family’s escape to the United States, and then focuses on his unlikely friendship with the great American Jazz songster Nina Simone, and how she worked with him to infuse Jewish music and prayer with gospel-like rhythm and soul.
This helped ignite the spirit of millions around the world - his music, transformative storytelling and boundless love.
Reb Shlomo created a great new sound with melodies that fused his Jewish roots with American popular music. The play shows his struggles to harmonize his traditional beliefs with the more progressive 1960s generation, and how he broke through and did just that.
You must see it. It was an amazingly touching journey that left me wanting more; it was so uplifting.
Rabbi Carlebach famously said that when the Jewish people lost the Holy Temple, we lost the music that was played in the Holy Temple that included thousands of instruments and voices.
Approaching the Holy Temple was said to be the most awesome experience; between the smell of the incense and the sound of the music, it was beyond description, beyond this world. One of the holy places in Judaism are the melodies of the Torah and the Prophets – and as Reb Shlomo used to say “if more people could ‘sing a new song to God!’ we could really fix the whole world.”
If you don't know about Reb Shlomo, listen to his music here- or better yet, go to see "Soul Doctor" and then go home and immerse yourself in recordings that show the special atmosphere that hearing Reb Shlomo's own voice lends to the music. Buy his books. You will understand why his melodies are sung in synagogues and homes all over the Jewish world - and why, at his untimely death, the thousands who came to his funeral sang Reb Shlomo's songs all the way to the place in which he is buried in his beloved Jerusalem.
Ronn Torossian is a New York based entrepreneur, author – and huge fan of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.