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Bye Bye Big American Lie

By Tzvi Fishman
11/4/2009, 12:00 AM

It wouldn’t be right to let Reb Shlomo’s yahrtzeit pass without a few words of thanks. Reb Shlomo Carlebach helped me cling to the Torah and to the yearning to come to Eretz Yisrael at the crossroads of my t’shuva, when the evil inclination rose up against me with all of its force to persuade me that I had fastened onto an escapist’s illusion.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

I only met Reb Shlomo once, briefly, in his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was his songs, echoing back over generations of Jewish history, that that gave me the spiritual fuel I needed to overcome all of the obstacles and doubts that face a penitent when he or she commences ופםמ a journey of return.

In those days, having tasted the sweetness of Torah, I had left Hollywood and was living in New York, my vision turned eastward toward Israel. In those early days of revelation and insight when the darkness of life suddenly vanished in the shattering brilliance of the Divine light that filled all of my being when I realized that there was a G-d, and that the Torah was true, and that Eretz Yisrael was the Land of the Jews, it was the soulful and joyous melodies of Reb Shlomo, the magnetic pull of his songs, the magical Hebrew of his words, and his heavenly whistling that pierced all of the barriers and noise and lies of American culture and secular living, seizing my heart, pumping Emunah and belief like adrenelin through my veins, to keep me on course.

Day after day, I walked around the steel and concrete jungle of Manhattan, riding the subways, on the way to meetings and work, I would listen to his songs on the earphones of my Walkman, volume turned up high to blast out all of the old and lying tapes of America - the lie that America was the greatest country in the world; the lie that American life was the best; the lie that success and money and fame were the most important values; the lie that religion was for losers; that the Torah was a fairytale just like all other man-made myths; the lie that I too was an American who must follow along with the stream, making capitalism my religion, and trying to be as beautiful and talented and successful and famous as the stars and writers of Hollywood. It was the whistling and humming and Biblical chords of Shlomo’s guitar, blasting in my ears to keep all the American falsehoods away, that kept me clinging to my newly discovered truth that there was a G-d, and that the Torah was true, and that G-d wanted His children, the Jewish People, to live in Israel. Day after day, Shlomo’s songs seeped into my heart, and my soul, and my brain, erasing the old lying tapes of America and the big lie that I was an American like everyone else, replacing the deceptions and deceits with holy new tapes of truth – tapes of praise to the Almighty, love songs to the Torah, and profound, deep-felt longings for Eretz Yisrael.

At night, I would sit in my Manhattan apartment alone, listening to the songs of Reb Shlomo, the songs of Hashem, or Torah, and of Eretz Yisrael, sitting on the floor, facing a poster of the Kotel, praying over and over again like a mantra, “Please G-d, take me to Israel. Please G-d, take me to Israel.”   

But there where layers and layers of lies that stood in my way and had to be smashed. Not only the lies of America, but the lies of Diaspora living as well, the lies of family and friends and rabbis and the Jewish establishment who told me that I could be a full-fledged Jew in America too, that the Mashiach hadn’t yet come, that the Temple still wasn’t rebuilt, that the Land of Israel was also galut, that it wasn’t safe to be there, that there were secular monsters who controlled the country, on and on and on to convince me not to go.

How confusing it can be to a newcomer starting out on the journey! But I was lucky. G-d had come into my life in a miraculous way. I knew He was real. I knew the Torah was real. And I could read, in plain black and white in the Bible, that the place for the Jews, the place to keep the Torah, the place where G-d wanted me and every Jew to be was Eretz Yisrael. In my heart of heart, I knew it was true. I knew that to make my life count, and to be who I really was, to live a life of truth, and to please my Creator, I had to get to Israel.  “You’re right, Tzvi,” Reb Shlomo’s songs told me, “You’re right.”

So do yourselves a big favor. Find a quiet place, sit down, and listen to some Carlebach songs. Forget about everything else. Junk all of the lies. Listen to the whistling. Listen to the words. Even if you don’t understand them. Listen to the truth of the melody, to the soulful longings of the Jewish People in his voice, a longing of two-thousand years, a longing for our Maker, a longing for our Torah, a longing for Jerusalem and for the holy mountains and Biblical valleys of Eretz Yisrael.

Thank you, Reb Shlomo. May your memory and songs be a blessing to all the Jewish People.