Why I Am Making 'Aliyah' to Reform Jewry

Reb Shlomo's Daughter on Being 'Refugee' From Orthodoxy

nate lavey

By Neshama Carlebach

Published December 18, 2013.
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(JTA) — I grew up Jewish. Simply Jewish.

My late father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, raised us in an observant Orthodox household. Our lives were filled with beautiful ritual and we celebrated the wonder of a familial spiritual connection.

That said, we also danced along the fine line of progressive Judaism. My father’s Torah was an expression of the beauty of Judaism. He taught the world to love and cherish Shabbat – even on a Tuesday – and to love Jewish rituals in an open hearted, expansively spiritual way that often set him apart and alienated him from many established religious groups.

My father’s true goal was to raise Jewish life above the rote performance of ritual acts. He wanted the light and redemptive message of the Torah to make all of humanity deeper – more empathetic, loving and capable of kindness. He often said that effecting global healing was the reason we were in the world to begin with.

Though it sometimes got him in trouble with the Orthodox establishment, my father was an active member and lover of all interfaith experiences. He attended many different houses of worship, sang with people of all colors, faiths and backgrounds, and attended conferences where he spoke about finding true unity for all of God’s children.

Significantly, he encouraged women to learn and read Torah. At his synagogue he created the space for women to physically dance with the the Torah and stand all the way up, next to the ark on holidays.

For this passion and commitment, my father’s life was complicated. Within the Orthodox world he was a visionary who stood alone and was too often lonely.

As the daughter of this great man, I bear witness to the intolerance, cruelty and ostracism he suffered for daring to step outside the “daled amot” (personal space) of observant Jewish life. As his child, I suffered alongside him when he tried to give me a platform to sing, the outcry from my Orthodox brothers and sisters invariably drowning out my voice and suffocating my love for Jewish tradition.

Strengthened by my father’s love and vision, I persisted. It was not easy being taunted and called names, hearing angry voices and seeing the enraged faces of those who believed – genuinely believed – that what I called prayer was an affront to God. Looking back, I believe that the ugliness I saw was not motivated by a desire to hurt me personally but by a deep misunderstanding of the message of our Torah and what it means to be a Jew in the modern world.


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