Saturday, January 4, 2014

Composer of lyrics for Reb Shlomo’s “Lord Get Me High” Passed Away

    The poet George Gorner is the author of the lyrics for Reb Shlomo’s first original English song, “Lord Get Me High”. He passed away on May 25, 2013. When Reb Shlomo performed George’s wedding on March 24, 1969 in Golden Gate Park, he turned to the groom and asked him to write English lyrics for Shlomo’s tune יָשִׂישׂ עָלַיִךְ אֱלֹהָיִךְ כִּמְשׂוֹשׂ חָתָן עַל כַּלָּה.
    I had the privilege of interviewing George on Nov. 30, 2012. He was a colorful figure with a tragic story. His father was a Holocaust survivor whose entire family was slaughtered at Babi Yar. He became an avowed atheist and his Jewishness was something to hide so as to avoid persecution – “There was nothing Jewish in our house”. George reminisced with me describing how it was Reb Shlomo who awakened him to a meaningful Jewishness.
    George Gorner was born in the middle of World War II, on December 28, 1943. He died at age 70 in Stinson Beach, California. George first met Shlomo in February 1967 when Shlomo was performing at the I/Thou Coffeehouse on Haight Street. This was one of the first venues for Shlomo's Haight-Ashbury concerts. At the time, George had just begun graduate study in literature (poetry) at San Francisco State University. An accomplished lyricist, George was somewhat of a media celebrity because of his role in leading anti-war songs. San Francisco State was a hotbed of campus protests during 1966–1968. Gorner explained recently: I was facing a lot of charges and had warrants out because I would take the microphone and sing protest songs during the demonstrations. In the end, I pled guilty to disturbing the peace. (Gorner, personal discussion, Nov. 30, 2012).  
    Years later, when Shlomo humorously retold his version of how George composed the lyrics to “Lord Get Me High”, he added that George "was arrested for singing an obscene song and it turned out to be my Esa Einai.” Gorner added lyrics to the song to condemn police brutality against peace demonstrators. His use of the f* word led to his prosecution for violating an 1872 San Francisco ordinance prohibiting obscene words in the presence of women or children. Here are the lyrics that George invented, apparently using Esa Einai as the tune. It is my impression that George’s vehement opposition to the war was fueled by his post Holocaust anger:

We saw you, in Chicago. We saw you attacking angels of peace.
You beat them and gassed them, with deadly poison.
They are beating children beyond belief.
This time we must stop them. stop them.
They had brought the gas. Stop the f* fascists before they prevail.

   See my book on Reb Shlomo, pp. 160-161: Lord Get Me High,” Shlomo’s first original song in English, implied an alternative to the psychedelic high:

Lord get me high, get me high, get me high.
Lord get me high, get me higher. (2X)
Higher and higher, higher and higher…

   This song was based on a tune that Shlomo sang to the words of “Yasis Alayich Elohaiyich” when he performed the wedding of George Gorner, an avid song composer. Shlomo turned to the groom and asked that he prepare lyrics in English. A week or so later Gorner succeeded. Recently, George reconstructed more of the history of this song:

We left a concert at Sonoma State University near Santa Rosa. Pam, my new bride, was driving my old Corvair that had had a fire, so there was no backseat, just a lot of cushions. The sun was coming up in an unbelievable sunrise. Out the window was some garish hotel with flamingos. Shlomo and I were huddled half asleep on the cushions. Shlomo looked up and said, “George, the Lord is quite an artist.” That is when we began singing our new uplifting song “Lord Get Me High,” and we continued all the way back to his motel in San Francisco.

See my book on Reb Shlomo, pp. 144-145:

    On March 24, 1969, Reb Shlomo performed the marriage of George Gorner to Pamela (Pam) Klein in Golden Gate Park near the HLP. Life Magazine was doing a feature story on weddings and they sent a camera crew to photograph the outdoor event. This was the first time that a major national media had picked up on Reb Shlomo’s innovative House of Love and Prayer activities. The two full color photos provided a glimpse into a new wedding style that Reb Shlomo had designed. See The Free-form Wedding Game,” Life Magazine 67, no. 13, Sept. 26, 1969, 95–96. Available on line at Google Books -

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What was the most dramatic and emotionally charged concert of Reb Shlomo in the early part of his career?

What was the most dramatic and emotionally charged concert of Reb Shlomo in the early part of his career?

Perhaps it was his concert at the end of December 1959 at the George Washington High School near Yeshiva University. The concert was in memory of 19 year old Yolanda Benson who died on Oct. 9, 1959 in a tragic accident when her bus was set on fire. Yolanda who was born in 1940 had survived the Holocaust when she was hidden with Christian neighbors in Poland. She lived in seven different European countries because of the Nazi persecution. Eventually, her parents found her after the war and gradually brought her back to Judaism. In 1948 she came to America and lived in Freehoff, Monmouth County in New Jersey. Yolanda was a 19 year old junior at The College of New Jersey when she and her classmates were returning on Friday by bus from seeing "J.B./Job", a Broadway Play written by American playwright and poet Archibald MacLeish as a modern retelling of the story of the biblical figure of Job, whose faith in God is tested through the loss of his children, disease and afflictions. The students’ bus was hit by a truck in the rain-swept highway and its gas tank exploded into a big inferno. Yolanda and 8 of her classmates were burned to death.

The Yolanda Benson Honor Society and Yolanda Benson Memorial Fund were established at Yeshiva University after her death and many important events took place in this framework. Reb Shlomo later appeared at successive Yolanda Benson Memorial Concerts on April 1, 1962 and March 31, 1963. More on this on pages 99 and 102 of my book on Reb Shlomo.

My thanks to Eliyahu Zelasko for finding the newspaper reference of the 1963 concert in the Red Bank Register, vol. 85, no. 186, March 27, 1963.

Might anyone know of other Yolanda Benson Memorial Concerts where Reb Shlomo appeared?

Monday, December 30, 2013

How Izzy Young Helped Launch Musical Careers of Reb Shlomo & Bob Dylan

How Izzy Young Helped Launch Musical Careers of Reb Shlomo & Bob Dylan:

On March 16, 1958, a week after Purim, T.S.G.G., Shlomo’s outreach program, organized a concert in Manhattan at Hotel Diplomat on West 43rd Street, a hotel known for its musical events. The event was labeled “Purim Song Festival” and featured Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach as “Folk Singer and Guitarist”. Tickets were available from the Folklore Center 110 MacDougal St. in Greenwich Village, a store for books and records that served as a focal point for the American folk music scene. It had been founded the year before by Izzy G. Young whose birth name was Israel Goodman Young and whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland who spoke to Izzy in Yiddish. His father Philip started his own bakery, the Borough Park Shomer Shabbos Bakery. By opening up Folklore Center, Young became a noted figure in the world of folk music. This was “ground zero” for the West Village folk scene, and it was here that the young Bob Dylan spent much time playing instruments, listening to albums, meeting other musicians, and writing songs on Young's typewriter. It was Young who produced Dylan's first concert at Carnegie Chapter Hall in 1961. So it would seem that Izzy Young was one of the original people who helped launch Shlomo’s musical career.[1]

Robert Shelton notes that Shlomo tried to influence Dylan "to consider his obligations as a Jew". See Robert Shelton, No Direction Home: The Life And Music Of Bob Dylan (New York: 1986), 413.

[1] Scott Barretta, The Conscience of the Folk Revival: The Writings of Israel "Izzy" Young (American Folk Music and Musicians Series), Lanham Maryland, 2013.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Temple Mount with MEPI Dec. 19-22, 2013

Inter-religious and International Relations in the Middle East:Toward Peace and Stability

This past weekend (Dec. 19-22) I participated in an amazing MEPI (Middle East Peace Initiative) Interfaith Peace Conference in the Dan Jerusalem Hotel on French Hill.

   The incredible highlight of the MEPI event, and as far as I know the first time in Israeli history, a group of interfaith leaders went up together to the Temple Mount and stood inside the Dome of the Rock in a joint peace initiative.  Understandably, this was not publicized in the media. I am posting with some trepidation on my FB page and Blog, and forgive me if I take it down soon.
   We were three Orthodox Rabbis about to go up to the Temple Mount with Sheikhs, Priests and religious leaders from around the world from Korea to Norway, from the US to Jordan, from China to Australia, from Azerbaijan to Switzerland. First we walked together through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem chanting " Peace, Shalom, Shalom Aleikum, Peace to the Middle East". Then, invited by the Mufti's representative, we were led inside the Dome of the Rock, to the holiest site for the Jewish people. Never before have I stepped foot there (yes, we checked for a heter ahead of time, yes I went to the mikveh in advance).
   At the mosque, our group had a private tutor by Yusef. I might be able to post photos.  Afterwards, we went to the Kotel, the Chain of Generations and an Old City restaurant to discuss the ramifications of our visit. More to come...
   Amongst the forty speakers at the MEPI Conference, there were a total of five Orthodox Rabbis (Michael Melchior Joseph Abittan, Yaakov Loft, Reuven Khaskin, and myself). I had the privilege of leading a short peace meditation on Oseh Shalom Bimromav on Sunday morning at the entrance to the Old City as well as a program for a dozen of the interfaith leaders near the Kotel. One of the ideas that I proposed is that at the next Jerusalem MEPI Conference scheduled for May 2014, that we dedicate a session to the One State solution as suggested by IPC (Israel Palestine Confederation) of which I am a Parliament delegate and on the governing board.
   Here is the mission statement of MEPI about Solutions through Interfaith Cooperation:
"While the roots of the conflict in the land of Israel and Palestine are complex and labyrinthine, one can only wonder what might be possible if relations among Jews, Christians and Muslims were vastly improved". The speakers offered their wisdom on the relevance of interfaith cooperation for peace in Israel and Palestine.The main upshot of the MEPI conference was that interfaith dialogue and cooperation are essential prerequisites for peace and should not be ignored any more. Furthermore, faith leaders need to be better informed about geopolitical realities. The "soft power" approaches of religion and civil society should be grounded in a realistic understanding of the "hard power" realities, such as political, economic, demographic and historical realities. In this way, "soft power" advocates can make informed decisions and proposals.
   One can see the incredible diversity in this list of speakers (in order of appearance):
Sheikh Ali Naim Birani, President, Jerusalem Forum for Interfaith and Cooperation among Religions
Ran Cohen, former Member of the Israeli Knesset
Prof. Eliezer Glaubach-Gal,  President, UPF-Israel's Jerusalem Forum for Peace and Security
Fr. Joseph Saghbini, Auxiliary Patria, Auxiliary Patriarchal Vica, Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate, Palestine
George E. Stephan, Regional Internal Auditor, Middle East Council of Churches Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees
Dr. Thomas G. Walsh, President, UPF International
Dr. Willem Frederick van Eekelen, Member, Netherlands Advisory Commission on European Integration, Netherlands
Dr. Alexandre Y. Mansourov, President, Great Falls Solutions International LLC, USA
Hon. Bob McEwen, Former Member, US House of Representatives
Rabbi Michael Melchior, Former Minister for Social Affairs and Diaspora, Israel
Mr. Aamir Javed Sheikh, President, Foundation Dialogue for Peace
Dr. Chang Shik Yang, Chairman, UPF International
Mr. Taj Hamad, Secretary General, UPF International
Mr. Emmanuel Dupuy, President, Institute for Prospective and Security Studies in Europe, France
Dr. Leo Gabriel, President, Institute for Intercultural Research and Cooperation, Austria
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Department of Arabic Literature, Bar Ilan University, Israel
Ms. Patricia Raynaud Lalonde, Research Fellow, Institute for Prospective and Security Studies in Europe
Hon. Anne-Marie Vanderspeeten Lizin, Honorary Speaker, Senate of the Kingdom of Belgium
Rev. Dr. William A. McComish, President, Geneva Spiritual Appeal, Switzerland; Dean Emeritus, St. Peter’s Cathedral, Geneva
Dr. Nurit Hirschfeld, Director, UPF-Israel’s Jerusalem Forum for Interfaith and Cooperation among Religions
Rabbi Joseph Abittan, Director, Monotheistic  Religions Council for the South of France
Dr. Michael W. Jenkins, Chairman, MCNY Group, USA
Rev. Hjortur Magni Johannsson, Head Minister, Free Lutheran Church, Iceland
Rabbi Reuven Khaskin, Israel, Educator and Tour Guide, Israel
Ms. Eliya Fruma Kranz, Executive Director, Silver Spring Jewish Center, USA
Shaikh Shafayat Mohamed, Principal, Darul Uloom Islamic Institute, USA
Pastor Philip Mousa Sahawneh, Pastor, Baptist Convention of Jordan
Mrs. Adi Sasaki, Director, UPF-Israel’s Jerusalem Office for Peace and Security
Mr. Emmanuel Chouraqui, Filmmaker, Beamlight, France
Hon. Nadia Hilou, Former Knesset Member, Israel
Mr. Michael Leonard McIntyre, President, Capital Region Interfaith Council, Canada
Mr. Hafid Ouardiri, President, Fondation pour l'Entre-connaissance-Genève, Switzerland
Mr. Heiner Handschin, President, UPF-Switzerland
Prof. Rafig Y. Aliyev, founder, IRSHAD Center of Islamic Studies, Azerbaijan
Prof. Dr. Adrian Holderegger, Dean Emeritus, University of Fribourg Department of Moral Theology and Ethics, Switzerland
Dr. Tsutomu Mizota, Professor Emeritus, Nagasaki National University, Japan
Dr. Nodar Sarjveladze, Chair, Foundation for the Development of Human Resources, Georgia
Dr. Young Tack Yang, Regional Chair, UPF-Middle East

How Reb Shlomo Discovered the Guitar

   In May 1954 Shlomo attended the bar mitzvah of John Strasberg, the son of Lee Strasberg, a prominent acting teacher who specialized in “method acting” where the actors create in themselves the thoughts and feelings of their characters, so as to develop real lifelike performances. Many of Strasberg’s students were present and one of them announced that he is planning to produce the famous play The Dybbuk and he is looking for a real Hasid who can demonstrate the inner life of Hasidim, how they walk, talk and feel. Shlomo, at the time 29 years old, had recently received rabbinic ordination and was closely affiliated with Habad. He was hired for the advisory role. Thus, for half a year “almost every day”, Shlomo would go to Greenwich Village, the Bohemian center in Manhattan. He would also take the actors, some of whom were not Jewish, to visit Hasidic events. Then they would sit and talk. One of the actors who strummed on the guitar would accompany Shlomo’s singing. Shlomo was so impressed by the guitar player who was using just two musical chords that he decided to learn guitar.
   The Dybbuk, for which Shlomo is listed as an advisor, played in 103 performances from Oct. 26, 1954 – Jan. 23, 1955 at the Fourth Street Theatre, 83 E. 4th St. in Manhattan.
   The Society for the Classic Guitar furnished a teacher, Anita Sheer,[1][2] a 19 year old student at Columbia University. Shlomo would phone Anita with new tunes and she transcribed the notes. Thus his first songs such as “Luley Torascho” (Psalms 119:92) and “Esa Einai” (Psalms 121:1) were preserved. Anita influenced Shlomo in the direction of folk music and the flamenco style, and encouraged him to perform on stage.[2][3] Interestingly enough, Shlomo later was to incorporate the flamenco style into his Kabbalat Shabbat in the first few bars of “Moshe v’Aharon” (the concluding cantorial part of the fifth Psalm). It seems that Shlomo associated the flamenco with an old musical tradition connecting to the Levite music in the Temple:
When I was learning how to play the guitar, my guitar teacher told me there was an old tradition that some Flamenco tunes went all the way back to the Temple. She said there were some old music manuscripts of flamenco with the signature Reuven Halevi.
   Before mastering the guitar, Shlomo would play the piano. In 1956–1957, he served a short stint as a “weekend” rabbi in Dorothy, Atlantic County, New Jersey.[4][5] Many of the congregants were Holocaust survivors, “simple Jews with broken hearts, and their children didn’t come to the Synagogue. I didn’t have much to do, so I began playing the piano and singing. At least that way, I was able to establish some sort of a rapport.”[5]
   Dorothy is about twenty miles west of Atlantic City. There Shlomo met and befriended Nina Simone who sang and played piano at the Midtown Bar and Grill on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City.[7] The two encouraged each other to develop their singing careers at a crucial point in their development.[8] Nina introduced Shlomo to Harlem Gospel music. She produced her first album, Little Girl Blue, in 1958. It was a smash hit and she went on to record more than forty albums. An album of Simone which appeared in 1962 contained the song “Sinner Man,” an American spiritual telling the sinner not to run from God. Shlomo adopted this song for his own performances early in his career.

[1] Shlomo tells this story in various versions, the most reliable one currently extant is from an interview broadcast on Israeli radio on September 9, 1966 as part of a series where people who were interviewed answered questions to describe “My Father’s Home”.  Shlomo’s interview can be heard at,
[2] Offenbacher, “Jewish Minstrel,” 55.
[3] Anita Sheer (1935–1996) was a student of Carlos Montoya (1903–1993), a founder of the flamenco style of music and dance. Anita developed a career in folk music and appeared on stage with singers such as Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger and may have been instrumental in introducing Shlomo to them. She wrote the book Flamenco Guitar Method for Beginners, see,;
[4] This is the quote as remembered by Rabbi Moshe Stepansky (personal communication, Aug. 26, 2012). He was gabbai of the Carlebach Shul from 1987–2002, and today lives in Safed.
[5] Offenbacher, “Jewish Minstrel,” 54.
[6] Adapted from Witt, “Reb Shlomo 1980,” 4; Witt, Open Gates of the Heart, 220.
[7] Nina Simone was the stage name of Eunice Kathleen Waymon, singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist associated with jazz music (1933–2003).
[8] This meeting is dramatized in the Broadway musical “Soul Doctor.”

Neshama Carlebach Aliyah to Reform?

   In the wake of Neshama Carlebach's recent article on Reform Judaism that has gained much attention on the web, I would add that her father, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, underwent several transformational phases, or as he once hyperbolically phrased it with his smiling humor when addressing a Reconstructionist congregation: “I’m reconstructing myself day and night”. Nonetheless, he always remained rooted in Orthodox Judaism. Shlomo’s value system, while firmly entrenched in a life committed to religiosity, attained a unique contour when it interlaced with the spiritual questing of his generation.

Miriam Rubinoff (Dec. 20, 5:19AM): The word halacha implies movement, going forward. If you're not constantly reconstructing yourself, you're going nowhere. If you ever spent time with Reb Shlomo, you know that he was always in motion. His ability to accomplish so much in a finite amount of time sometimes recalled the teleportation skills attributed to the Ba'al Shem Tov. And I don't think Reb Shlomo was ever satisfied with what he had already accomplished in learning, in observance, or especially in outreach. There was always one more sefer, one more mitzvah, one more person yet to meet and to embrace.

Rabbi Sammy Intrator (Dec. 20): Reb Shlomo added at least once where I heard him speak on the subject that he is always Reforming himself & trying to Renew his spirituality all the while he wants to Conserve the beauty of yiddishkiet and is deeply dedicated to keeping the Orthodox principles of yiddishkeit. While his ahvas Yisroel knew no bounds & his ahavas habriyos was also unusually great his universalism was mystically transcendent & so basically leading an orthodox life was in not a contradiction for him as he looked to bring out the Zelem Elohim in all. As this conversation begins to play out in the next days it is important to remember that his deep Torah spirituality was always glowing with his deep love. May HKBH grant us all the ability to show that to each other even if we disagree with one another. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Join the Worldwide Carlebach Minyanim Chevra

How many Carlebach Minyanim are there today? In 2004, a decade after Shlomo’s death, 114 Carlebach minyanim could be counted – forty-eight in Israel, sixty-four in North America, and five in Europe. The greatest concentrations were in New York with fifteen and Jerusalem with twelve.

 We are gradually preparing an updated Carlebach Minyanim database because the last worldwide was created 10 years ago.

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