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Meet Jewish Soul Singer Neshama Carlebach

Meet Jewish Soul Singer Neshama Carlebach

Singer-songwriter Neshama Carlebach has sold more than a million records. Her most recent album, “Soul Daughter,” features performances with the original Broadway cast of Soul Doctor, the musical she co-created based on her father, the famous musician Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

These days, Neshama, who lives in New York City with her two sons, Rafael and Micah, is touring with a new band and gospel choir.  She’s also collaborating with Jewish musician Josh Nelson, who serves as the artistic director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial 2015, where both artists will perform in November.

ReformJudaism.org: You sang with your father for the first time at the age of 15. How did that come about?

Neshama Carlebach: Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be an actress. One day my father overheard me practicing a song from a Broadway show, and a few days later, he announced to a large audience, “My daughter Neshameleh is going to sing after the break.”

I complained, “What do you mean I’m singing?” He said, “You are ready.” When I refused to come out on stage, he told the audience, “She just needs more applause.” He didn’t let me get away with not singing. I sang “B’shem Hashem, the lullaby he sang to my sister and me. That was my entire repertory until someone came up to me and said, “Don’t you know any other songs?”

What led to your decision to become a professional singer?

When my father died suddenly in 1994, he had almost a year of shows booked – and his manager asked me if I wanted to do them. I immediately said yes, not because I wanted to launch a singing career but because I couldn’t bear the thought that he and his music might be forgotten.

Were you ready to follow in his footsteps?

He had trained me about what I needed to know, like how to talk to an audience, and he had insisted I was ready. Still, it took three or four years before I could finally acknowledge that I had something to give, too.

How do you hope to affect audiences with your songs?

When I sing with people, healing somehow magically happens in that space. The power of music is that it can bring self-awareness, and from self-awareness comes hope.

It seems that something magical happened at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial 2013, when you famously declared that you had “made aliyah" to Reform Judaism.” What led you to that realization?

What I experienced at that URJ Biennial – the davening (prayer), the music, the passion for social justice and tikkun olam (repair of the world), the inclusivity – moved me to tears. I felt elevated, grateful, inspired. Having felt like a refugee from Orthodoxy for the past couple of decades, I had found a new family with values I could get behind. It gave me a feeling of homecoming. Now I just want to be part of this revolution, this voice, this movement.

You will be on stage again at the upcoming URJ Biennial in Orlando, FL, this fall. Can you give us a sneak preview?

I’ll be performing with the very talented Josh Nelson, the Biennial’s artistic director, who played the role of my father in the Off-Broadway production of Soul Doctor. Also joining me will be the fabulous gospel group I often perform with, The Glory to God Singers. I’m very exciting about returning to the Biennial stage.

Neshama Carlebach will be a featured performer at the Union for Reform Judaism's Biennial 2015, taking place November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. Register now for the largest Jewish gathering in North America.

Aron Hirt-Manheimer is the Union for Reform Judaism's editor-at-large.

Aron Hirt-Manheimer

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