Neshama Carlebach is Making a Musical Path of Her Own
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s music is present in worship and at Jewish celebrations all over the world. He is one of the most influential Jewish musicians of all time and continues to be an inspiration 23 years after his death.
Reb Shlomo’s daughter Neshama Carlebach continues to share his message as she performs his music and her own at venues worldwide.
Neshama, the original “Soul Daughter,” has been through her fair share of struggle and success since her father passed away suddenly in 1994. At the age of 20, exactly 31 days after Reb Shlomo died, Neshama was on the road, singing in his name on a tour that he had booked.
“In my mind, I was replacing the most beautiful, important person that ever lived,” she said. “It was a really painful time for me.”
This tour marked the beginning of Neshama’s own whirlwind career. She is one of the only Jewish artists to have sold more than a million records, and was also a six-time entrant in the Grammy Awards and toured the world consistently.
“I didn’t stop when I got married or when I had my two children,” she said. “I nursed through a concert once. At one show, I was nine months and two weeks pregnant, and I was having contractions while I was on stage. I loved my work but also didn’t know how to stop.”
Neshama didn’t break from her busy schedule until 2012 when she got divorced. “’My whole world came crashing down,” she said. “I realized that I didn’t know who I was, that I didn’t really understand myself. After my divorce, I know I mourned my father for the first time.”
So began a period of introspection and finding herself. From 2012 to 2016, she performed rarely and took time off to discover her place in the world and get in touch with her feelings. “I was falling apart completely, and then this moment was a rebirth for me,” she said.
During these years, Neshama found a new place in the Jewish community as well. In 2013, after a gig for the Union for Reform Judaism, she said she was excited to “make aliyah” to the Reform movement, a shift from the Orthodox world she had lived in before. She admired how welcoming they were, as well as their commitment to tikkun olam- healing the world.
“Jews in the Reform movement accept and welcome everyone regardless of race, color, sexuality, or sexual preference,” she said. “That openness, for me, has become the barometer of my Judaism. It’s about humanity, not about ritual.”
As a woman growing up in the Orthodox world, where the ritual of kol isha forbids men from hearing women sing, it was, and still is a challenge for Neshama to have her voice heard. Some Orthodox men and women have attended her shows just to berate her about her choices, while others slink in and out to avoid being seen listening to a woman sing in public.
Despite that, Neshama still feels connected to all people, despite the denominational divide. “My concerts for Orthodox women are such powerful evenings,” she said. “Some Orthodox women are so beautiful and so tragically undervalued. When I talk about finding their own voices, I can see that it hurts them. Too many women feel like they have no voice and wish they could create change. I feel like I’m a survivor of that mentality.”
Neshama, who has been singing since the age of five, has never considered another career path. Her career also allows her to stay connected to her father. “I’m living a life in parallel with his, and it’s beautiful.”
Today, Neshama performs her father’s music in addition to her own original songs soulful songs that move her. She sings at cultural events, performing arts centers, synagogues and even churches for both Jews and non-Jews.
“My father’s message is beautiful, holy, uplifting and alive,” Neshama said. “Living his legacy means I am blessed to be a part of that incredible revolution of love. It’s what I was born to do.”
Since Neshama returned to work in October 2016, she has experienced the “most incredible, enlightened, treasured time of my life. I know I have been blessed to have felt the sorrow I have carried. I’m not afraid of the pain anymore. I know I am blessed. I am looking ahead with great joy.”