There are moments that are (as my father Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach would say) “Beyond the Beyond” — moments of infinite, abundant, joy and truth, where we can fully access the power of who we are. Shavuot is a time when we are supposed to head to the Mountain, to try to receive the word of G-d, to go beyond the beyond. Personally, I beg for these moments, live for them, pray for them. They sustain me as a mother, as an artist, as a human being.
The Chasidic masters teach us that where prayer (Tfilla) ends, song (Shira) begins. Music is often the only way to express the depth, the immense endlessness of all we long for, of all we can contain inside. This past month, through the March of the Living, I was blessed to start my climb up the Mountain. I sang in Poland, on Yom Hashoah, with more than 10,000 people at the Gates of Auschwitz.
The first time I was in Poland, I was so devastated that I could barely breathe for days. I am sure many of you have had this same reaction: walking through the camps like a ghost, crying over piles of hair, wondering how anyone alive at that time could have seen the light or anything at all, swallowed by the depths of pain.
This time, on this trip, I again saw the Gates of Auschwitz, the heartbreaking train tracks, the barbed wire, the vast emptiness. But miraculously, I saw the light shining on the thousands of people who were there. They walked in by choice and would leave freely. This time I focused on what I wanted to give to those who had perished, to the ones who survived and to all the generations that will come miraculously, from the ashes of Poland. My return to that dark place was different because my prayer became a song. By leading others in song, I felt the light of G-d. I felt hope because I saw the light of G-d within the darkness.
In 1990 my father traveled to Poland. His desire was to heal the relationship between the Jews and non-Jews there, to show them that there was love, despite all the pain. An intense perspective to have from one who survived the time himself. While standing in Majdanek, he said he could hear the 6 million crying. He wrote a sad song to cry with them, stood in the corner of one of the barracks, singing with tears streaming down his face. Then, later, in Krakow he was sharing this new song and said he could again see the souls of the 6 million, but this time shining “from one corner of the world to the other”, laughing, dancing. In his words, he said he heard “Shlomele, this is not the way you go to the Promised Land. You need to cry, but then you need to dance. You need to dance.“ Then the second, joyous part of the Krakow Niggun came to his heart. The world continues to sing it, all these years later.
Right after Shavuot, I will also be visiting another mountain. I will have the honor of visiting Japan for the first time, as the Jewish Faith Representative for the Symphony of Peace Prayers. I’ll be offering music and prayers to over 20,000 people gathering at the base of Mt. Fuji, all there to break through all our self imposed boundaries and change the face of the universe with prayer. I had to plan everything I would say, as it will be translated into almost every language.
Here is a little piece of what I will share:
“When we are born, every one of us, we are filled with light and the desire to share it. Sadly, in this world too many of us grow confused, become filled with disappointment and feel alone. Too many of us, from too early an age, create the protective boundaries that block our Soul’s light from the world and sometimes from ourselves. To heal our world, to bring One-ness, we need to connect ourselves with that light and recognize its presence in every human being. We must learn to laugh with one half of our hearts and cry with the other, to acknowledge the hardships that we have faced but then celebrate that we are surviving, that we are able to grow and transcend.
We must recognize the blessing inside this struggle. This is a gift to us, an essential gift that is sometimes difficult to unwrap.
Today, may we, collectively, return again to this Peace and from there, together, may we thrive, may we heal, may we love, may we uplift, may we unite, may we dream, may we pray, may we sing.”
May this Shavuot create the opening for all of us to receive this message and the deepest essence of G-d’s Presence. I believe it is already within each and every one of us. I pray that our world has an infinite breakthrough and one by one, all of G-d’s children see this truth as well. Until that great moment comes, we will continue to sing.
Neshama Carlebach, a leading superstar in Jewish Entertainment, is continuing the legacy established by her father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Together with her band and often in collaboration with The Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir, she both deeply moves and entertains, as she sings her father’s incomparable melodies and inspiring original compositions. Neshama’s new project, Soul Journey, aims to bring unity, redemption and healing through music. To listen to the opening of Neshama’s concert with Wexner faculty Josh Nelson, please click here.