On Saturday, February 13 at 7:30 p.m., join rabbis and community members from across the Berkshires for a virtual evening of inspiration and light featuring Neshama Carlebach.
This free online event is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires and its affiliates: Berkshire Hills Hadassah, Berkshire Minyan, Congregation Ahavath Sholom, Congregation Beth Israel, Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, Knesset Israel, and Temple Anshe Amunim. Funding is also provided by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
Register for this event at Federation’s website, jewishberkshires.org. All are welcome.
Complimentary Havdalah candle kits are available for contactless pick up at the Federation’s office at 196 South Street in Pittsfield, while supplies last. Call (413) 442-4360, ext. 10 or email by email@example.com for more information.
Catching Up With Neshama Carlebach
Much has changed for Neshama Carlebach in the four years since she last performed at Federation’s annual summer concert.
The positives – she married Rabbi Menachem Creditor, a social justice activist and head of Rabbis Against Gun Violence and, in 2019, released the well-received album Believe, which featured 12 original songs performed by her band and a gospel choir led by Pastor Milton Vann. The challenges – having to suspend her always-busy touring schedule during the coronavirus pandemic.
In mid-January, the BJV caught up by phone with Neshama, who has been riding out the pandemic at her home in New York City. We talked about how she’s kept busy and creative, and about how she and other artists are coping without the opportunities to perform live. Our conversation was edited for length and clarity.
BJV: We look forward to seeing you on February 13 – what can we expect?
Carlebach: You know I never know what you expect in this world anymore. We're living in this time of shift and strangeness and pain and sorrow and confusion and disconnect. Definitely, what you expect is that I will bring all of my heart to you – shoving it through this platform, as indelicate as that sounds.
I've had the privilege now since April of doing more than 250 Zoom events. I've had the privilege not only of doing concerts for fundraisers or communities but I've also had the gift of connecting in a personal way by doing shivas, during funerals, and at hospices. One of the most holy experiences I've had was singing for and with a woman and her family as she converted. I was present digitally through Zoom before she went into the mikvah and then after, just singing together. It was an intimate, gorgeous moment that I don't think I ever would have been able to be a part of.
I think I just so desperately miss humanity. I think a lot of people have their own reasons for choosing their work, but my work chose me years ago. I’ve tried very hard to shake off all of my different feelings of where I should go, and I've had moments of redefining, and I keep coming back to this music thing. I live so closely with the souls of the people, and to not see people and to not connect with people is difficult.
It's not about the money or the performing or the outfits – it's really just about feeling close and I miss that in a desperate way. I'm sure I'm not the only one feeling disconnected. Somehow on Zoom, it's almost like I can tangibly feel the energy of people, looking at their eyes. I'm seeing more of their truth over Zoom than I did in person because we don't get that close to people. I'm not on a bima or on a stage and they're actually looking at my eyes. So there is a certain disconnect, but there's also a certain sense of closeness.
BJV: Performance and feeling the energy of an audience has been such a big part of your daily life for so long. How do feel about the prospect that the nature of live performance changing in the future?
Carlebach: I look at it with a lot of sadness, and I'm crying not only for the lack of it in my own career but the lack of it in terms of experiential moments - I can't go to the theatre, I can't hear glorious music. I'm crying for my whole community that's essentially jobless and really, really struggling financially. The first thing that happened to us is we lost our income because there is no live performance right now. It’s almost like when I think about someone who's not here anymore - the longing, the physical longing for that moment.
I miss the energy of my team on stage with me – this is the first time I sing with tracks – but I'm blessed in that I'm also performing with my son, who's 10 years old and a prodigy guitar player. He and I have been doing a lot of Facebook.
BJV: What is it going to take for a performer to say, ‘Okay, I'm ready to get back up on stage - I feel safe’?
Carlebach: Well, I think the audience comes first. I think when people are ready to go out again and to be with people, that is going to be the cue. Now, with the vaccine, I'm hoping and praying with everyone else. I think that it will be clearer when the world is healed and should be together in that way, but I think we're a little bit far from that right now.
The thing that has kept me going in the pandemic is literally just an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my life, and I wanted to share that with your readers that if we can all find something every day to wake up and feel connected to and grateful for, it is lifegiving. We will get through this and we will find a new time together and our new moment. In this time, find something that makes you feel like you're seeing something beautiful in yourself, because it makes such a big difference.