One of the old video cassette tapes sitting in a box in the small moshav of Sde Warburg was a special treasure for Hebron spokesman Noam Arnon. The long-time resident of the City of Abraham was going through old videos from his parent’s house when he found a 1994 recording of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach performing in Hebron. [Listen to the complete concert at the end of this article.]
Arnon explained in an interview for the Jewish Press that this was a special concert during a difficult time. “The summer of 1994 was in the middle of a very tense period when they were talking about expelling Jews from Hebron,” he explained.
The Oslo Accords of the year before had brought the promise of peace between Israel and the PLO, but it brought the rash of deadly bus bombings and terrorist attacks that hit Hebron particularly hard. Israeli’s pull-out from key cities in Judea and Samaria saw the rise of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, Hebron’s director of tourism who today leads Hebron’s Carlebach minyan told the Jewish Press that “Hebron was on the chopping block.” He explained that some Israeli politicians, urged by foreign pressure had proposed turning the historic Tomb of the Patriarchs & Matriarchs over to PLO control similar to other holy sites in Judea and Samaria. The period of the Oslo Accords invoked “a feeling of abandonment by the Israeli government,” Rabbi Hochbaum stated.
Previously, Shlomo Carlebach performed two concerts in Kiryat Arba, the sister community to Hebron, one of which was broadcast live on German television in which he addressed the viewers in German.
Shlomo was known for his universalistic message of love and peace speaking and performing for groups of all races colors and creeds, Rabbi Hochbaum said. Shlomo was renowned for his empathy and sensitivity towards those in need. He travelled to Israel during all the wars since 1967, to give strength and hope to soldiers both on the front line and those recovering in the hospital from injuries, he explained.
It was during the Oslo Accords era that Shlomo Carlebach came to perform in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood for an outdoor concert.
Arnon called it a morale booster. “He wanted to encourage the Jewish community and express his love for the residents of Hebron and Kiryat Arba and although he was not in the best of health, he made such a memorable evening.”
Those good vibes can be seen in the video as people dance in the square while singing along to the familiar melodies now ubiquitous in the Jewish world. Unfortunately while the audio quality is good, the video cuts out in several places and is dark at parts.
Nevertheless, it’s a hidden gem as far as Arnon is concerned. After the discovery in his parent’s home, he had the tape digitized and posted on the internet.
In the middle of the concert Shlomo Carlebach felt fatigued and turned the microphone over to long-time musical companion Chaim David Sarachik. Chaim David went on to record many popular songs of his own. He spoke to the Jewish Press from his home in Jerusalem and fondly remembered the evening in Hebron. Chaim Dovid performed his now classic Seven Shepherds song which references the Patriarchs who are buried in the Tomb of Machpela. He also sadly noted his mentor’s passing only months later.
Shlomo Carlebach spent a Shabbat in Hebron at the home of Noam Arnon in the early 1990s and led a memorable Friday night service at the Tomb of Machpela. Ever since the visit, the “Carlebach minyan” has continued, every Friday night although today in a limited fashion due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Rabbi Hochbaum called the inspirational Kabbalat Shabbat service “like a great wedding” that resulted from Reb Shlomo’s visit.
“Hundreds of people from all over come and dance and sing at this special minyan,” Arnon said, noting that it was here that several of the now standard Carlebach melodies for Kabbalat Shabbat were instituted.
Arnon is known mainly for his advocacy of the city he has called home for most of his adult life, authoring several books on its history. He also had the rare opportunity to enter and explore inside the Cave of Machpela as part of a small team in 1981. He serves as prayer leader for the Carlebach minyan but credits Rabbi Hochbaum as being the driving inspiration.
Rabbi Hochbaum met Shlomo Carlebach in his college days. It was at Shlomo’s synagogue in New York where he introduced Rabbi Hochbaum to the woman who would become his wife. Shlomo became a mentor to him and later ordained him with semicha, or rabbinical ordination. Rabbi Hiochbaum was the last person to obtain rabbinical s ordination from Shlomo Carlebach before his untimely passing.
“That Shabbat in Hebron in the early 1990s gave birth the whole Carlebach minyan phenomenon in Israel,” Hochbaum told the Jewish Press. It was one of the few minyanim that started in Shlomo’s lifetime besides the Carlebach shul in New York, Moshav Mevo Modiin and the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco he explained.
Today the “Carlebach nusach” can be found in synagogues around the world, especially for Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat. “Shlomo’s uplifting, soulful melodies have inspired a more spiritual and interactive service,” Hochbaum added.
“Shlomo used to say, when one speaks, someone may agree or disagree with what you’re saying, they may understand your point or not. But when you sing, it creates unity,” Rabbi Hochbaum said, quoting his mentor.
During Friday night’s service, in addition to the melodies, Rabbi Hochbaum shares a short sermon based on Rabbi Carlebach’s teachings.
“Before coronavirus, Noam and I were joined by hundreds for services including a mix of IDF soldiers, hasidim, mechina academy students, hesder yeshiva soldiers, and anyone else who came to Hebron for Shabbat,” he explained.
“It was very special to see every type of person from a policeman to a hasidic student dancing and singing together. Reb Shlomo’s visit left an indelible impression on the people here and his melodies continue to inspire and resonate in the Maarat HaMachpela (Tomb of the Patriarchs)” he said.
The full concert: