Pesach of 2001 was a very special year for me. What distinguished this Seder night from all previous Sedarim (pl. Seder) was that the Shlomo Carlebach Haggadah that I was using was edited by none other than yours truly. I have since edited two other Haggadot, but this particular year stays fresh in my memory.
Before I began working on this project, I had been a big Shlomo Carlebach fan, and had even met “the singing rabbi” personally a couple of times in my childhood. I must have been about ten years old when he first stayed at our house during one of his trips to our colorless city (that would be Manchester, England). My father’s close friend was responsible for organizing his performances in Manchester, and asked my father if he could stay overnight at our house – how could you possibly say no to Shlomo Carlebach? Well, anyway, that’s my claim to fame. Shlomo Carlebach stayed at our house when I was a kid.
It’s gotta be said that Shlomo Carlebach’s singing voice is pretty dire – as those of you who are familiar with his music will be able to testify – but his tunes (niggunim) are so uplifting that they leave you soaring in the clouds. It’s other-worldly. All the petty worries and fears that weigh you down on a daily basis are suddenly removed – at that moment, it’s just you and G-d. To this day, I really feel that Carlebach music is therapy for the soul.
So you can imagine my excitement when the Carlebach Haggadah manuscript landed on my desk. Before I began reading it, I knew it would be a success. The idea of relating Rabbi Carlebach’s teachings and stories to the Haggadah and Seder night was ingenious. His insights into the human condition and his profound lessons on the meaning of true freedom raised the Seder night to a whole new level.
A few weeks before the Haggadah went to print, I had to select an excerpt to appear on the back cover. Considering there were hundreds of stories and messages from which to choose, this was not an easy decision. Since food is perpetually on my mind, I eventually opted for Rabbi Carlebach’s interpretation of the words in the Haggadah which translate as “Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat.” The words do have a Michael Jackson feel to them, but nonetheless I felt that this excerpt encapsulated Rabbi Carlebach’s philosophy on life:
Friends, this is our generation. This is you and I, but most of all it’s our children. There’s such a hunger in the world for something beautiful, something holy – a hunger for one good word, one holy word, one message from God. People are hungry for something lofty, glorious. So this is my wish for all of us: Let the hungry people get together – everyone who’s hungry for holiness, friendship, for love – with the people who are hungry to give their children one word from God. Let’s get together! Let’s you and I fix the world!