You don't know me but our lives are interconnected. Today I read your enlightened #MeToo responsa and I sighed a breath of relief. I had to reach out to you and share my story of how our lives are connected...
Unfortunately, I never met your father in person, but your cousin, Rabbi Naftali Citron was my Chabad Rabbi when I went to UC Santa Cruz from 1993-1996 as an undergrad. Although my parents were secular Israelis at the time (now more observant BH), they sent me to Chabad Hebrew school from nursery through 7th grade so I could have a Jewish education but I never knew that your father wrote the melodies and songs that we sang! I think every Camp Gan Israel around the world sings "Am Yisrael Chai.".
It wasn't until 2002, however, when I went to an IsraLight Shabbaton in the Catskills, New York that one of the attendees introduced me to your father's heartfelt stories on CD. Those CDs were so touching and moving that they brought me to tears.
Later, when I wanted to share those CDs with my father, I found out that he had been to one of your father's concerts!
When I came back to Seattle, I discovered that my neighborhood shul (in Seward Park, Washington) had a lay-led Carlebach Kabbalat Shabbat break-off minyan. Needless to say, I was a devoted regular! The musical liturgy made a world of difference in the spiritual experience. The melodies lifted up the words to a sublime place where your heart could be open and a connection with the words through song was flowing, deep, and meaningful.
My first job after grad school was as an Acupuncturist on a major cruise ship line. They listed Friday night Jewish services on the itinerary but I went a few times and saw that the guests didn't feel comfortable leading the services and there was no one on board who was qualified to do it. I called my Chabad rabbi in California and he said that under those circumstances, I had his permission and blessing to lead Kabbalat Shabbat services on the cruise ship.
Now this is WHY I am writing you this letter: I had the honor and privilege to lead a Carlebach Kabbalat Shabbat minyan for almost 2 years on cruise ships around the world and is was mammesh a gevalt, as your father would say. I had no training, just my previous attendance of shul in Seattle. But I felt like I was there on shlichut. Although acupuncture got me on board, leading the service was clearly my mission and true purpose for being there. I wrote about it in my book. Here's what I want you to know... Because of your father's melodies, people were brought to tears in my prayer service every single week. I'm not kidding, I could hear them sniffling when I was on the bema (in our case a podium in a movie theater)! After services I had a small Kiddush and I could see the people's bloodshot eyes from crying. People told me that my services made them feel "closer to G-d." Many people told me that the service was better than their rabbis at home. I understand why. Most religious services are automatic, robotic, boring and dry. Your father's tunes tap into a dimension where people feel connection for the first time ever. It brings them out of the void and into an ecstasy that they never knew existed within Judaism! I remember a young man with dreadlocks told me, "for the first time in my life, I am looking forward to services next week." THAT IS THE POWERFUL LEGACY OF YOUR FATHER!!! There are many stories like that and people said on their comment cards that the service was a highlight of their cruise. I also once merited to lead a Carlebach service for a group of ~100 Holocaust survivors. What a high!!!
Because I wanted to experience everything Carlebach, I went to the Moshav that he established in Israel and I spent a lovely Shabbat there. I was hosted by a couple sweet families and got to know members of Soulfarm and the Moshav Band, also great offsprings of your father's inspiration and influence. I also read books about him such as Holy Brother and Lamed Vav.
Over the years, I wanted to share his light with others so that more people could be touched by it. I created these videos and posted them online. One day I was searching for an image of him to put in a video and I came across the disturbing allegations.
I framed this beautiful painting by Sheva Chaya
and on the sides printed Rabbi Zalman Schachter- Shalomi's
translation of Yedid Nefesh
I called up Reb Naftali to speak with him about it and it was clear that it was a very difficult thing to address in the Carlebach shul, where he is now the head rabbi, because while some people were demanding an apology, others were in complete denial. There was no common ground or room for discussion. So avoidance of the matter became the status quo. That is, until your brave and bold publication today.
In addition, I spoke with a local rabbi in South Florida where I live now, Rabbi Intrator, who was your father's right-hand-man, and he claimed to know nothing about the alleged incidents.
Recently after the #MeToo stories started pouring out, people have brought up those matters again, this time with social media, it could not be ignored. I didn't like the way people were villainizing and demonizing your father. It is as if a person could only be a sinner or a saint, as if all the good that a person has accomplished in a lifetime could be erased on the account of their shortcomings/mistakes/flaws. Although I am also a survivor of sexual assault, and I have empathy for the pain and suffering of these women, there was so much anger and hatred and I felt like it was misplaced. I felt like the demands to banish his music was totally unreasonable and unjustified and doesn't solve anything. I tried to state my case/defense but just got bullied, attacked, and ridiculed.
Your father positively impacted countless people during his lifetime and ALSO countless people were positively affected by him AFTER he left this world. That cannot be said about many people. I'm just one person, who never even got to meet him, and yet he touched hundreds if not thousands through me! It's a major ripple effect. Imagine how many others like me never told you their stories! Your father is doing kiruv from heaven through us! Like the Lion King song: He lives in you and he lives in me and everyone he has reached!
Thank you for writing your beautiful and eloquent blog, it was just perfect. I am so glad that you came forward and articulated your sentiments. It was so well-written, balanced and thoughtful and open and loving and caring.
So besides seeing you in concert in Boca Raton, Florida several years ago, and an occasional interaction on Facebook, we have never really met either but I feel like I know you, holy sister. And I want you to know that the bright light of the legacy of your father shines on and lives and on and I would like to propose a beautiful Hawaiian prayer song for healing any and all of the hurt hearts that are out there. Let us sing together and replace the pain with love, IYH ve nomar Amen.
I have yet to visit your father's holy kever but I will make it my mission to make a pilgrimage there on my next visit to pay my respects to the very special man who opened so many hearts and I was blessed to be privy to a very small fraction of it! Thank you & namaste!