Gospel Choir in Tow, a Soul Sister Carries Reb Shlomo's Tunes Home

Shlomo Carlebach - who died in 1994 but whose tunes are still mainstays of services in Jewish communities worldwide - was very much in favor of singing to people of different faiths, his daughter maintains.

Fans of famed composer and singer Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach may wonder why his daughter Neshama is touring Israel backed up by a Baptist choir, but the singer says she is in a way following in her father's footsteps.

"In 1958, on my father's very first record, 'Haneshama Lach,' all the background singers were the best brothers from the Baptist choir from the church down the street that he used to visit all the time," she told Anglo File this week, a few days before she and seven members of Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir gave their Israel debut last night.

Shlomo Carlebach - who died in 1994 but whose tunes are still mainstays of services in Jewish communities worldwide - was very much in favor of singing to people of different faiths, his daughter maintains. "He visited churches constantly. He would say to me, 'Why do you think I call everyone brother?'"

About five years ago, Neshama - who grew up in Toronto and today lives in New York - met the choir at a Martin Luther King Day ceremony at synagogue she attends in the Bronx, where she was also invited to perform.

"I went into their space to rehearse with them, and when I walked in they were already singing 'L'ma'an Achai,'" she recalled, referring to one of her father's most recognizable melodies. "They already knew that song. They knew all the words. They had no idea who my father was, they had no idea who I was. So we collaborated on two songs and it was a very magical connection between us."

In 2009, Carlebach and the choir released "Higher and Higher," a record with gospel-like renditions of some her father's classics and started touring across the world. Carlebach is still spellbound by the experience of singing her father's songs with the 30-odd members of the Bronx-based choir. She mentioned proudly that producer and drummer Mark Ambrosino has worked with greats such as Stevie Wonder, Elton John, with Ray Charles and considers the singers around Reverend Roger Hambrick to be the among the greatest she has ever heard.

"They believe in unity, they believe in God, they are great lovers of the Jewish people, and of my father's music and full brothers and sisters of mine now," she said, ticking off the choir's pluses. "And I feel that together we create space for people to come together. We all believe that the world should come together, we believe that peace is possible and that it begins with us. So if my voice and their voices can bring some sort of redemption I think it's a beautiful first step." Carlebach, who has embraced her father's legacy while becoming a famed singer in her own right, has been called "the reincarnation of a legend" and "one of the premier female singers in the genre of jazz/pop Jewish soul music."

"My father said that we are all walking toward the same light," said Carlebach, who arrived in Israel last week to participate in the ROI conference of young Jewish innovators to promote "Soul Journey," a charitable project she created a few years ago.

But Carlebach says not everyone in the Orthodox world is comfortable with her collaboration. "I've had people e-mailing me asking me if I've become Christian and how I can do this to my father," she said, adding that she and the choir never sing songs with Christian content. "So I say loud and clear that my connection to my Yiddishkeit has never been stronger. The feeling in my heart of what I'm here to do is that I'm here to spread the light of God, and it's never been stronger."

Carlebach, who is also sponsored by Hillel Israel, will perform today at noon at the Tav Hashmini record store in central Jerusalem and, together with the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir, on Saturday 10:00 P.M. at the Deer Land park in Gush Etzion.