Holy Beggars' Author Replies - Comment - Israel News | Haaretz Daily Newspaper
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    • Aryae Coopersmith
    • 06.09.11 | 09:44 (IDT)

    I appreciate Shefa Siegel's interesting reading of my book. And he provides an intriguing framework for looking at Reb Shlomo’s life – that there is a kind of tug of war to claim his legacy. On the one hand is the right wing portrayal of him as a “reactionary hero” who was “on a mission to return Jewish hippies to ultra-Orthodox Judaism.” On the other hand is “Coopersmith’s call from the left” which says “Not true: Shlomo was one of us!” My response? As Reb Shlomo used to say, “It’s not so simple.” A theme that repeats itself throughout “Holy Beggars” is that the question – of who Shlomo really was – is actually a mystery in many ways and on many levels. The book doesn’t try to answer this mystery from any particular angle. Instead it repeatedly invites the reader ponder the question, in the Preface, and in Chapters 14, 18, 20, 32, and 36. To take just one example: Chapter 18 is called “In Our Own Image.” My wife Wendy and I, in Israel in 2003, are discussing her strong reaction to the mechitza in the shul at Shlomo’s Moshav. At the House of Love and Prayer in the 60s, men and women prayed together. How could Shlomo’s Moshav be so different? Wendy asks. What was Shlomo’s real agenda? A woman there laughs, and delivers the punch line, “Everyone sees Shlomo in their own image.” That is a central message of the book. In that sense I think that Shefa – whose point is that Shlomo’s legacy cannot be claimed by any one viewpoint -- and I, are actually on the same page. There are three other issues where I do think that Shefa misses the point, and therefore clarification is needed. 1) “Coopersmith implies the book will be a tell-all, [but] there are no surprising
revelations about Carlebach’s sexual activity.” I imply nothing of the kind. What I do imply in the Preface, and what Reb Zalman (Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi) implies in the Foreword, is that there was intense opposition from some people on the religious right. This was because Holy Beggars tries to deal in an honest and balanced way with the controversy, which is part of Shlomo’s story, over his behavior with women. In Reb Zalman’s words, the point is to hold “the paradox of his humanity and his holiness.” And as Wendy joked just before publication in April, “Anyone who buys this book for its racy material about Shlomo will be disappointed!” 2) “The book’s greatest surprise is just how few scenes include Shlomo Carlebach. Coopersmith’s recollections are like a slideshow: Shlomo is glimpsed but there is no portrait.” The point that Shefa misses here: the “slideshow” is the portrait! Brief, intense episodes, around the world, with thousands of people – that’s how Shlomo did relationships with most people who knew him, even members of his own family. In Chapter 14, after travelling 3,000 miles to talk with him at a broken time in my life, and getting only a few brief moments, this realization strikes me like lightening. “Shlomo and Aryae don’t do long talks. We do infinite moments.” An historian or biographer might want to aim for a more conventional portrait. As a memoir writer, with my goal of conveying my experience in relating to him, the “slideshow” is a far more precise medium. 3) “There are also places where Coopersmith is simply wrong. He is emphatic that Carlebach never took LSD, telling a friend, ‘… He wasn’t into it.’ [But there is a recording of Shlomo talking with Timothy Leary where] Shlomo told Leary he had tried his acid and it was gewalt, but it did not compare to learning Talmud….. It’s hard to figure how Coopersmith could be unaware of his teacher’s trips.” To my knowledge there weren’t “trips;” there was a trip. The point is that LSD didn’t do anything for him, and he didn’t try it a second time – he truly wasn’t into it. Those of us who were “into it,” myself included, can tell some very funny stories, which didn’t make it into my book, about how naïve Shlomo actually was when it came to the drugs that his followers were taking. All this being said, I do appreciate the thoughtfulness with which Shefa Siegel examines the question of Reb Shlomo’s legacy, and his consideration of my book in that context. And I agree with his conclusion that Shlomo’s story “cannot be remembered by any single fixer or follower. Shlomo Carlebach traveled alone, from the origin to the end of his adventures.”

    from the article: Shlomo Carlebach - rabbi of love or undercover agent of Orthodox Judaism?
    First published 13:34 04.09.11 | Last updated 13:34 04.09.11
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