‘Creating Balance’ with Neshama Carlebach

Neshama Carlebach will serve as artist in residence at Nishmah’s “Creating Balance” Feb. 10-11.


The sound of music will grace Nishmah’s Shabbat retreat for women-specifically, the music of internationally acclaimed singer Neshama Carlebach, who will serve as artist in residence at “Creating Balance,” a two-day event set for Feb. 10-11 at the Pere Marquette Lodge and Conference Center.

“This retreat will be a time for women to come together, to find balance in each other’s presence,” Carlebach said in a phone interview from her home in New York City. “My experience has been that when women come together with all their strength and dignity, they empower each other. I look forward to being there.” Retreat co-chairs Rebecca Brown and Shelley Dean head a committee of 30 St. Louis women-all from different affiliations-who are planning the event.

The daughter of the late Shlomo Carlebach (also known as Reb Shlomo and ‘The Singing Rabbi’), Neshama Carlebach continues her father’s legacy, singing many of the songs he wrote, songs that reflect his spirituality, songs said to have changed the face of Jewish music.

Though Carlebach will appear at the Nishmah retreat solo, she and her band often perform with the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir, based in the Bronx. Their collaborative recording “Higher & Higher” (Sojourn Records/Sony), released in 2009, was an official entrant in the 2011 Grammy Awards, one of just 40 chosen from more than 200,000 songs. The recording extols life-and living to the fullest. (Listen at www.neshamacarlebach.com.)

Carlebach, 37, is married to Steven Katchen, a restaurateur. They have two sons, Rafael, 5, and Micah, 16 months. She performs in more than 100 shows a year and also makes appearances at special events for audiences large and small. Carlebach made time recently to talk about her life and her music.

Your work is known all over the world. To what do you attribute that?

It’s amazing that we have had the success we have had-I attribute it to the genuine nature of the message, a message that resonates with everyone. The music is true, simple, melodious, harmonic-it’s perfect.

You sing a lot of your father’s music. Why did he sing?

He sang to heal the world. I sing for the same reason. Music is the language of the soul.

Can you elaborate on that?

When words betray us, music is what gives over our truth, especially in hard times like now. Still, I believe we are on the verge of some sort of global awakening. People are ready for a shift, and what I am praying for when I sing is that we can have this awakening. I feel privileged that my music may be part of that shift.

How so?

When people experience music in the moment, they can have a spiritual transformation, a realization that we are not alone, that there is a higher power-and that we can do anything in this world.

How does that translate to an audience member attending a concert?

We can see that the person standing beside us is beautiful, that it doesn’t matter if we know them or not, or if they are from another part of the world. If we had a judgment about that person, this is about letting it go. I know it sounds complicated, but it all is integrated in our work.

How long have you been singing?

I started when I was 5, started dancing, singing and acting. I started singing professionally 30 days after my father died in 1994. I was in the deepest place of mourning and grief-he died suddenly-but people were asking for him, and I couldn’t let his message die.

Did that feel like the right thing to do?

I hoped I was doing right thing, though we had never talked about it, about what I would do when he died. I hoped that he would be proud, and now I am sure that he is.

So now you are a Jewish woman hailed for singing with a Baptist choir. When did you meet the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir?

We met six years ago on Martin Luther King Day. We were both singing at an event, and we collaborated. It was magical, beautiful. It wasn’t something I decided to do or dreamed up-meeting them was a blessing.

Do you have much in common?

We have nothing in common on some levels and everything in common on another.

I connect with the people in the choir on a personal level. Our singing together feels like we are family, feels like God intended it, and that shows in our work.

How so?

Our message of unity comes so organically, so naturally. Our music is an example of what can happen if we give each other a chance.

The choir has said they see their music as a salve for some of the suffering they see throughout the world. Do you agree?

My father always said we laugh with one side of our hearts and cry with the other. We all suffer-but music that touches you allows you to laugh and to cry. That’s good! In an audience of 10,000 people, some will be joyous and some will be broken, but in the moment, we all can be one. That’s the salve, the cure.

What will you sing at the “Creating Balance” retreat?

I have a plan in place, but one of my gifts is to see what an audience is needing and feeling, and my program ultimately will be dictated by that energy.