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January 27, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 27, 2012 By Jonathan Mark New York Jewish Week After Reb Shlomo Car- lebach's passing in 1994, "Carlebach minyans" have blossomed around the world, driven by the fact that anyone can sing (and daven) along with the music famously recorded by him. But if the music lives on, Reb Shlomo's Torah teachings have suffered a more elusive afterlife. Sing- ing along is one thing, but how can one study along with, or even find, his unrecorded, unpublished teachings that were often casually spoken in situations as ephemeral as they were enchanted? "The good news is that Reb Shlomo was, by far, the most bootlegged Jewish artist of all," says Shlomo Katz, director and editor of the recently created Shlomo Carlebach Legacy Trust. "He was recorded everywhere, constantly--concerts, class- es, conversations. It became clear," says Katz, a musician and teacher in his own right, "that we had to form a central place to house everything, not just for archival purposes but for disseminating and publishing, and for the kovod [honor[ of Reb Shlomo." It's something that Katz, who at 31 never met Reb Shlomo, has been working on informally and now professionally for several years. Reb Shlomo's teachings were mostly unstructured, jazz-like expositions ranging from the Zohar to stories of Moishele the Water Carrier, to the Holy Thieves, improvised without notes, and differing-- By Michae| Elkin Jewish Exponent Can Chelsea Handler's vodka-swigged and swaggered life be the tonic for NBC's less- than-intoxicating ratings? The network seems to think so and has a toast at the ready for her new series set in a bar, Buying a round for Han- dler? Why not; it's easy going down: She's been a major success at nearly every project she's tried. Indeed, Chelsea in the morning--and in the afternoon, evening, late night, too; the actress/comic seems to be everywhere. And that includes late- night cable talk shows and a publishing rampage of best-sellers, including "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me Chelsea"-- and a comedy tour ("Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang") in which sponsor Belvedere vodka got its bang for the buck. Drink up: Now the come- dian in her prime is bringing her talents to the network in prime time with Wednes- day night's "Are You There, Chelsea?" Answer: Yes, and the 36-year-old can be found portraying not the title char- acter but the neo-conservative sister to ayounger Handler in- carnation (Chelsea Newman, portrayed by Laura Prepon), described as "an opinion- ated and unapologetic young woman who lives life to the fullest as a cocktail waitress, friend, daughter, sister and sexually dynamic 'advanced drinker.' " Raising the bar? It's been done before as a comedy The Carlebach bootlegs depending on his evolving scholarship and conscious- ness--from one session to the next. In his endless travels, he would often take at least two suitcaSes, one for clothes, one for a portable library--vol- umes of Ishbitz, Rav Kook, Reb Nachman--a moveable feast that fueled his teachings at the next port of call. The trust, a project ad- ministered by the Carlebach family, has collected some 21,000 hours of Reb Shlomo bootlegs--mostly audiotapes, with about 1,000 hours of vid- eo--according to the trust's website. More than 95 percent of these tapes have yet to be transcribed and processed, says Katz, who is editing the tapes from his home in Neve Daniel, Israel. The gathering and tran- scribing of tapes began, in fits and starts, even before Reb Shlomo's death in 1994. However, the coordination of the project under the trust, based in Jerusalem, began in 2009, says Katz, who is being assisted by about a half-dozen people working on the tapes in various locations. The tapes have already yielded nearly 300 previously unknown or unrecorded nig- gunim, snippets of songs, sung or whistled or strummed on guitar by Reb Shlomo im- promptu in the midst of his teachings. Reb Shlomo can be heard on tape dismissing the quality of some of these off-the- cuff tunes, but to his aficiona- dos they might be comparable to the Beatles' unfinished or unrecorded music that is now appreciated and available on the "Beatles' Anthology." The tapes, adds Katz, are on loan from the individual collections of "the chevra" (Reb Shiomo's students and friends--and who had more?) and are being sonically cleaned up, digitized, tracked and cross-referenced by topic in a database, before being returned to the lenders in digital format or DVD. The project, so far, has yielded a newly published 263- page book, "Evan Shlomo" ("The Rock of Shlomo," its Hebrew title), "The Torah Commentary of RabbiShlomo Carlebach" (the English title, published by Urim Publica- tions and the Carlebach Trust); it's made up of 84 teachings on the first six por- tions of Bereshit (Genesis). At the website, Carlebachlegacy. corn, where one can purchase the book, "all registered chevra" (that means every- body) can sign up to receive free weekly emails containing Reb Shlomo's insights for that Shabbat's Torah reading, and links to the video archive. Though Reb Shlomo is pri- marily known as the foremost composer of Jewish music, and a countercultural icon since his 1960s performances in Greenwich Village and at major folk festivals, he actu- ally came to his musical career relatively late in life, not mak- ing his first recording until 1959 when he was 34. Before that, among the cognoscenti, he was considered a unique master of rabbinic scholar- ship, though this side of him came to be dwarfed by his musical reputation, an imbal- ance that the new project is attempting to correct. "I don't think one can really understand his songs and the davening without the [teach- ings and the] stories," says Rabbi David Silber, founder and dean of the Drisha Insitu- tute. Reb Shlomo's approach represents"a kind of authentic chassidut that focuses on the human being as a broken but holy vessel, emphasizing the challenge of discovering or uncovering the real self who is then able to stand before God and fully empathize with a fellow human being. At the end of the day there is something deeply humanistic and democratic about his ap- proach." Rabbi Silber adds, for Reb Shlomo, "Everything starts with the human condition of brokenness. I suspect that he saw his own role as a consoler of the Jewish people." The teachings collected in the new book, rarely identified by time or place, neverthe- less present something of an autobiographical jigsaw: "I had the privilege of learning in Lakewood [N.J.] with Rav Aaron Kotler," at the famous- ly rigorous Beth Medrash Gevoha, says Reb Shlomo at one point. "In 1946, after the war, Rav Aaron told us that the chief rabbi of Tehran is coming to be with us in the yeshiva for Shabbos .... In Lakewood there's a beauti- ful lake in the middle of the city," and after Shabbat, after midnight, the Iranian rabbi and young Shlomo went for a walk around the lake. Reb Shlomo remembers the chief rabbi saying, "Before I tell you the story, you have to give me a tekias kaf (a binding hand- shake). You have to swear to me that whenever you have a chance to tell this story, you will tell this story .... " At other times, Reb Shlomo speaks of the biblical fami- lies--"Here comes the Heilige Zeide [the Holy Grandfather], Avraham Avinu [Abraham]" as if they were his immedi- ate family, complete with diminutives and familiarity: "Avraham Avinu was the first person in the world who had a son and taught him, 'Itsikl, do you know who God is? You can talk to him." Or, muses Reb Shlomo, speaking of family intima- cies, "If I ask a husband, do you know your wife? 'Yeah, I know her.' Their marriage is on the way out. But then there are people who when you ask them if they know their wife, they say, 'She is so holy, I have no idea who she is.'" When the angels ask Abra- ham where Sarah is, says Reb Shlomo, what they really meant was, "Do you know who she is, do you know how holy your wife is?' Avraham Avinu answers in the holiest way. 'Hineni b'ohel, I haven't the faintest idea who she is, she is hiding in the tent...." Where it is written, "And these are the offspring of Isaac, the son of Abraham; Abraham begot Isaac," a seemingly ordinary verse, Reb Shlomo says the Torah is really telling us "the greatest secret in the world." Abraham is being asked who Isaac is, says Reb Shlomo, and Abra- ham says, "The only thing I can tell you is that I am his father. I have no idea who he is." When Isaac is asked about Have you seen Chelsea lately? backdrop and the very same network won "Cheers" for it. As for Handler, everybody does know her name; indeed, Glamour Magazine named her one of its 2011Women of the Year. Is it all that surprising that Handier be asked to share some trademark sarcastic sheen with the preening pea- cock? After all, her late-night efforts-- such as "Chelsea Lately"--have recently dem- onstrated great demographics for E! TV and, obviously, be- ing a guru of the Millennium Generation is no millstone to hang around a network's neck. "Hanging out" is Handler's handle, one honed through a cavalcade of guest spots on such shows as "Red Eye." No one's crying for her career although there were times when Handler maybe couldn't handle her own status growing up less than prosperous in Livingston, N.J. As she once told W Magazine in an appropriately titled piece, Chelsea Handler, Insult Queen: "We lived in this nice Jewish neighborhood. Every- one had Mercedes and I was going to school in a Pinto." But the backfire of those memories fuels her rou- tines to this day. Poor little risqu girl: The author of " "My Horizontal Life" benefits from a vertically integrated career built on many of those memories, including being raised as a Reform Jew by her Jewish dad and Mormon morn. Mormon? Is Handler being handled by Roseanne's reps? After all, comedian Roseanne Barr made much out of her own childhood surrounded by what she called "Mormon Nazis" in Utah, where her Jewish family tried to give the young Roseanne as much a Jewish sense and sensitivity as possible. Maybe it's no coincidence that when explaining the new NBC series roots, exec producer TomWerner, joining Handler--also exec producer of the NBC series--for an interview, noted that "when we're developing a show, we're always looking for avery clear voice--the voice of Roseanne or the voice of Billy Cosby." Those voices spoke loudly-- and successfully--to Werner, who produced those stars' landmark comedy series. Will Handler land among them? "There's humor to be mined from anything," Han- dler says of the Good Book and the Book of Mormon, which both inspired her best-seller list of bash-style comedy. If Joseph Smith Jr. had met Joseph, son of Jacob ... "My kind of cross-relations is ground for good material," reasons Handler. "If you look at your circum- stance kind of askance and think, OK, there's something a little off here, then, usually you can make a career out of that." And she has done just that. But, with all the success and glamour and glitter, has the onetime self-confessed out- sider come inside? "I have had amazing highs and have had big lows," she concedes. (Well, there was that DUI she writes about in her book.) "But I don't feel like an PAGE 13A Abraham, Isaac says, "I can tell you he is my father, but who he is, is beyond me. It's beyond me!" Says Reb Shlomo, "You know friends, the essence of Yiddishkeit is the beyond-ness of everything, the heavenli- ness of everything. It's always so muchdeeperthanwe think, so much deeper." Reb Shlomo and Reb Zal- man Schachter were the first traveling emissaries sent by the Lubavitcher rebbe to col- lege campuses, and Shlomo worked intimately with the rebbe until a moment in the early 1950s when the rebbe told him, "I can't see you again until you get semicha," rabbinic ordination. Katz tells how the rebbe steered Shlomo to Ray Yitzhak Hutner, a revered scholar, a member of Agudah's Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah (Council of Torah Sages), and an old friend of the rebbe's dating back to their student days in Berlin. Not long after, young Sh- lomo sat in Ray Hutner's home, explaining a page of Gemara. Then the room filled with quiet. Ray Hutner stood up, turned off the light, lit candles, and asked his wife to prepare a seudah (a holy meal), In the candlelight, Ray Hutner placed his hands on Shlomo's head and ordained him. One day in the subway, Reb Shlomo, so in lovewith learn- ing, saw someone playing a guitar and he wondered if he could learn that, too. Jonathan Mark is associate editor at the The New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission. Laura Prepon (1) plays Chelsea, and the real Chelsea (r) portrays buddy Sloan in a new NBC series, 'Are You There, Chelsea?' outsider," albeit "that voice is always kind of there. So there's always timeswhere you think, do I really belong here?" Here--in prime time--is where she belongs, network execs reckon of a star com- bining brains and beauty. But, some have looked at, and then heard, Handler, and puzzled, "What is wrong with this picture?" Even Geoff Wills, an agent who booked Handier early once found himself feeling as if he were watching a Roman epic in which the actors' voices moved out ofsyncwith their lips:"She's i pretty stunning-looking girl, and she talks like a sailor." Her own family isn't im- mune from her salty sallies. Asked why she changed her own NBC series' character name from Shoshana to Sloane, she retorts; "I did that for legal reasons so that my family wasn't able to sue me." Really? "Well, with my family you never know. I don't trust anybody." But can she trust co-star Prepon to play her? "I'm so sick of playing myself," relates Handler, that to have someone normal play her was a revelation. On other casting, maybe what Handler says isn't li- tigious, but it certainly lit up a reporter's eyes. On her father, Seymour, being played by Lenny Clarke: "He doesn't physically look anything like my father, which is probably a favor to America." She does her dad no favors here, either: "We couldn't have somebody actually going to the bathroom in public places without using toilets" on the series. "So we decided to go for the more cleaned-up version of my father." Sexy and seductively sar- castic, Handler cleans up nicely. Now if only that infamous mouth would follow along. But then, if it did, maybe the answer to "Are You There, Chelsea?" would be a ratings' resounding no. Michael Elkin is arts and entertainment editor for the (Philadelphia) Jewish Expo- nent, from which this article was reprinted by permission.