AJ Music Festival 2009

[Archived from March 20, 2009]

[by Phyllis Shaikun]

This year’s Adath Jeshurun Music Festival on Thursday, March 5, could have been dubbed the “Neshama Carlebach Special” as the 30-something chanteuse and her musical entourage literally took over the evening’s program and did a fine job of it.

Although her jazzy singing style wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, audience members received more than their money’s worth just hearing the incredible talents of her producer, keyboardist David Morgan, drummer Mark Ambrosino and bass player, David Richards.

Carlebach, daughter of the late Orthodox rabbi, composer and singer, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, has taken on the mission of sharing her father’s musical legacy with the world. She performs many of his religious-themed songs at some 100 concerts per year in the U.S. and abroad. Throughout the evening she thanked those in attendance for helping her to fulfill her dream of bringing his music to the masses.

The program began with the Community Junior Choir, all appropriately attired for the holiday, singing three peppy Purim songs including “Hey-Man!” a Purim reggae, the traditional “Chag Purim” and the very amusing “Don’t pester Esther,” which elicited many giggles from the pint-sized performers. Surprisingly, they even pulled off pronouncing King Ahasuerus’ name properly so it could rhyme with the rest. They were accompanied by Deb Amchin.

Then Carlebach took to the stage and immediately asked for the lights to be dimmed, which warmed things up and gave the large room an intimate, jazz club feel. “When you find yourself going in opposite directions,” said Carlebach as she introduced her first number, “Return Again,” the Kabbalah says you need to “close your eyes and visualize where you want to be and you’re already there. You just need to stop and choose to return to the land of your soul – even for just five minutes.”

She again ingratiated herself to the audience with a spirited “Esa Einai,” a portion of Psalm 12, “I will lift my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come?  The source of my help is God, creator of heaven and earth.” The song prays for peace on our borders and tranquility in our world.

She kept the peace theme going with “Y’hi Shalom,” a song written by her father about peace between friends. He told her you could tell the value of a friendship by how you relate to another person after an argument. (You can become estranged; you can make peace but the other looks for ways to retaliate or you both decide it wasn’t worth arguing in the first place!)

A musical tribute to New Orleans, “Ata B’chartanu,” boldly ended the first half of the festival. The musicians played the soulful Louisiana jazz with such genuine sound and precision that I thought one very young lady was going to bounce herself right off her seat. When the kids get it, you know you’ve really accomplished something.

Following a brief intermission, Cantor Lipp announced that Arielle Kruger, a teen member of Adath Jeshurun, was the winner of the Festival’s video contest. She received a cash prize, and her film, which featured music by Neshama Carlebach, was screened for the audience.

The Adult Community Choir followed with a lovely rendition of “Mizmor l’David” (Psalm 29) and Cantor Lipp chanted “Adom Olam” in a version that actually made the tune a top-tapper. Together he and Carleabch sang a touching rendition of “Eishet Chayil” before Cantor Sharon Hordes chanted “Even Ma’asu.” She was later joined by Carlebach and Cantor Lipp for “Barchenu Avinu.” The choir then returned to sing V’Shamru and Am Yisrael Chai accompanied by Carlebach and much of the audience as well.

Carlebach’s tearful eulogy to her father left a lasting impression. The two were very close and she became emotional while describing the last time they got together for a visit. He was leaving town, she didn’t want him to go, and was concerned she would never see him again. He died shortly thereafter. His legacy, however, lives on in the lyrics of her song: “Put your hands on me and bless me. Lay your hands on me my friend. Bless me ‘til we meet again. May the road I travel bring me back to you.”

A dessert reception capped off a really fine evening.

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