Neshama Carlebach: My sisters, I hear you

Neshama Carlebach writes:

Sometime in the late 70s, my father was involved in an intervention staged by women who were hurt by him. He came, even knowing the content of the conversation that was to happen. And when they told him that his actions and behavior had hurt them, he cried and said, “Oy this needs such a fixing.” I do believe that the actions, advocacy work and the way he raised his daughters in the last years of his life showed remarkable listening and personal accountability.

I accept the fullness of who my father was, flaws and all. I am angry with him. And I refuse to see his faults as the totality of who he was.

When I talk about my shifting perspective, I believe it must be said that I do not recognize the version of my father that some people describe. To me, he was the kindest, most respectful, most loving person to my friends and me. I myself witnessed him as a deeply passionate supporter of the role of women as leaders. The year my father passed away, he was taken to Jewish court (beit din) by his own synagogue, furious that he had dared to allow me to sing beside him. Before I even knew that it was important, my father was shouting to the world that women must have the place to share their voices and be heard. He was one the first to support Anat Hoffman and the Women of the Wall. He trained and ordained women as rabbis far ahead of any of the recent advances for women we’ve witnessed during the past decade within Modern Orthodoxy. I don’t believe he understood how his voice would change the fabric of women’s prayer, but I believe that he hoped and prayed that the tides would shift.

That he did not live to see all that would come from these acts of radical love brings me great sadness. What might he have witnessed during these past 23 years since his death that could have pushed him to translate his public commitments to women’s equality into choices he made as a person? Who knows the apologies he might have made, if he might have been granted the chance to offer the public acknowledgements so many only called for upon his passing, if only he had been able to give more years to repair the world around him as a man brave enough to ask for forgiveness. I wish he had had that chance, and that he could have been part of the healing he necessitated, a healing he would have been particularly equipped to offer. I would have had the chance to ask my own questions, and perhaps to hear what he would have said in response…

When I was 9 years old, a trusted friend of my father’s, also a rabbi, a fixture in my home, came into my bedroom and molested me. For the child in my heart, who has walked through life in fear since that moment, I thank you all for shifting the tide. Our daughters, our sons, our children, must have a better world. And that, friends, must be our true focus. We must not stop our work, pouring out the music of our souls to rid our children’s worlds of pain, fear, and hunger of body and soul.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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