Monday, February 26, 2007

Ariela's Story: A Survivor of Shlomo Carlebach Speaks Out

Note from Vicki Polin:

When I first created The Awareness Center I was inundated by calls from women from all over the country (and the world) who disclosed that they were sexually abused by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach . I also want to mention that these calls came right before his Yahrzeit.

The callers often described the internal pain they felt each year that their synagogues were having a special Carlebach Minyon in his honor. Several women disclosed that they quit being religious, quit going to shul. A few even converted to other faiths as a result of being sexually victimized by Carlebach.

I am from an unaffiliated background. I'll be honest with you, when the calls first started I had never heard of Shlomo Carlebach. I ended up asking various rabbis for background information on him.

I was told that Shlomo Carlebach was an artist . . . a musician. . . someone who was responsible for bring hundreds if not thousands back to Judaism.

Due to the number of neshema's (Jewish souls) he saved it was enough reason for him to deserved to be respected. These same rabbis all acknowledge that Shlomo Carlebach had a little problem with loving women a little too much.

When asked what that meant, I was told "boys will be boys -- you know how musicians are, etc." Basically many were giving him an excuse for practicing clergy sexual abuse (professional sexual misconduct).

Finally one rabbi said something that I believe explains the reason for the volume of calls.

"Vicki, you have to understand some of the facts. Shlomo traveled a great deal, he was a Kiruv worker (Jewish outreach worker). Let's say Shlomo was "with" one woman a week -- times that by forty years. So basically that would mean he would have been with 2,160 women."

"The problem is that Shlomo most likely had a sex addiction. Knowing Shlomo the odds are he was with at least one or two woman a day; that would mean he was with over 14,600 women."

I have no idea if this rabbi statement was correct, yet I do know that over the last five years I've gotten more calls from survivors of Shlomo Carlebach, then any other one alleged or convicted sex offender.

Each and every one of the women who have been sexually violated by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach have a right to have their voices heard. For that reason I am sharing Ariela's story with you. Please note there is no way to verify her words, yet they are consistent with what others have shared.
Ariela's Story: A Survivor of Shlomo Carlebach Speaks Out
© (2007) by Ariela

It was a warm summer afternoon in 1974 and I was out in the back yard playing baseball with my brother when my mom called out, "Phone call, Ariela Hurry! It's a rabbi in New York!"

I raced inside, my heart pounding. A long distance call for me? A rabbi? Wow! Maybe it’s a response to my letter! When I heard a voice say, "Hello, Ariela; this is Shlomo Carlebach," I was filled with immense joy. My letter had not only reached him - a great rabbi, teacher, and musician - but he had read it, and been motivated to pick up the phone and call me, a lonely sixteen-year old searching for spiritual sustenance.

I had felt alone with my religious thoughts and feelings until the day a few weeks before when I had read a full-page interview with Rabbi Carlebach in our local Jewish weekly. I was thrilled to read what Shlomo said about the spiritual hunger of young people. Deeply moved, I felt compelled to write to Rabbi Carlebach and thank him for all he had said in his interview. I told him that I was seeking, and that I had many questions. In my letter I said that I imagined Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and other great spiritual teachers sharing a round-table in Heaven, discussing how best to help humanity. I had felt a little nervous writing that, but since he seemed to have such an open, loving heart I felt encouraged to be completely honest. And now he was telling me how special and wise I was! He asked me to introduce myself to him in person the next time he visited Vancouver. I looked forward to that. Maybe he could be my teacher, and I could come to know the Jewish faith deeply, and live it the way he did.

was planning a concert with At this time, although I had been brought up in a Conservative Synagogue, I was going by myself to the Orthodox synagogue because I hoped there I would find people living Judaism with more ‘kevanah’. I told my peers at this synagogue about Shlomo’s call. The Orthodox shulShlomo in the near future. "But be careful," my friends warned. "Shlomo is renowned for having many special female ‘friends’."

When he came to Vancouver I felt torn. I wanted to go up to him after the concert and tell him I was the ‘special and wise’ person who had sent him the letter; but I didn’t want to be duped by a man who was actually looking to satisfy his lust. So I stayed well back and observed him from afar. Yes, he clearly was hugging and kissing a lot of young women, and it made me uncomfortable. Disappointed, I chose not to say hello.

And so we didn’t meet in person until 1991. After high school I attended a Yeshiva for six months, and then married a non-Jew after my first year of college. I continued my spiritual search but to please my father I tried to raise my three children as Jews. My marriage was very unhappy, and at twenty-five I became a single mother. The week after my oldest child celebrated her Bat Mitzvah, Rabbi Carlebach gave a concert in the very same room in which her Bat Mitzvah had taken place. Invited to attend, I went expecting to enjoy his melodies, sing along, and share in the holy atmosphere he was so gifted in creating. During Shlomo’s concerts it seemed to me as if he broke down the walls between Heaven and earth, and made me feel as if we were singing at God’s throne, together with other beloved souls who loved God too.

Throughout the concert Rabbi Carlebach’s eyes often looked over at me and I knew he had noticed me. After the concert, as people filed past him on their way home, and he hugged them good-bye, he stopped me and asked me if we had met before. I explained that although we had never met, he had phoned me after receiving a letter from me when I was sixteen. "And how is it that we have not stayed in touch all these years?" he asked me.

He told me that we must keep in touch this time, that we needed to talk, and he asked for my phone number. I had not heard any rumors about Shlomo in the years since the last concert I attended. I was still hoping to feel at home in the Jewish community, and still filled with questions. So, hopeful that maybe now I had found my teacher, I gave him my number.

Very late that night, I was awakened by a call. I was stunned to hear Shlomo’s voice, "Could you meet me for breakfast at my hotel in the morning?" he asked. I told him that I had heard rumors about him and women. I told him that I was seeking a place for myself in Judaism, and that I would love to learn from him. I asked him if he understood that I only wanted to meet with him for those reasons, and he said he did.

I felt a lot like I had after my phone call from him seventeen years earlier, and in many ways I was still the same person: lonely, hopeful, yearning for God, eager to learn how best to serve Him, excited to have others to share the journey Home with, and excited to have a spiritual community. So excited I couldn’t sleep

I remember the beautiful sunny morning and the long bus ride to his hotel. When I got there he wasn’t in the lobby, and upon calling his room to let him know I was there, he asked me to come up to his room. Somewhat frightened, but ever hopeful, I went up and he immediately took me in his arms and french-kissed me. I felt disgusted and disappointed, but rather than simply leaving, I begged him to go back down to the lobby restaurant so we could talk over breakfast.

It is very hard in retrospect to admit to my foolish and incredibly naïve behaviour. It seems that my capacity for hope overrode my ability to believe what was happening. From my own past experiences I have learned to blot out parts of the picture that are too painful, and focus on that which is good. Life is so filled with pain that this is a common coping mechanism. I wanted someone to help me feel close to God. I wanted this very badly. And Shlomo was clearly close to God. His sexual impulses were, to my way of thinking, immoral, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have his gifts. He had incredible gifts: to make melodies, to sing, to touch hearts. But Shlomo needed help to overcome his addictions. The real tragedy to my mind is that his world-wide Jewish community didn’t hold him accountable for his sex addictions.

Shlomo went down to the restaurant with me but all his sparkle was gone. He had no words of encouragement or wisdom for me. He seemed tired and lonely; remote. I left disappointed once again.

And then the phone calls started. They were about every few weeks, sometimes more frequent and sometimes less. He called from all over the U.S.A, Israel, and South America. The calls were always past midnight, and roused me from deep sleep. He spoke about his sexual attraction to me, and asked me intimate questions about what I was wearing. He spoke about the exotic places he visited and how he’d like to be there with me. His breathing was heavy and labored. The scenario he described which disturbed me the most was when he talked about taking me naked into the mikvah in his community in Israel.

Why didn’t I get angry or hang up? It was the middle of the night and I was fuzzy-headed. I felt uncertain of my own clarity of mind. He kept telling me how special and incredibly spiritual I was and I wanted to believe him. He said he loved me, and he talked often about our getting married. I was lonely and wanted to believe that it was true: that I was special and wise and therefore able to help him mend his ways. Maybe we could be a wonderful, spiritual couple, I thought. I sent him many long loving letters to New York and to his Moshav in Israel. I always expected him to write back, but he never did. I told him over and over again that I needed him to teach me about Judaism. I told him that I needed to be in love with Judaism the way he was. I told him that after years of searching I still felt that I didn’t belong, and I was on the verge of giving up. I told him I was getting attracted to Christianity and that I was even considering being baptized. He said nothing to dissuade me nor did he ever offer me a teaching about Judaism. In fact, since he often spoke of marriage, we laughed about the idea of a rabbi marrying a Christian woman.

I invited Shlomo to stay with me in my home when he next came to Vancouver to give a concert. I told my children that we might have a rabbi staying with us. But when he came to Vancouver he never called or tried to see me. He avoided me, and didn’t even catch my eye at his concert. Finally I knew his love wasn’t sincere, and something was very wrong. I met another Jewish woman who had received similar calls to mine. I spoke to him about it the next time he called. "You need to make amends before you die. It’s not too late to own up to your problems and get help," I told him. He said he agreed with me; that I was right, he did need to do something before it was too late.

I don’t know if Shlomo made any amends to any of the people he hurt. I don’t know how it stands between him and God today. But I do know that the Jewish community let him down, and let down all those whom he hurt. They enabled his sickness to perpetuate itself because he was never called to account. And because of the blind eye that the Jewish community chooses to cast on Shlomo’s sins they choose to ignore those who were hurt, undermine their pain, and isolate them on the fringes.

I said earlier that because of my own suffering I had learned to blot out the truth and focus only on the good. It is a coping mechanism, but it is not living in the real world. The Jewish family has known tremendous suffering, and maybe they have collectively learned to blot out a truth which hurts, which is that Shlomo sexually exploited women. After much therapy I have learned not to blot out the truth, but to see it and let it guide me to good, healthy choices. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have given Shlomo my phone number, or gone to his hotel room, or taken his calls in the night. I wouldn’t have written him letters or believed him when he spoke of marriage. I would have been safe from harm.

I made appointments to see two rabbis about what Shlomo did: one through my sister because she wanted me to get some healing, and one through a friend for the same reason. One rabbi thought it wasn’t very significant. The other was more sympathetic and told me he wouldn’t attend a Carlebach concert anymore. I wrote about what had happened to me and sent an article to the same local Jewish paper in which I had first read his interview. They didn’t want to publicize my experience. Even a woman I shared with at the synagogue I sometimes attended told me to let it go and concentrate on all the good Shlomo had done.

To this day I am very sad that Shlomo wasn’t compelled to offer me any encouragement in my spiritual quest to find my niche within Judaism. It is often said that he would do anything to save one Jewish soul, but he did nothing to save mine. I have been a practising Christian for the past ten years and one thing that comforts me in my church is that when a minister or priest is caught being abusive, the abuse is brought to light and the abuser is held responsible for what he has done.

Reconciliation is only available to those hurt by Shlomo if Shlomo’s community: the Jewish community, opens their ears to hear the truth. They must find the courage to remove their blinders, and apologize for having needed to believe in Shlomo more than they needed to stand in truth before God.


Blogger Barbara said...

O MY how I related to this story - the late night calls, the avoidance in person, others telling you to let it go, the community minimizing his abuse.

My abuser was a different Jewish man but did the same emotional rape and sexual boundary crossing that results in a "mental molestation."

They SAY they'll get help. They SAY they'll change - but the never do. Thanks to Hashem for the people running this website - who hold these people ACCOUNTABLE!

February 26, 2007 8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

THe following, regarding Carlebach, is from an article entitled, "What to do with Abusive Rabbis: Halachic Considerations" found at

Stop the Music?
In 5719 (1959), R. Moshe Feinstein was asked to rule on the permissibility of playing the music of a certain song writer who was rumored to engage in disreputable behavior. (Teshuvot Iggerot Moshe, Even Ha-Ezer, I, no. 96.) R. Feinstein distinguished between this composer’s early compositions and his later ones. Any music written in his early years when this individual comported
himself appropriately remained permissible; at that time he behaved properly and his later
activities can not retroactively taint his prior achievements. One of the proofs that R. Feinstein brought is from the case of a Torah scroll that was written by a heretic—Jewish law requires that such a scroll be destroyed so as not to perpetuate his name, reputation or achievements.(Hil. Sefer Torah 6:8) However, the law also asserts that a scroll written while that person was a true believer remains valid, even if he later became an apostate.(Pit’hei Teshuvah, Yoreh De’ah 281, no. 2.) Concerning subsequent musical compositions, R. Feinstein stated that even those songs that this person wrote after his “reputation became objectionable” are permissible because music, unlike Torah scrolls, have no intrinsic holiness. Furthermore, the questionable activities had nothing to do with undermining the fundamentals of Jewish belief but rather with casualness with regard to the intermingling of the sexes that were not in keeping with
Orthodox norms. Such a lapse would not render a Torah Scroll he wrote invalid; it would certainly not disqualify his music. R. Feinstein wrote nothing about learning Torah from this individual. However, based on R. Feinstein’s discussion, one might distinguish between the teachings and insights of a heretic before and after his apostacy: the earlier Torah would remain kosher; the latter Torah would be banned.

That was 1959. Since then the allegations about this individual have become more serious and his music has been widely integrated into the prayer services of many
congregations. His music, as well as his stories and teachings, have become a meaningful source of religious inspiration to generations of Jews and has perpetuated his legacy. Alleged victims of this man have expressed hurt and disillusionment over the
community’s embrace of his music and his personality. What would R. Feinstein have said if he were responding to this question today?

February 27, 2007 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally feel there should be a ban on playing any of his music. The reason being everyone gets confused between the old and the new. Can you imagine being a survivor of his and everyone bursting out singing one of his songs? Can you imagine the pain and horror experienced by one of these women?

If the goal is to keep Jews Jewish, we need to listen closely to the voices of those who have been victimized by a serial rapist.

February 27, 2007 3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you defrock a rabbi? I think that's one of the major solutions of what to do with an abusive, sex offending rabbi. I also think the solution is to file both criminal charges and civil suit against him/her and individual or institution that covers up for their criminal behavior.

What does Torah say to do with these kind? Aren't they supposed to be stoned or something?

February 27, 2007 6:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The late night phone calls and the talk of being a "special student" sounds like the m.o. of j Hershy worch as well.

February 27, 2007 7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe there is a Lakewood affiliated kollel in Matawan.

Bruce Jay Schneider, Matawan, NJ
Profession: Dentist; Lic. No. 038756; Cal. No. 22234
Regents Action Date: November 3, 2005
Action: Application to surrender license granted.
Summary: Licensee admitted to the charge of having been convicted of Promoting a Sexual Performance by a Child.

February 27, 2007 7:49 PM  

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