Religion & Beliefs

Building a Bulletproof Vest of Brotherhood

The news of the shooting at the United States Holocaust Museum yesterday reached me as I was en route to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York to rehearse for that evening’s program — Freedom Songs — a celebration … Read More

By / June 11, 2009

The news of the shooting at the United States Holocaust Museum yesterday reached me as I was en route to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York to rehearse for that evening’s program — Freedom Songs — a celebration of the shared African-American and Jewish musical heritage.

I was honored to be sharing the bill with Joshua Nelson, an African-American Jew known as the Jewish Prince of Gospel Music. As my own musical journey had recently led me to a collaboration with the soulful Green Pastures Baptist Choir, led by Reverend Roger Hambrick, I have been humbled by the magic that unfolds each time we perform in public, the combined richness of both spiritual traditions finding a perfect home in the music composed by my late father, the great Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Though I knew that a Jewish site had been targeted by a racist murderer, I was still startled to find a squadron of police cars camped outside the Museum of Jewish Heritage at the scenic tip of Manhattan, overlooking the Statue of Liberty. Vigilant police officers stood outside their vehicles and a Fox News truck was parked nearby…to capture any additional violence by local lunatics, I thought grimly.

Once inside, I learned from museum personnel that a number of school groups had cancelled their trips that day and that the concert might also have cancellations. Shrugging, the arriving musicians began unpacking, setting up and starting to rehearse.  The image of the police cars outside did not leave my eyes, no matter how many times I wished it away. Standing backstage as the auditorium filled up, I heard the news that Stephen Tyrone Johns had died in the line of duty, guarding the United States Holocaust Museum.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself on stage, performing with the talented Joshua Nelson, singing my heart and soul out with the beautiful singers of the Green Pastures Baptist Choir, this group of African-Americans who believe in the music of my father and its power to unite humankind.

"Return again," we sang last night. "Return again. Return to the land of your soul."

Yesterday afternoon, an African-American man died protecting a museum in Washington, DC. built as a monument against racism. Standing on the auditorium stage of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City last night — side by side with my African-American brothers and sisters — I looked beyond the footlights and saw an auditorium filled with men, women and children of all colors and faiths whose combined voices wove a bulletproof vest against hatred.