Rabbi uses music to heal, renew broken relationships

After a childhood of a dry and at times abusive education in New York's yeshiva world of the 1950s, Aryeh Hirschfield felt completely disconnected from Judaism.

He moved to San Francisco in the early 1960s as a young man and explored other spiritual paths.

But for reasons he is still unsure of, Hirschfield decided to fast on Yom Kippur 1973 — the day Egypt attacked Israel. He wandered into famed Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's House of Love and Prayer.

"I saw a bunch of people really singing, very involved. They'd stop in the middle and tell a Chassidic tale or give a teaching from Kabbalah. I found it very real and very connecting," he said.

Inspired by Carlebach's music, Hirschfield began to write his own songs. He has gone on to recording albums, touring and becoming a rabbi himself. He now leads a Portland, Ore., Renewal congregation.

Next weekend, he will return to the Bay Area to lead a concert and workshop in Berkeley, both sponsored by the Kehilla Community Synagogue.

As usual, Hirschfield will encourage his audience to sing along.

"When a whole group of people is really singing, it's a very prayerful, uplifting, joyous experience."

Hirschfield has three recordings. A fourth, "Batee L'ganee," is due out in the fall.

He describes his musical style as a blend of "Chassidic music and American folk — with a lot of Spanish influence."

His music is also infused with a sense of purpose.

While on a European tour in 1992, for example, Hirschfield recorded a live album called "Let the Healing Begin."

His attitude about healing applied even to the Germans he met.

"There was a sense of wanting to look at their history, their desire not to repeat that history," he recalled.

Hirschfield has led several peace-oriented trips to Israel for ALEPH, the Renewal movement's umbrella organization.

On the trips to Israel, his itinerary has included visiting Open House in Ramle. This center for reconciliation houses a day-care center for Arab children and a camp for Arab and Jewish youth.

"I've heard it said that peace may not come from the political process; it may come from individuals' desire to create peace," Hirschfield said.

He will perform at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15 at Chochmat HaLev, 2525 Eighth St. No. 13, Berkeley. Tickets cost $15.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16, he will lead a workshop, "Hishtapcut Halev — Outpouring of the Heart" on integrating traditional Jewish prayer with personal prayers.

The workshop will takes place at a private home at 861 Arlington Ave., Berkeley. The cost is $25 to $45, including vegetarian lunch. Reservations are required.

For information on the concert or workshop, call (510) 528-7016.