Chaim Dovid Saracik, 55, would spend his days doing yoga, meditation and a lot of soul searching until the day he met the "Dancing Rebbe." "The world must get to know you," Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach once told him, and since then he has produced over ten albums in the Carlebach Spirit.
He has been coined "Reb Carlebach's Successor," but until he met the "Dancing Rebbe" himself he did not know a thing about Judaism. After overcoming his confusing first encounter with the Rebbe they performed together. Rabbi Carlebach then brought him to Jerusalem; he became a Baal Teshuva and has been living within the walls of Jerusalem ever since.
Oops, right at the start of the interview I made a mistake. "So, what's it like to live in the Jewish quarter of the old city?" I asked.
"I don't like the term 'Jewish Quarter," Chaim Dovid replied, slightly more seriously then his previous calm manner. "There are four Jewish Quarters; the other three are still in exile. I prefer to say I live 'within the walls of Jerusalem.'"
In Chaim Dovid's new album there's a song dedicated to the Holy City of Jerusalem, and the lyrics include all 70 names of the city. "To show the world how precious the city is to Hashem and to Am Yisrael, so precious it was given 70 names."
It is hard to believe that this Zionist from Jerusalem, with his beard, side curls and great love for Jerusalem and Am Yisrael was born and raised in South Africa and knew nothing about these topics until his late 20's.
"I've been playing guitar since age 11, I would play instead of studying. I would play and perform national South African songs. When I was 17, I enlisted in the army. Afterwards at age 19, during the Yom Kippur war I arrived in Israel. I wasn't religious; I was from a totally different world. Somehow, even then I understood how precious the land of Israel is, but I did not yet understand how precious the nation of Israel is, and I knew absolutely nothing about Judaism. In Israel I volunteered as a gardener on kibbutz "Ramat Hakovesh."
After his volunteer work in Israel, he traveled to Europe. There, he spent his days doing yoga and the like. At that point he would dress in a white robe and hat "like the Ben Ish Chai" he remembers, laughing.
One night he happened upon a Reb Carlebach (photo left) concert in Amsterdam. "The hall was full of non-Jews and Jews who were soul-searching and me in my robe and hat. When Reb Shlomo entered, instead of going on stage, he went up to every member of the audience one by one. He gave each person a hug and a kiss and exchanged a few words. I stood in the back overcome with excitement. What kind of Jew is this, I thought, is he a Rabbi or a singer? When he got to me he shook my hand and said, 'Hi, gevald.
'(Wow, in Yiddish.) I didn't understand, but I was embarrassed, all 70 members of the audience looked at me," recalls Chaim Dovid of his first meeting with the man who changed his life.
Chaim Dovid continued traveling, stopping at meditation festivals along the way. "But now without the robe, I changed my style," he says, laughing at his own expense.
In London, a friend gave him a Reb Shlomo cassette, and he began to teach himself to play the songs. "I understood that the songs were written from the depths of the Rebbe's soul. I would sing without understanding the words, but I felt something burning inside of me. I started playing the songs everyday, in place of some of the yoga."
Two months later he saw advertisements for a Reb Carlebach concert in London. Although he was hesitant after his first encounter with the Rebbe, he decided to attend. "I had been feeling sad and confused lately and I thought the Rebbe might have some advice for me."
And so it was. After the concert he approached the Rebbe who told Chaim Dovid to come to his hotel the next day. "When I met with the Rebbe, I didn't know what to say. I saw his guitar and asked if I could play him a song. I played two of his songs that I knew. He looked at me with a big smile and said 'Hey, Dudu are you busy tonight? I have a concert, any chance you'll perform with me?' I was shocked, how could I play a two hour concert when I only knew five of his songs? But he convinced me, he said 'You're an amazing guitarist, you have to come, I can't perform without you.' That was his way, to give compliments and make me feel like I was doing him a favor, and not the other way around." He remembers with excitement. Since that concert, which he played mostly with his hands in the air so the audience would not notice that he did not know most of the songs, he built a strong connection with Reb Carlebach. He would consult with the Rebbe about everything.
Chaim Dovid with Aharon Raz'el
"I understood that yoga works on the body, but not on the soul, a Jewish soul does not need yoga, it needs Torah." Chaim Dovid explains. "Reb Shlomo understood my soul. He was a very deep person and was able to feel every Jew's pain. He himself overcame a lot of trials and pain, which helped him understand the pain of others."
One day Reb Shlomo asked Chaim Dovid if he would like to move to Jerusalem with him, to hear the lectures he would be giving at Mt. Zion. After much consideration he agreed, and he's been living there ever since.
Rabbi Carelbach did not only strengthen him spiritually, but musically as well. "Reb Shlomo insisted that I not only play his songs, but write my own as well. He would tell me 'the world must get to know you, I've already accomplished what I need to accomplish; now you must work on yourself.'"
They call you "Carlebach's Successor" do you agree?
"Wow, what intense words," he blushes modestly. "Reb Carlebach helped me, so I am continuing in his ways. What the Tzaddik says, I follow."
He has written over ten albums since he met the Rebbe, in stores and onstage along with his band "MiVasser Tov" he continues to spread the light of Reb Shlomo with songs full of rhythm and nonstop joy that touch every soul.
"Rabbi Carlebach's smile and love of Am Yisrael changed my life," Chaim Dovid concludes, "it's not enough that it changed my life, I'm trying to pass it on."
Chaim Dovid's CD's