Exhibition | The House of Love and Prayer
A Brief History of the House of Love and Prayer
BY OREN KROLL-ZELDIN
A RADICAL JEWISH EXPERIMENT
The House of Love and Prayer existed at the nexus between Hippies, Jews, New Religious Movements, and the Countercultural Revolution in San Francisco in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Though a brief moment in San Francisco Jewish history, it illuminates the unique social, cultural, political, and religious forces that merged together to form a robust and particular Jewish expression in the Bay Area, which has continued into the twenty-first century. The House of Love and Prayer no longer exists in physical form today, however those who experienced it continue to live a Jewish life attributed to and rooted in the spirit of the House all over the world. The memories of the House of Love and Prayer continue to live on.
The House of Love and Prayer successfully redefined methods of religious worship while revitalizing Jewish spiritual connections among detached and disaffiliated Jews at a time of great crisis in Jewish and American life. It was a radical Jewish experience that sought to bring lost souls into a meaningful and spiritual Jewish life. The individuals who lived at and built the House of Love and Prayer attempted to infuse greater Jewish spirituality and tradition into everyday experiences for those Hippies who were searching for meaning, offering a uniquely Jewish alternative to the mostly secular Counterculture.
This exhibition and archive is a living testament to the important role the House of Love and Prayer played in shaping contemporary Jewish life in the San Francisco Bay Area.
IN THE BEGINNING
In December 1949, one month before he died, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, had a brief encounter with two twenty-something Jews, Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman Schachter that would change the landscape of Jewish communities for decades. The Chabad leader had a revolutionary idea: to send out emissaries—Jewish missionaries—to college campuses across the United States to bring non-Orthodox Jews “back” to Judaism.
Starting on the campus of Brandeis University, in Waltham, MA, it wasn’t long before Carlebach and Schachter, more commonly referred to as Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman, respectively, made their way to the San Francisco Bay Area. Though they successfully engaged large numbers of young Jews in Jewish life across the United States, in the Bay Area they found a community of individuals seeking a more spiritually rich life. Deeply influenced by the openness of the Beatnik culture of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the Hippie Counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, Shlomo and Zalman encountered a growing movement of people ready to experiment with alternative paths towards religious and spiritual experiences. The young Jews they encountered in San Francisco believed that the world was broken and in need of fixing, an idea similar to their own Hasidic vision of the universe. The two rabbis began visiting the Bay Area more often. They soon realized that San Francisco was the perfect place for Hasidic Jewish tradition to intersect with Hippies and the Countercultural Revolution.
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi discusses his early friendship with Shlomo Carlebach and their first visit to Brandeis University.
THE BERKELEY FOLK FESTIVAL
In 1966, Carlebach, who also became known as “The Singing Rabbi,” played at the Berkeley Folk Festival, where he invited the young people in attendance to join him for Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, that Friday night. With an estimated 800 people showing up to the celebration, Carlebach realized that he was able to reach young Hippies through his music, teaching, and unreserved and sociable personality. Within a short period of time, he gained a following among the Bay Area Jewish Hippies; a small group began to meet regularly for Shabbat prayers and meals at the home of Elia and Miriam Succot in the small town of Forest Knolls, approximately 25 miles north of San Francisco. Shlomo was not always there; when he was, the group was simply too big for the modest home.
Aryae Coopersmith explains how the House of Love and Prayer got its name.
THE FIRST HOUSE
Rooted in the success of these weekly gatherings, Reb Shlomo wanted to open a house in San Francisco where he could engage young Jews in a meaningful Jewish life. He dreamed of creating a place where “when you come, someone loves you; when you leave, someone misses you.” This dream became a reality in April 1968, when Aryae Coopersmith, one of Carlebach’s followers, rented (for $300/month, plus a $50 security deposit) a large two story Georgian architectural house at 347 Arguello Boulevard in San Francisco’s Richmond District. Called the House of Love and Prayer, it quickly blossomed into an important destination for Hippies and spiritual seekers who were intrigued by both the atmosphere of love prevalent in San Francisco’s Countercultural Revolution and Shlomo’s music and attractive Jewish teachings.
A small number of individuals lived in the House, tasked with running the everyday operations. In addition to these individuals, there were dozens of others who lived close by and participated in House activities regularly. Those who had professional jobs dedicated much of their income to ensure that the House could thrive as a Jewish commune.
Shabbat was the main attraction. Hundreds of people would show up each week for the celebrations. Though the House became a free hostel for Hippies, Jews, and anyone looking for a place where they would feel welcome during the week, it was over Shabbat that most stayed on site overnight.
THE SECOND HOUSE
Inspired by Carlebach’s vision, by 1970 members of the House of Love and Prayer attempted to open a House of Love and Prayer yeshiva (seminary), to become a serious place of study and worship. Efforts were focused on raising the necessary funds for a new building to host the yeshiva. Aided by the generosity of three major donors, they were able to put a down payment on a house at 1456 9th Avenue, in San Francisco’s Sunset district. Shortly thereafter, in May 1970, they closed down the first House of Love and Prayer (in May 1970), located on Arguello Boulevard (very close to Golden Gate Park) because it no longer adequately served their needs. The new building, which was purchased in April 1971, became the House of Love and Prayer Yeshiva.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
By the mid-1970s, things started changing culturally, both in San Francisco generally and at the House of Love and Prayer specifically. The House became more traditionally Orthodox and less rooted in the joyous experiences prevalent at the first House, evidenced most prominently by the introduction of a mechitzah (a barrier used to separate men and women during prayer). By the late 1970s even Reb Shlomo began to feel alienated by the practices of those in the House, causing his visits to become even more sporadic. By this same time, many of the Hippies who were originally attracted to the Haight-Ashbury scene had moved away, a phenomenon echoed at the House.
Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman, who was also a part-time spiritual leader of the House, officially parted ways in 1974 over ideological differences. Though they remained close friends, Schachter founded a new Jewish movement, which soon became known as Jewish Renewal. Carlebach, on the other hand, remained wholly committed to Orthodox Judaism and continued to try to get young Jews to be traditionally observant.
In 1974, Schachter’s followers started the Aquarian Minyan in Berkeley; many members of the House joined them in growing this new community. Similarly, in 1976 many of Shlomo’s disciples from the House established a village in Israel called Mevo Modiin (though its official name is Me’or Modiin), which is often referred to as the Carlebach Moshav. In fact, as early as 1969 and continuing into the early 1970s many people from the House had moved to Israel altogether, including Elia and Miriam Succot, founding members of the House. But it was the establishment of Moshav Mevo Modiin that attracted the most people to Israel; it became a Hippie Hassidic haven with Reb Shlomo’s imprint found throughout. Still others from the House moved to different parts of the San Francisco Bay Area to start families or pursue careers.
THE HOUSE’S END
As people moved away, the House could not survive. Alongside the ebb and flow of the Hippie Counterculture, which was waning by this point, the second House of Love and Prayer officially closed its doors in 1978. The House was sold and the books from their library were sent on to Moshav Mevo Modiin.
Yaakov Ariel, “Hasidism in the Age of Aquarius: The House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco, 1967-1977” in Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, Volume 13, No. 2 (2003), 139-165.
Aryae Coopersmith, Holy Beggars: A Journey from Haight Street to Jerusalem (El Granada: One World Lights, 2011).
Chris Carlsson, ed., Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-78 (San Francisco: City Lights Foundation, 2011).
Marc Dollinger, “The Counterculture” in California Jews, eds. Ava F. Kahn and Marc Dollinger (Lebanon: Brandeis University Press, 2003) 154-166.
Aaron J. Hahn Tapper, Judaisms: A Twenty-First-Century Introduction to Jews and Jewish Identities (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016) 158-159. See also, 160-167.
Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010) 168-69.
 Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010) 168-169. Though it was the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who went on to expand Chabad’s reach to locations across the globe, and who guided Carlebach and Schachter for the near future, it was the sixth rebbe who actually birthed this unique form of Jewish missionary work, extraordinary insofar as these emissaries only proselytize to other Jews.
 For more on Jewish Renewal see Aaron J. Hahn Tapper, Judaisms: A Twenty-First-Century Introduction to Jews and Jewish Identities (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016), 158-159 and 160-167.