Exhibition | The House of Love and Prayer

Confluence of Time and Place


A study session at the House of Love and Prayer, 1973. Photo courtesy of Yehudit and Reuven Goldfarb.
A study session at the House of Love and Prayer, 1973. Photo courtesy of Yehudit and Reuven Goldfarb.
This diagram provides a visual representation of how the House of Love and Prayer could only have existed at this particular place and time.

Despite the seemingly impossible task of fusing tradition with a Countercultural Hippie movement that bucked convention, the House of Love and Prayer successfully mixed Jewish customs and practices with the Hippie Counterculture in a way that was perhaps only possible in the late 1960s Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.

Aryae Coopersmith, co-founder of the House of Love and Prayer, discusses what drew people to the House and why it was a particular moment in history that …
Source: YouTube

In a sense, the story of the House of Love and Prayer actually begins during the Shoah—the Jewish genocide of WWII—and not in 1968 or even 1949. In immigrating to the United States in 1939 and 1941, respectively, both Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman Schachter escaped the Nazi regime. After arriving in the United States they each wanted to play a role in rebuilding in the United States the decimated European Jewish community. Eventually, the Sixth Lubavitch Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, sent the two of them on a mission to meet Jewish students on college campuses across the United States in order to bring non-Orthodox Jews “back” to Judaism. The Rebbe felt a sense of urgency as he believed that American materialistic culture would destroy the souls of Jews in the same way that the Nazis destroyed the bodies of the Jews. The Rebbe wanted Shlomo and Zalman to meet and engage these Jews before it was too late.[1] Over the next decade Shlomo and Zalman traveled across the United States developing their missionary bonafides.

Meanwhile, with the increase in popularity of the Beatniks and Hippie movements, in the 1950s and 1960s respectively, people from all over the world were arriving in San Francisco. Many of those who came to San Francisco were spiritual seekers and/or individuals looking to liberate themselves from the constraints of post-WWII America, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War American society.

By the time Carlebach came to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1966, for the Berkeley Folk Festival, San Francisco and those living there were open and ready for what he had to offer. In particular, young Jews were open to new pathways of Jewish living. Along with other spiritual teachers and healers of the time, such as Sufi Sam, who frequently visited the House, and the renowned rock band the Grateful Dead, who were based in Haight-Ashbury and, on occasion, with whom Shlomo reportedly jammed, Shlomo was successfully able to tap into the collective energy and desire for spirituality already present among youth, particularly the Jewish youth.

America of the 1960s and 1970s also had another popular trend, primarily taking place in urban settings: the rise of new religious movements. Some of these groups, such as ISKCON (more commonly known as the Hare Krishnas), the Church of Scientology, and Transcendental Meditation, offered the American public religious ideas and forms of religious practice previously unknown to American society. Others served as revitalization movements within established American religious traditions, and were new in organization but not in core religious tenets. The Christian American and Jewish American communities saw many of these revitalization groups within their respective milieus. Though quite different in form and practice from groups like Aish Hatorah, another group that emerged at this time, the House of Love and Prayer should be seen within this historical context as well.[2]

Aryae Coopersmith discusses how the House of Love and Prayer was able to capture the magic of San Francisco in the late 1960s.
Source: YouTube

The House of Love and Prayer could only have taken root in San Francisco in the late 1960s. It emerged at this specific time and place as a direct outgrowth of multiple forces that came together perfectly: the Counterculture movement, Hippies, New Religious Movements, Post-Holocaust American Judaism, a charismatic leader, and the city of San Francisco. This is further reflected by the fact that the House of Love and Prayer fell apart and disbanded by the late 1970s, the same time that the Counterculture movement was waning.

[1] Interview with member of the House of Love and Prayer, April 2017.

[2] Aaron J. Tapper, “The ‘Cult’ of Aish Hatorah: Ba’alei Teshuva and the New Religious Movement Phenomenon,” Jewish Journal of Sociology, 44, Nos. 1-2 (2002) 5-29.