We invited people in the Tikkun community to share some memories of their personal connections to Zalman. We cannot publish them all—so many hundreds of people pouring out their wonderful experiences and wishing to honor this great Tzaddik! So we’ve selected a representative sample.
I have so many memories myself I didn’t mention in the earlier piece I sent out. One that comes to mind as I read the Israeli press describing mobs of Israelis roaming the streets of Israeli towns and beating up Israeli Palestinians that they come upon, while the Israeli army blows up homes of “suspected terrorists” though they have no plausible connection with the horrible murder committed against 3 Israeli youth last week, and reading about the Palestinian youth murdered by Israeli settlers (according to the latest information from the Israeli investigators of that crime).
Zalman and I spent many months in Jerusalem some twenty years ago, and we were talking about the distorting influence on young Israelis of having to serve in the IDF for 3 years before they could go on to college or university. The activities of enforcing the Occupation, often brutal, always discriminatory and implicit racist, generate in these young people the need to justify to themselves the activities they’ve been assigned to do, and this in turn leads many of them to accept either racist or at least fearful stories of who the Palestinian people really are, ideas which then they bring back with them into their lives as citizens after their army service is finished (well, not really finished, because most have to serve a month each year in the reserves, mee’lu’eem, till they are forty).
So Zalman proposed that we try to create a mikvah ceremony for young people finishing their active duty at which we would both immerse them in the healing waters of mikvah and simultaneously urge them to leave behind the ethos of domination (what I subsequently began to describe as “the Right hand of God) and instead embrace the loving values of Torah, including the notion that vengeance is forbidden and that Jews are commanded to Love the Other (which in the case of Israel today means Love Palestinians—rather than oppress them and treat them in ways THEY experience as oppressive). We proposed this to the Rabin government as something that we’d need government cooperation to do, but Rabin had not yet made his turn toward recognizing the humanity of the Palestinians though he was formally trying to make peace with them, so our proposal was never accepted. Here, as in so many areas, Zalman’s creative genius to make use of Judaism’s treasure-trove of spiritual wisdom, was not fully appreciated.
May his memory be always a blessing!
Rabbi Michael Lerner
P.S. If you want Tikkun to continue, please join our Network of Spiritual Progressives as a dues-paying member, or make a tax-deductible contribution to Tikkun (online at www.tikkun.org or with check to Tikkun, 2342 Shattuck Ave, #1200, Berkeley, Ca. 94708
REPRESENTATIVE RESPONSES TO ZALMAN’S DEATH with apologies to the hundreds of people who sent responses that we were unable to include in this representative sample of what we received:
From Corey Fischer, a founding actor of the Travelling Jewish Theatre:
I’m heart broken by the news, just now, that Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the originator of what’s come to be known as the Jewish Renewal Movement, died today. I met him about 40 years ago as a lost 30 year old actor who had a vague impulse to make theatre from Jewish sources. His blessings and encouragement are what led me to join with Naomi Newman and Albert Greenberg to start Traveling Jewish Theatre three years later. He was, among many other things, a living link to the best parts of the Jewish mystical tradition that informed the medieval kaballists, the hasidim, and all sorts of Jewish poets, musicians and rebels. He changed American Jewish Culture, but his influence, like that of R’ Abraham Joshua Heschel, extended way beyond the Jewish world. (His legendary meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is recounted in Roger Kamenetz’ wonderful book, The Jew in the Lotus). R’Zalman’s departure leaves an unfillable void behind. His like will not be seen again, but his memory, his abiding presence in our hearts will be a blessing forever.
As you may have heard by now, one of the great spiritual luminaries of our time, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi peacefully passed away on July 3. There have been countless obits about him since then. Here are three of them. From Dennis Shuman in Gainesville, Florida:
First, a generic one from a Boulder newspaper where he lived:
For me, two of his greatest students are the nationally renowned rabbis, Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Michael Lerner, because of their willingness to combine the politics of this real world with their spirituality and walk their talk, even putting their own physical welfare on the line. In fact, to them, spirituality and politics are inseparable following the dictate of tikkun olam, that our spiritual work is indeed “healing the world”.
By Rabbi Waskow:
By Rabbi Lerner:
Reb Zalman was one of the major influences in my life. I spent many decades dedicating my life to following his teachings under his tutorship. It was under his direction that I renewed my relationship with Judaism, received my Jewish divorce from my first wife, traveled to Israel to study and then met Renée on a street corner in Jerusalem. I could not bring myself to return to Philadelphia (where Reb Zalman and I lived before my trip to Israel) after Renee and I dedicated our lives to each other, since I felt it was no place to raise a family. However, living in Gainesville afforded me the opportunity to bring him here and introduce him to many who have benefitted from that connection. Two of those connections that have resulted in immeasurable fruits for all of us are with Rabbi Shaya Isenberg (who subsequently received his ordination under Reb Zalman) and with (Rabbi) Mickey Singer who greatly helped Reb Zalman in his dissemination of his light.
Rest in peace, Reb Zalman.
From Libby Bottero:
Like many of us in the SF Bay Area at the time, I learned a great deal from Reb Shlomo, z”l, and Reb Zalman, z”l. One of the lessons I remember from Zalman is the following. One time, maybe around 1973 or so, my close friend from the House of Love and Prayer, Elana Rappaport, was living with Reb Zalman in Winnipeg, and they were planning to be married. They invited me for Pesach, and I came with my young son Asher who was about 4 years old. I only had enough money for a one-way ticket but came anyway. When Pesach was over and it was time to leave, I had planned to hitch-hike home. However, there was still a lot of snow on the ground in Winnipeg. So Zalman bought us a train ticket home. Now I knew for a fact that he really couldn’t afford the ticket at that time, but he did it anyway because it was the right thing to do, showing hospitality to guests and ensuring our safety. Naturally, I said I would pay him back within a few months.
Zalman then told me, “No, here is how it works. From now on whenever you meet someone who is traveller on the road, it now becomes your obligation to help the next person on their journey. That is how you can pay back because the Rebono shel Olam works through all of us.” So from them on, that’s what I did whenever I could, and each time I told the person the same message and the teaching I learned from Zalman to pass it on. People reported back to me sometimes that they did indeed have the opportunity to follow through on passing along this mitzvah. Years later, I told Zalman how his mitzvah had such a ripple effect in the world — that because of his good deed to help us when he could least afford it, many many more were helped along the way. I saw his happiness, not for himself, but for the realization that a simple mitzvah had been multiplied, the joy in doing holy work. Now that’s a rebbe.
From Matthew Fox
Dear Michael and Michael and other friends of Reb Zalcman,
My heart goes out to all of you in your (our) loss at his parting. But what a wave he left behind! He was a great tree and we are the branches, may we all bear Good Fruit!
A couple of years ago I had Shabbat at his home with Eve and Susan Evans, a graduate of our D Min program who lived in Boulder and who attended his graveside ceremony today, shoveling two shovels of dirt, one for me, one for her. Zalman took me to his basement where he was converting all his taped talks to cd’s and told me I must do the same for my legacy. He was always looking ahead!
The very last mass I celebrated as a catholic priest was at the Jewish retreat center in upstate NY where I was conducting a week workshop with Arthur Waskow. Zalmanshowed up on the last day and said, “we must end with a ritual. What ritual I asked?” ” A Mass” he said. I was startled. We took a poll–only one older man did not want to go ahead. So we developed a mass on the theme of “Song of Songs,” we all picked a partner and strolled down the aisle under a canopy and much more. Ten days later I got the pink slip from the Vatican. They never knew my last mass was concelebrating with 12 rabbis (half at least were women).
He was, as has been said, so deeply ecumenical. He could say the whole mass IN LATIN. I heard him do it. Two years ago he and Buddhist Reggie Ray and I did a day of dialog (and spiritual practices) together at Naropa Univ in Boulder and it was a beautiful exchange full of multiple wisdoms. He was as usual eloquent.
Several years ago when my mom was living in a retirement home in Boulder Reb Zalcman and I dropped in to see her. He asked HER for her blessing! Then he gave her his.
The day Zalman died I was at a Sundance near Goldendale, Wa. where I danced a full day on Wed with the other sundancers. It was a great privilege. There was a rabbi in attendance also who was ordained by Zalman. He and I and two others went to Buck Ghosthorse’s grave near the sacred circle dance space the night before to pay our respects (he was founder of the dance and a friend of mine for over 20 years who was on my faculty at Holy Names College) and I invited David to sing Hebrew songs there; then offered my own prayers. Rabbi David also led us in a jumping ritual to the new moon! All this so much in the spirit of Zalman, a spirit of the future, a spirit of deep ecumenism and interfaith ane practice. What better place to be on the day of his death than sundancing.
Reb Zalman lives on in all his students and there are SO MANY. Every place I go I seem to meet them/you. The Jewish Renewal movement, which I often called the “creation spirituality movement of Judaism,” is everywhere I go. You are his legacy; you are his life’s work of genius and courage and Spirit at work and play. His love of ritual was so deep and, I think, not only inspired and grounded him but gave him the courage to create and let go.
I hope you all know that you carry his legacy deeply. Just last Saturday, the day before I left for the sundance, we had a Cosmic Mass at Grace Cathedral and invited rabbi Lynn to participate; on the ride home she told us of her spiritual relationship to Reb Zalmanamong other things and how much she owed him.
May we all carry on in his spirit. Thank you to him; thank you to you all,
From Michael Ziegler, who received smicha from Reb Zalman:
The last time I saw R. Zalman was sitting with psychologist and pioneer of psychadelic research Ralph Metzner, in Boulder last year.
I am inspired that at 89 he was still an intrepid explorer in the direct experience of Creation, the Creator, the sacred and all the magnificent manifestations of this life. I think one of his greatest contributions, and one that he is least appreciated for, was his translation of the Hebrew Psalms and the Jewish daily prayers.
If you put them side by side with the original Hebrew you can understand how deeply he reformatted the entire 3,000 year Jewish mytho-poetic experience into a vernacular that sings in this time. This material is his personal devotional download.
I met Zalman in 1974 in Berkeley at High Holiday Services- which he conducted entirely without any paper or prayer book, and totally as a direct felt experience through group process, singing, prayer and meditation.
One needs to appreciate that the liturgy of the holiday takes up several books, and the traditional ritual is fixated on reading each and every one of those prayers. With that in mind you can understand how paradigm shifting his vision was from the very start for an Orthodox Rabbi and how deep his influence has been. Especially in regard to prayer and what he called ‘davenology’, the tool box for a devotional life, he has rocked the entire Jewish world, especially in the Diaspora- forever. This 10 day prayer process was followed by a panel he organized and moderated called the “Torah and the Dharma” which other spiritual teachers (I wish I could remember who all was there!) who together tried to lay out a vision of deep ecumenism for a post denominational world.
I think that discussion was the most powerful testimony I had ever heard in regard to the possibilities of a multi-verse of shared and respectful universal participation in the sacred. This conversation provided me with an inspiration to imagine a world of shared participation and appreciation in the Mystery in all its forms of worship and practice and is what I have tried to live into in this life.
I think davenology, the unfolding creativity into the direct experience of a deeply ecumenical vision of the sacred through meditation, poetry and music was certainly, for me, one of the most potent pieces of Reb Zalman’s teachings.
He was very clear that the crux paradigm shifting moment that opened up his bigger vision in all its extraordinary forms- was his interface with the psychedelic exploration community from Harvard, of which Ralph Metzner was such a big part. May the shared heart work in the prayer field continue to expand
From Barbara Markovits:
When I was sixteen in Winnipeg half a century ago, I walked into Reb Zalman’s Hillel House, and didn’t leave for five years. I was fortunate to be part of a group of like-minded students who spent a lot of informal time with him as he intuited the beginnings of B’nai Or, which morphed, with rising feminist consciousness, into P’nai Or. Shabbat afternoons we gathered in his peaceful study, earnestly trying to meditate and realizing slowly how hard it was to pray. He had endless time, patience and compassion for adolescent questions and anxieties.
I set up a prayer corner in my bedroom. My parents looked alarmed and told each other I was going through a phase.
One Rosh Hashonah some of us abandoned our boring Conservative services and headed across town to Reb Zalman’s Lubavicher shul. We crowded into the steamy little shul, perversely returning to a shtetl atmosphere – boys downstairs, girls upstairs – all prayers in Hebrew with Yiddish translation. At one point Reb Zalman started davening with melodies which were not at all traditional but vaguely familiar. It took a few minutes to realize that he was chanting tunes from Mary Poppins. Shocking – we were easily shocked – then liberating — my first introduction to Jewish liturgy with a wild zap of joy. Lovingkindness, generosity, transformational prayer, wonder and deep rejoicing – he had me hooked for life.
My first and best spiritual teacher, I continue to be grateful for the gift of your presence in my life and in the world. I weep with your dear ones – their loss is huge because the gift was huge. May you find deep peace under the sheltering wings of Shekhina.
From Rabbi Richard Levy Hebrew Union College
Like everyone who knew him and learned from him, I was very, very saddened to hear of Zalman’s death–thank you for sharing this mournful news. When he came to HUC in Cincinnati while I was a rabbinic student, among the things I most remember him teaching us was how to davven in English, something that I have tried to pass on to others and that became a major feature of the Westwood Free Minyan in Los Angeles in the 1970’s and ’80’s, and that I now again encourage as a teacher at HUC in Los Angeles. The theology underlying that practice–that English has a kedushah that can enable and deepen prayer to God (in keeping with the rabbinic notion that Torah was given in all the 70 languages of the world) is profound, and Zalman taught it by practice, not didactically. My next memory of him was of a summer at the National Hillel Summer Institute at Camp B’nai B’rith in Pennsylvania, when he led all of us on a kind of conga line through the camp singing Adon Olam indefatigably, ecstatically, over and over and over again–I believe it was on Motzaei Shabbat, and it was memorable–to the Kadosh Baruch Hu, I would like to believe, as well as to us. Finally I had the z’chut of being on a bet din with him in the ordinations of Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man and Rabbi Alvin Mars–in the days before the CCAR outlawed the practice of private ordination. It is lovely that Zalman’s desire to ordain as many rabbis as possible is now being carried out by Hebrew College and the two branches of the Academy for Jewish Religion, as well as by the traditional seminaries in America. I hope we are all worthy of the expansion of the rabbinate that he envisioned. Zecher tzadik livracha, indeed.
From Bernie Glassman founder of Zen Peacekeepers
My Rebbe Has Passed Away! Two months after my Zen teacher, Taizan Maezumi Roshi, died in 1995, I drove over to see Zalman at the Jewish retreat center of Eilat Chayim, in Accord, New York, where he was teaching for a week. I told him of my strong feelings that one should always have a teacher, and since Maezumi Roshi had passed I wondered if he would now become my teacher. He agreed, adding the condition that I serve as his Zen teacher.
Indeed, often when I would visit him and his wife, Eve (both our wives’ names are Eve), he would greet me at the door with a grin and an invitation: “Hit me with a koan!” He felt that koans would be an excellent study for rabbis and encouraged me to help develop a Jewish koan curriculum.
On that same visit in 1995 I told him I’d like to do a bearing witness retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau and asked for his advice. He was completely in favor of it, said it was something he’d wished to do himself, especially as his family had come from the town of Oświęcim, where the camps were located. He also added that it was most important to do the retreat for the benefit of the souls that are still there, not at rest, and I evoke those words at the orientation to every retreat that we’ve done there over the years.
Photos of Zalman often show him with different religious leaders, such as the Dalai Lama or Ram Dass. Indeed, his wonderful spiritual memoir, My Life in Jewish Renewal, is that rare story of a man who loved meeting his peers and allies from other spiritual traditions, not to convince them of anything or to be superficially amiable, but to learn their practices and study together. One of the most heartwarming chapters there tells of how he got high with Timothy Leary. He was the one, I believe, who first coined the term triumphalism, that covert feeling many people have, even as they cultivate friends from other religions and participate in interfaith events, that while other spiritual traditions are fine in their way, basically theirs is the right one and will ultimately triumph.
I told him more than once that had I met him as a young man, my spiritual path would probably have followed his rather than Zen Buddhism. In this time of fear and fragmentation, when the practice of building bridges is needed more than ever, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi was a true vessel for Tikkum Olam, making the world whole, bringing all the pieces back together again.
May his name be blessed.
From Roger S.Gottlieb:
Lovely tribute to your teacher. It’s a very distinct and powerful relationship between teacher and student, and can be as vital as family connections, sometimes more so.
The only thing I’d add is that Zalman was part of the creation of a modern ‘religion’ in which metaphysics and textual traditions are less important than certain spiritual connections. In that way the ‘renewal’ types in Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc. have more in common with each other than with the orthodox types of their “own” tradition.
Roger S. Gottlieb
Professor of Philosophy
Department of Humanities and Arts
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Worcester, MA 01609
From Alice Kast
To Rabbi Michael Lerner and Rabbi Arthur Waskow:
Dear friends, even if I waited to find the “right” words, they wouldn’t come to me. This man was and always will be a blessed presence for you both and for everyone aware of the need to repair the world. As you don your prayer shawls to remember him, be aware that many of us are holding you both in our prayers.
Michael, thanks for making the first notice a personal one. Even I, a non-Jew, had heard of your Zalman when I searched the Hebrew book stores for a way to introduce Jesus the Jew to Roman Catholics. Jewish Renewal, Seasons of Our Joy, and Bringing the World in For Repairs were the ones I chose. Later came Jew in the Lotus. So many different voices and memories.
My hope is that the two of you do take up the mantel of tikkun olam in the special way as he recommended in January. All of us need healing on many levels. Maybe consider using what would have been the celebration of his 90th as a vehicle to help heal the world. Arthur, maybe revive your midwife/Vincent Harding theme. Healing as the role of midwife? Humanity still in the womb. Hopefully not another 40 years. Maybe 40 days? “I will restore your health and heal your wounds.”
May the Great Spirit anoint us all and lead to one family on earth. Alice Kast, Boston, MA, still feeling the blessing Arthur gave me at Old South Church in 2007.
From: Ira Rifkin
I first encountered Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi in 1982 in Bombay (now Mumbai). My wife, Ruth Berlin, and I were there to handle press relations for the International Transpersonal Association’s seventh global conference on the theme, Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science. RebZalman was one of many esteemed featured conference presenters. We met at the city’s international airport, where Zalman arrived with Rabbis Shlomo Carlebach and David Zeller. My son Brady, then a teenager, came to India on the same plane, which was why I made sure to be at the airport that day.
The plane’s arrival coincided with one of the proscribed five daily Muslim prayer times and so Muslim men at the airport were gathering in groups to pray in unison. It was the first time any of the three rabbis had visited India (and as far as I knew, perhaps any country other than Israel with a large number of Muslims), leaving them unprepared to accurately process what they saw as they disembarked and entered the airport terminal. Presented with groups of men wearing kufis, the Muslim equivalent of the Jewish kippah, Zalman, Shlomo and David initially, and briefly, wondered out loud if the Bombay Jewish community had come to greet them. I don’t remember the moment they realized that the men before them were Muslims and not Jews, but whatever it was that sparked this recognition also prompted a chuckle among the trio. It was a brief but revealing moment, an all too human moment of imagined self-importance evolving into one of ego deflation followed by a greater awareness of the world and one’s place in it. Standing by their side, I, too, laughed.
I was a naive seeker in 1982 and I characterized this airport incident at the time as just another silly misstep. Today I regard it as having been one of those inadvertent but necessary life lessons; no matter how exalted the teacher, he or she is merely human, with their own selection of personality quirks like the rest of us. Zalman, and to be fair here, others as well, helped me understand that Jewish spirituality can be honest enough to acknowledge the wisdom carried by other traditions as well. But the human side of the spiritual quest exhibited by Zalman, Shlomo and David that day at the airport is now just as important to me.
Zalman, Shlomo and David are now all dead. But in my bedroom hangs a photo of Zalman taken during his conference presentation. He’s on stage wearing a shtreimal and sandals, a tallit-covered beketshe held tight by a gartel, his hands balled as fists and held to his ears. His presentation was, I’m reminded by the photo, far from staid. He joked, he told stories, he sang, he spoke and he prayed as an audience of several hundred followed ecstatically along, some holding their arms outward and skyward as if at a Pentecostal gathering. I’m one of them, in the front row.
By Alan Briskin
I met Reb Zalman when I first interviewed him for the Collective Wisdom Initiative in August, 2000. We met at his home in Boulder and I still recall the instant connection that was made when he first began speaking. Well, maybe not instant. He was telling me a story that began 300 years ago about the age of reason and I wasn’t sure we would have enough time for him to get to the point. I was about to interrupt him when he sensed my impatience and held up his hand. “Wait,” he said. I paused, gathered myself, and had something like an epiphany. He was telling me a story that was critical if I was to have any direction for the work that was still to unfold for me. I still have my notes from that session and his words read like poetry:
We have not learned much in our current conventional morality and politics about togethering.
The last century with the scientism sought to see everything in the reductive form. We wanted to get to the atom and beyond the atom, to the smallest part. But even in the atom, the nucleus and the electrons that dance around it are in relationship with each other.
We believed we couldn’t know anything until we got to the smallest component, and so we forgot to seek WHAT BINDS THINGS TOGETHER.
My last conversation of length was with Reb Zalman in February of 2010. These are my notes from that conversation:
Ø Reb Zalman is aware that, according to his own life span metaphor, this is the month of December for himself. The elder work he wrote about was more in the months of October and November. December is more about transition and what we leave for others. This final period for him is about how he will take leave of his mortal body.
Ø I tell him a story from our mutual friend Aryae Coopersmith about Shlomo Carlebach. Shlomo was Reb Zalman’s dear friend and colleague in Jewish Renewal. When Shlomo was asked to speak to a class about the mystical Zohar, he said what he will say about Zohar will be a little disturbing to some and may not be immediately understood. Shlomo said: In the beginning man created god and heaven but beyond that god and heaven is another god and heaven and it is that one he wants to talk about. Reb Zalman enjoyed the tale and adds that Carlebach was pointing to a transcendent understanding.
Ø Reb Zalman describes the 4th turning, which follows the first 3 cycles of Judaic history, beginning with the Dead Sea Scrolls, then in the medieval times by association with Sufis and people from the Rhineland, followed by the emergence of Hasidic networks led by Baal Shem Tov. The 4thturning involves a renouncing of triumphalism, but not of tribalism. Triumphalism is a belief that your vision of divinity is the best or highest and others are weak replicas. Going beyond triumphalism means a real pleasure in understanding and engagement with other traditions. It is not solely mental engagement but embodied. He tells me of the time Tarthang Tulku, the Tibetan teacher, joined him in the synagogue and danced with the Torah.
Ø Tribalism has a role. We are each an organ of a larger organismic body and the lungs should not try to be the kidneys. Tribalism, however, has many shadow elements that must be accounted for. We should not be surprised by the urge toward tribalism, as it is about our central social bonds.
Ø The 4th turning will be a time of integration for male and female energies and be guided by the work of the divine feminine. This will also be a time for the acceptance and integration of diverse sexual orientations.
Ø Reb Zalman’s ends with a story of being brought into the inner rooms at Red Feather Lodge (Shambhala Mountain Center). He sees figures of male and female figures in yab-yum poses of sexual union. In one image, the female is sticking her tongue out at the male figure whose face is filled with desire. Reb Zalman describes the powerful effect this image had on him. He tells me we need to appreciate the many levels we live on simultaneously. The concept of a transpersonal sociology suggests we are each differentiated entities that move in concert with multiple levels of reality. This work is not that of just the mind. We work from the limbic levels and through synchronizing our mirror neurons with each other.
Alan Briskin, Ph.D. is the author of The Stirring of Soul in Workplace and co-author of The Power of Collective Wisdom, a book deeply influenced by Reb Zalman’s guidance.
I find that thy Will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
And where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.
–Rabindranath Tagore, “Closed Path”
Tagore was also an inspiration for Rabbi Zalman Schachter, an alternative teacher with Shlomo at the House of Love and Prayer. Zalman was an encyclopedia of Huxley’s perennial philosophy. The “old tracks” he lost had originated in the Hasidic community, which sent him as an emissary to college youth in the Sixties but ostracized him when he discovered the “new country” of lysergic acid and its entheogenic cohorts.
Zalman tripped with Timothy Leary and Alan Watts, schmoozed with Thomas Merton, high-fived Swami Satchidananda, studied with Howard Thurman (who brought Gandhi’s ideas to MLK Jr.), and practiced Sufi meditation with Pir Vilayat Khan. Hasidic masters, Christian mystics and Persian sages bloomed side by side in his spiritual garden. If, as the saying goes, “Truth is one; paths are many,” Zalman was an avid bushwhacker, his formidable intellect eagerly absorbing any tradition that lets the heart’s new melodies break forth.
He was also a committed straight ally of gay liberation, a subject which baffled and stymied Shlomo. Decades before same-sex marriage was an issue on the national stage, Zalman offered to officiate ceremonially whenever I found the fella.
In the late summer and fall of ‘73, Reb Zalman was much in evidence at both the House of Love and Prayer and Hotel Shrader. Especially when Elana was around, because he was privately courting her (they eventually married). It was thrilling to be an intimate friend of such an inspiring teacher. An unrepentant hippie despite approaching age fifty, he put the high in High Holidays. His raps (no other word quite serves) reminded me of Buckminster Fuller, presenting a series of startling intellectual concepts persuasive enough to push the mind to a realm beyond rational thinking, where the head touches the heart. One of his experiments was to lead a liturgical service where every masculine pronoun referring to “God” was replaced with a feminine one. This is now standard practice in many New Age and Jewish Renewal communities, but at the time it was a revelation. A subliminal but enduring way for patriarchy to shore up its power is by portraying Divinity as one of the guys.
I am writing about Reb Zalman. I am of Jewish heritage on one side of the family (Grandfather was a Russian Jew who immigrated). In my 20’s when I was exploring my Jewish roots I had occasion to study with Reb Shlomo Carlebach and Reb Zalman. In those days, I published poems and articles on the Kabbalah with David Meltzer’s Tree magazine.
Zalman and I stayed in touch, and when I went off to seminary and became an Episcopal priest, he celebrated that ordination, and we taught together, along with a Muslim Imam. His dream was that all the children of Abraham would learn to pray together, sing together, and,yes, even dance together. He is one of the truly profound human beings I have met in this life. I learned much from him.
Thank you for your article on Reb Zalman. In your own brave way you are a living example of what Zalman wanted to do with spirituality, and of the healing he wished so deeply to engender. You talk the talk and walk the walk, Michael.
May you continue to be blessed
in the Love of G-d
Dear Rabbi Lerner,
I was one of your campers at Camp Ramah who met Zalman. I have never forgotten my only encounter with him and it has continued to teach me.
Before I relate the story of my experience, I need to say that most people consider me completely sane—or at least no one has accused me otherwise. I function quite well in the ordinary world. Zalman showed me that the world is not just ordinary and that when we allow our hearts and minds to open with child-like curiosity, joy, awe and acceptance, boundaries fall and gifts abound. One further point: this was before LSD.
So here goes:
I don’t remember Zalman teaching the S’hma as you recounted, but when I recite it now, the idea of “Oneness” seems deeply right.
What I do remember is him asking if any of us wanted to learn to meditate. Four or five of us said yes. And so began my first experience with meditation.
Zalman asked us to sit on the ground before a large easel on which he had written a large aleph on a drawing pad. He instructed us to meditate on it. That bewildered me. I remember thinking: What could that possibly do? It’s just a letter of the alphabet. But before I knew it, I was in a large empty castle on what I took to be a bank of the Connecticut River. All the campers were sitting in a row in this very large, cold and spacious stone room before Zalman, who looked like a cross between a rabbi and a wizard. I remember feeling a little spooked by the emptiness of the castle—it was clearly abandoned, cold, vast, old. Did I belong here? Did I have a right to be here? Something was discomforting about this castle. Somehow I sensed my fear of being my self.
Eventually I got up and looked out the doorless door frame down the steps to the river. My beloved Connecticut River was flowing gracefully past and this seemed to ease my mind.
After some immeasurable period of time, I found myself back in camp, sitting on the ground in front of the housing for the “adults” who ran the camp. This was a part of the camp I had never been to before.
At the time, I didn’t think this experience was odd in any way. It seemed real.
I walked back into the gazebo where we often practiced Israeli dancing, and joyfully danced. I never checked with the other meditating campers to see what their experiences had been. It simply was. I didn’t dwell on it but I never forgot it.
The next summer, I was hanging out with a friend at the entrance to the camp near the crab apple trees, and realized that I had never literally traveled out of the camp when I went to the castle with Zalman; nor returned. I remember laughing at the improbability of it all. I was a bit weirded out, but mostly delighted that the world was full of wacky surprises—and so much more than ordinary.
Years later, reading Therese of Avilla’s Interior Castle with some colleagues, I remembered Zalman’s Castle. Or, on that summer day when I was so young, was it only my castle? I will never know. Therese of Avilla’s Interior Castle helped me appreciate the meaning of the castle. Since then I have recounted this memory many times. Each time it seems to bring me to a deeper awareness of “The Mystery” of what is and gives me courage.
I can’t say it better than Shakespeare so I end with this:
Jorge Luis Borges begins his short story “The Aleph” with a quote from Hamlet (II,2):
O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a King of infinite space.
Happy Connecticut Camp Ramah camper from age 8 to 14.
[Note from Rabbi Lerner: I was a camper at Ramah in Connecticut, but only a counselor at Ramah in the Poconos, Ramah in Wisconsin—where Zalman came to speak to my campers—and Ramah in the Berkshires. It frequently happens to me that people have a memory of me in some situation or other, sometimes beautiful and sometimes smutty, that I know couldn’t possibly be correct though they are certain that they remember it.]
From Shulamith Koening
[Zalman was] One of the giants of the 20th century.. from whom we learned what it means to be Jewish.
With tears and joy that he was there for us!
-Shulamith Koenig, Recipient of the 2003 UN Human Rights Award
From: Sister Gabrielle Kowalski
Dear Rabbi Lerner:
Thank you for the beautiful eulogy for Zalman Schater. I met him only once when he offered a morning of reflection at a local synagogue here in Milwaukee. As a Christian I found what he shared regarding prayer as universally applicable and appealing. Now in my 70’s I think back on workshops I’ve attended and speakers I’ve heard – most of whom are gladly forgot. But I will never forget that morning in Milwaukee.
Sister Gabrielle Kowalski
From Saphira Linden
My heart is full with the many memories, images and feelings that emerge as I remember Reb Zalman.
I met him in the early 1970s, a couple of years after taking initiation into the Sufi Order by Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan. “So tell me,” he asked in earnest, “why do the best and the brightest of the potential leaders in Jewish life leave the synagogues and temples and become involved with teachers from the East?” “Because the traditional synagogues and temples aren’t meeting the needs of people sincerely seeking spiritual experience, “ I answered. Two years later, Reb Zalman took initiation with Pir Vilayat. They became friends and colleagues, often speaking at the same gatherings, conferences and universal worship services. They had a wonderful relationship. Pir Vilayat told me how much he respected and honored Reb Zalman.
Reb Zalman began B’nai Or in Boston in our Sufi meditation room in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood of Boston and 30 years later, B’nai Or, “children of light” still thrives in the Boston area.
Personally, my whole family had the privilege of a deep connection with this great teacher. He facilitated the conversion of my husband –to- be and 4 year old stepson. He officiated at our Jewish wedding ceremony in Detroit with family. (We also had a Sufi wedding ceremony). During the Jewish ceremony, he secretly whispered to me seven Sufi Wazifa , (divine qualities), spontaneously, without telling us beforehand, as I performed the Jewish ritual of walking around my husband to be seven times, so this ritual would be more meaningful to me.
At the luncheon to follow, he got up and told family and friends gathered that there was a special old Jewish wedding ritual. “On the day of the ceremony,” he chanted, “the bride and groom have special powers. They can see into the souls of anyone who sits with them and offer guidance.” He also never told us he was going to do this. My new husband and I looked at each other, took a deep breath and as my mother grabbed my father’s hand and joyously sat in front of us, we entered the Sufi practice of Darshan. As guides of a spiritual community in Boston, we were trained to see into the souls of our mureeds or students. In his genius, Reb Zalman wanted us to offer this deep experience, through the Darshan practice, to our parents and others and did so by calling it an ancient Jewish practice.
Reb Zalman officiated at both of our sons’ Bar Mitzvahs. The first in Boston, where he had our son choose whichever Torah portion that had meaning for him. He chose the burning bush teaching from Exodus. With a gift for visual art, our son created drawings of this experience of Moses. We blew up the drawings and they served as a beautiful backdrop for his ceremony.
Our younger son’s ceremony was in New Jersey at The American Boychoir School, that he attended, where mostly Christian boys donned yarmulkes and learned, chanted and sung the Jewish prayers as part of the service. The congregation was made up of Jewish family members, Sufi Cherags (ministers) and friends and faculty and boys and their families from many different traditions. Reb Zalman was brilliantly skilled in teaching and orchestrating this unusual service, once again as the embodiment of “Toward the One.”
During a challenging time in his struggle with traditional synagogue bureaucracies and limited ways of thinking, he came to us to do a meditation retreat. My former husband guided him, suggesting that he leave his books and paperwork behind. In his frustration moment, RebZalman said he was going to leave Judaism. We told him that he was meant to renew Judaism, not leave it and his own guidance eventually affirmed that. Probably many others told him the same thing. In my own estimation, the Jewish renewal movement became one of the most powerful expressions of the real possibility for an ancient religion to maintain the sacredness of its foundational teachings, while keeping it current and alive with individual and social concerns of our time. Furthermore, he and those inspired by him, honor the sacred in other traditions, working for true social justice and harmony on the individual community level as well as global stage.
Breaking down the distinctions and differences that divide people that the Sufi master, Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote about in the 1920s, has been beautifully manifest in Reb Zalman’s Jewish Renewal Movement, which now continues with a life of its own.
When I was in Boulder, Colorado many years ago visiting, Reb Zalman invited me to co-lead a Sufi/Jewish Dhkr (remembrance of God) with him. He introduced me as his teacher. I just smiled because I knew that he did that with so many people who learned so much from him. The experience of teaching with him was seamless, out of the box and quite ecstatic.
Reb Zalman Shalomi-Schachter was one of the great spiritual teachers of our time. As an extraordinary visionary, his scholarship, creativity, courage, magnetism, joy and love made all who related to him believe a little more in the possibility of fulfilling their own dreams and life purpose.
From Ephraim Eisen:
It was during the 1995 Kallah in Fort Collins, Colorado that we decided to cut our son’s hair and invite many of our friends to his upsherin.
At least a dozen friends, mostly rabbis and students of Reb Zalmanapproached Jonathan and dutifully cut a lock of his beautiful red hair.
Last but not least came Reb Zalman. He bent down low and asked Jonathan quietly for permission to cut his hair. Jonathan said yes and then our Rebbe asked him where he could cut and Jonathan showed him.
Reb Zalman taught us how to lift up a 3 year old and honor him in a way that was unique. It was then that i realized the expression ” I came to visit my Rebbe to watch how he ties his shoes.”
Rabbi Efraim Eisen
From Father Ed Flannagan:
An ex-Catholic priest who categorically renounced Rome’s 2000 years of Shenanigans, totally falsifying the True Jesus and His Message, I offer you this account of Rabbi Zalman from my own personal experience: An ex-Catholic priest who categorically renounced Rome’s 2000 years of Shenanigans, totally falsifying the True Jesus and His Message, I offer you this account of Rabbi Zalman from my own personal experience:
When in 2001 I moved from Boston to Los Angeles, I was contacted by the very prominent San Francisco rabbi, Zalman Schachter, seeking what he heard through the grapevine was my ability to “erase old eating habits and desires.” He happened at this time to be in the L.A. area conducting Jewish holiday services for Purim, and asked to afterwards visit me for a weight-loss treatment.
Entering my office, his eyes hit upon a large photo on my office wall — a photo of Avatar Meher Baba. Stopping dead in his tracks, with folded hands he bowed his head. It was then that I knew for sure that Meher Baba had grabbed a most beautiful and beloved fish. Such a response comes only from true past-life experiences with the God-Man Avatar. Fr. Ed Flanagan, email@example.com
From Danny Slomoff:
To Rabbi Lerner:
Natan Segal first introduced me and others in Shabbos Shul to Reb Zalmon nearly 30 years ago. My memory was Yom Kippur but perhaps it was Rosh Hashanah. He had us stepping into the place of god. He made that step truly sacred. It was a first for me to go beyond tradition and work to make the tradition sacred. And then if my memory can be trusted, he had us really experience Shema- Hear and open up the possibility to letting our voices touch God.
I finally experienced what I had been searching for- truth. It wasn’t the prayer that mattered it was using the prayer or the act of praying to access my higher self and tap into the universal higher self. Inspired by that time, I started to say Baruch over and over again. Experiencing BLESSED as fully as I could. I did this for a couple of years.
Last year I walked into Reb Zalman and his wife at a park in Boulder on Shabbat. I greeted him and shared that you were my Rebbe. He really loved you and praised you for your spiritual essence.
I send my love, sadness, and gratitude to you,
From Ralph Metzner
Dear Michael Lerner
I join with you in grieving for the loss of your beloved teacher and spiritual friend/guide Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi. I very much appreciated reading the biographical outline and rabbinical history of Zalman that you wrote – of which I was naturally only dimly aware. I have always felt a wonderfully warm and deep connection with Zalman, even though we saw little of each other in the past forty years. We first connected in the 1960s, when he participated as a visiting scholar-consultant in the earliest explorations with LSD and psilocybin that we conducted at Harvard. He then contributed a chapter to my edited anthology of LSD experiences called The Ecstatic Adventure, published in 1968 and long out of print. I remember a key theme of his chapter was that somehow he felt the psychedelic experience could/should also be structured more along Jewish lines, rather than only the Tibetan Buddhist model that we were primarily espousing in our writings at that time. No doubt he was pleased that there have been quite a few initiatives in the contemporary Jewish community (which you surely know more about than I do) – overlapping with the psychedelic exploration community – who are following his early intuitions and guidance. I’m glad Michael Ziegler and I had an opportunity to connect with Zalman last year when we were in Boulder and we talked about those early experiments in the 1960s and what has followed since. He was in great spirits.
From: Janet Newton Weinberg
“Dr. Zalman M Schachter(as he was listed in our program) gave a lecture “Technology and Worship” at the Institute for Adult Jewish Studies” (a consortium of several synagogues in Northeast Nassau County) (12/6.1971) and, realizing that most of the attendees did not have Orthodox backgrounds, taught us all how to daven. He instructed us to take the siddur from the pew and find a Hebrew or English paragraph-or few lines- we found moving, and read it over and over many times to the person sitting next us. Then trade, having the listener next read to the person who had been reading. Many of us surprised ourselves with getting the “feeling of davening” for the first time in our lives. What a memorable experience !.
Janet Newton Weinberg
From Linda Maloney:
Dear Rabbi Michael,
It’s been too long since that wonderful founding conference of the Spiritual Progressives in Washington, D.C.! I’m sorry to be writing on such a sad occasion.
I met Rabbi Zalman Schachter (the “Shalomi” part of his name wasn’t mentioned at the time) in Tübingen, in Germany, in the mid-1980s. I think he came on an exchange between Temple University and Hans Küng’s Institute for Ecumenical Research. He offered a short course on the Kabbalah, in which I gladly joined; it involved a “field trip” to a resort town not too far away whose church features a remarkable altarpiece depicting, on its outer panels, a countess and her retinue as figures from the Hebrew Bible, and on the inside a tableau of the Kabbalah (in which the countess was very interested).
I was enrolled in elementary Biblical Hebrew that semester, together with a lot of Roman Catholic seminarians. (I was studying for a Th.D. in New Testament.) I had a leg up on the German students because I was so accustomed to seeing Hebrew words on synagogues in the United States! But I remember the frisson of sorrow I felt when the instructor announced to the students that Reb Zalman would be giving a public lecture and added: “It’s not every day you get a chance to hear a rabbi speak.”
One evening I invited Reb Zalman to have supper with me and my young son (who was quite fascinated by the dredl the Rabbi gave him!). I remember that Reb Zalman had adopted a vegetarian diet — I assumed in order to avoid dietary impasses and ambiguities in Germany, but perhaps it was his life practice. I served a cheese chili that evening (a meatless stew of tomatoes, beans, cheese, rice, and seasonings). Some of the beans were rather chewy, and Zalman asked suspiciously whether there was meat in the dish, but he accepted my avowal (altogether truthful!) that no meat was involved.
In the course of our short acquaintance, I was deeply impressed byZalman Schachter’s spirituality — to the point that I told him that, if we were going to be in the same place for very long, I would ask him to be my spiritual director. He said he would have to think about the implications of such a suggestion from a (as I then was) Roman Catholic Christian. I also remember his saying that his difficulty with Christians’ was their assertion that Messiah has come: “look around you; does this look like a world in which Messiah has come?” And indeed, he had put his finger on the sore point: if Christians really believed that Jesus had brought the messianic era (and therefore lived by the principles of tikkun ‘olam as he taught them), then indeed we would all be living that blessing. But what we say we believe is belied by how we live.
I’m now an Episcopal priest. This Sunday we will be reading from the prophet Zechariah, and I feel sure that this event and these memories will help shape what I have to say. Thank you for sharing the news and your grief, which belongs in some smaller part to so many.
From Merrill Bittner
Thank you for letting us know of Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi’s death, and for your words. I own a CD called “Graceful Passages: A Companion for Compassionate Transitions.” It is a beautiful gathering of reflections on death and dying spoken by several incredible people, including Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. His piece is particularly touching, and I’m thinking it would be very helpful for you and others as you grieve his death.
You can get this CD from Amazon. There is also a website listed on the CD– www.wisdomoftheworld.com
Take care, and again thanks. He was a gift.
From Rupa Cousins
Beloved Rabbi Lerner,
I read with tears your tribute and felt a need (not for publishing although I don’t care if you want to use it or not,) to send this to you. You have been for many years a beacon of light for me and I want you to know how much you have inspired my way of seeing.
I have always held Rabbi Zalman in my heart, even though I became a student of Sufism many years ago. But he had also learned from Sufi’s and his inner ways was and is no different than the Sufism I am part of . A few years ago he did a talk and a Jungian conference in Brattleboro Vermont, of course I just had to be there to hear him. I brought a friend along who also is steeped in the Sufism we study, the lineage of Rumi, (I have cc’d this to her.) Her background had been as a Catholic. The two of us were speechless and deeply moved by every word he said, but when he led us through a meditation, he brought to light a meditation that had been given to us by our teacher in Turkey. I will never forget the deep joy we felt from the love and wisdom and unity he imparted.
I will miss him, but his spirit lives on in my heart.
Much love to you,
From Jeffery G. Shapiro
Many images occur in regard to Reb Zalman, my Rebbe.
I first met Reb Zalman for Rosh HaShanah – Yom Kippur davening he sponsored in Berkeley, 1972-73ish. We participated, davened some traditional, some workshops. After the Yom Kippur fast, I remember his pleasure eating a peach that I had brought for him from my garden in Corralitos, his turning to me and commenting that a good peach is a very specific thing, it has to be at just the right stage of ripeness, and this was. We smiled, I felt acknowledged, became his interpersonal as well as spiritual-intellectual student, which had occurred during the Yom Tovim davening. During those days and nights we learned the
Sefirot, and the Worlds; this was the beginning of my Baal Teshuvahood; I continue to be naively curious, surprised when some others, more learned than I, don’t have, easily in mind, the Sefirot; he taught them as part of the basics.
He told a story, later, or perhaps even over that Rosh HaShanah, of his being in a Camp with other Jews in France, held by French or German fascists, pre-War. There was no shofar, Rosh Ha Shanah was coming up. He climbed out over the walls, went to a butcher shop and got a horn, climbed back in, and prepared and practiced the
shofar. When it came time, an older man [Zalman was a teen-ager] asked for the shofar; Reb Zalman replied “I climbed out over the walls, I climbed back in, I’m blowing the shofar”. A story about which we could imagine a variety of droshot.
My most recent time with Reb Zalman I had picked him up in downtown Philadelphia to go to a fabrengen, the yartzeit for the Freidicher Rebbe, at our local Chabad. On the way, as I drove, he spoke of the last line of the first paragraph of the Aleynu: “V’yadata…” “You shall know this day and take it to your heart that YudKeyVuv – Key is Elokim, in the heavens and the earth, there is nothing else.” That’s the challenge he said, if you can know/believe that the Eternal of the Universe also rules the universe…there’s nothing more challenging than that…there’s nothing else, that’s the Jewish challenge to ourselves and others: The Eternal One is also the Ruler.
Jeff Shapiro, Ph.D
Dear Michael, I devoured your appreciation of Reb Zalman and am sending you these passages from my memoir that speak of him. Feel free to use or not as you wish.
The Void is brighter for his entering it.
From: David L. Kline
Thank you Michael,
The news was no surprise but I had need to know. Your obituary is brief and powerful.
My parents returned excited from a B’nai Brith conference in 1947 or so where Zalman and Sh’lomo were scholars in residence. The line I remember them quoting: “Now we’re Jewing on all cylinders!”
In the early 70’sI served the young people at Temple Adath Israel in suburban Philadelphia and on Shabbat mornings, davened at the library chavurah at Germantown Jewish Center where Reb Zalman was one of the minyan. I can still see him walking to shul draped in his talit. From his class in mysticism at Temple University two lessons continue to move me: One, the universality of spiritual experience. Two, referring to YHVH as Yahh, particularly in Tanach texts.
He taught me a lot about teaching.
Baruch dayan emet
Elegy for Reb Zalman
you once said you were like a spider,
drawn to explore dark corners,
but it seemed to us
that you shed light on everything,
our ancient fathers
our rituals, our prayers,
even our plumbing,
You were a father to me,
and I felt your embrace
even from a great distance.
I remember meeting you
for the first time,
in a little apartment in the Loop.
You were lying on a couch
and looked up at me and said,
“I need a sopher. Will you be my scribe?”
The next day
we walked around a tree together
and took our vows to each other
and created a Reb Zalman
who lived in the past
at the same time.
as we sat together in your living room,
you told me
you had lived so long
so you could be with Eve.
And I knew it was true:
you and Eve were a blessing
to each other,
a true zivug.
you spent the past thirty years
trying to convince us
you were mortal.
You even practiced tahara,
so you would be ready
when the time came.
none of us believed
you would ever take
your all-encompassing love
even though you’re not here,
we still share in your love,
and there’s more than enough
to go around.