Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,
Last week one of the great luminaries of our age left this life. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, zichrono livracha (may his memory be a blessing), died last Thursday morning peacefully in his sleep at the age of 89. His inspiring example is the reason I became a rabbi.
Reb Zalman, as he was known, bridged the worlds of pre-Holocaust Europe and postmodern cosmopolitanism and globalism. As a young man, he was ordained a rabbi within Chabad. As he matured, his expansive spirit could no longer comfortably inhabit that world, and he left Chabad, moving on to pursue a doctorate at Hebrew Union College (the flagship institution of the Reform movement.) He is widely regarded as the father of Jewish Renewal, the transdenominational movement to revitalize Judaism, which is my deepest spiritual home.
Over his lifetime he retained his deep roots in Hasidism and kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) while spreading his wings to travel throughout the world. He was one of the rabbis who went to India to meet with the Dalai Lama to help explain Judaism’s secret to survival in Diaspora (as chronicled in Rodger Kamenetz’s book The Jew in the Lotus.) He taught that God broadcasts on all channels, and we hear where we are “attuned;” he taught that every religion is a necessary organ in the body of humanity, and that we need each to retain its uniqueness even as we need each to be in loving conversation with the others.
He was a pioneer in so many ways: in the ordination of women and of gay / lesbian / transgender rabbis, in bringing Judaism’s ancient contemplative traditions back into common use, in praying in the vernacular and experimenting with how to make prayer life and Jewish life genuinely meaningful in our age.
A few of you have already asked me when and how I will share stories of and teachings from “my rebbe” at CBI. I promise that I will do so, perhaps during the Days of Awe, or as we move into fall. Those who are interested are welcome to read Remembering my rebbe, the long post I shared on my own blog a few days ago.
It is thanks to Reb Zalman that I am now able to serve all of you. Thank you for joining in remembering him, and for giving me the privilege of being able to share a glimpse of him with you.