Friends, more sad news, more tears, another funeral.
My Rebbe died today.
Our rebbe. Many don’t know who he was, and even many who knew him may not know the greatness that I suspect only years from now will be fully understood, if ever.
Rabbi Zalman-Schachter-Shalomi, the sacred master, holy fool, kindest soul, fierce teacher, visionary founding father and leader of the Jewish Renewal movement, the holy spark responsible for countless souls on fire all over the world, for a global spiritual revolution, for the revival of a Judaism that matters to the body, earth, soul and mind, the genius whose prophecy of paradigm shift was and still is ahead of its time – died in his sleep today, at 89 years old.
Just when I thought my tears have dried up after this difficult week in Jerusalem, the well has opened up again, the well of gratitude, and shock, and grief, and mourning.
Just this morning I sat with Rabbi David Ingber on a park bench on the train track park in Jerusalem, talking about Reb Zalman’s upcoming 90th birthday celebration in August. David was talking about his relationship with Reb Zalman, about the legacy that permeates so much of modern liberal Judaism – all over the US and more. Romemu, BJ, and so many other congregations including Lab/Shul, not officially considered part of the Jewish Renewal Movement owe so much to Reb Zalman’s vision. The reason that at Lab/Shul prayers we use ‘Ruach’ – ‘Spirit’ instead of ‘Melech’ – ‘King’ to talk of God in our liturgy is because of Reb Zalman. The reason we thank Ruach for choosing us along with all other nations – and not as distinct from all other faiths – is because of him. The reason I am able to rise up as a Jewish leader, gay, and proud, with children and a congregation and faith in my path is because over 15 years ago he sat me down and gave me a blessing to follow my heart, count my blessings, and know the spirit in all and every path. None like him embodied the oldest of our Jewish wisdom ways fused perfectly with the boldest of new ecological, egalitarian, liberal and digital realities.
Few could straddle the authentic hasidic and mystical path along with true devotion to the soul of the planet, and to every sacred path. None did it with such elegance and depth and grace.
A few months ago I spoke to Reb Zalman on Skype and we agreed that, God willing, once I’m ordained from JTS in 2016 he will sign my ordination papers as well and give me his own rabbinic blessing.
I shouldn’t have waited.
The last time we had real quality time was when I visited him in Boulder four years ago. It was Friday morning and he wanted to go immerse in the nearby Mikveh for the Sabbath. He asked me to drive him and help him carry his stuff. What an honor. When we got there I asked him to show me exactly how he does it – step by step tutorial in the ritual art of immersion in water from a great Hasidic master. I watched his every move – from how he folded his clothes and laid out his towel on a chair, to the turning to the four directions, before slowly chanting the blessing and then dunking all the way down in the holy pool. Later, over tea, he told me stories of his youth, asked me questions about what’s really on my heart, and gave me a sabbath blessing, and a deep hug.
Tonight, when the sad news broke out, I was lucky enough to be able to sit in a room with a few of his close colleagues and disciples. Art Green, Or Rose, David Ingber, Ruth Gan-Kagan – rabbis and mystics, we raised a glass of scotch to the rising of his soul, cried and laughed, told tales of him, and planned the Jerusalem vigil to accompany the Shiva that will take place in Boulder.
Reb Zalman- born in Vienna, blossoming in America – responsible for so much of American Jewish vitality and global change- will be buried on the 4th of July. His chuckle can be heard from one of the world to another on this final detail of ritual humor.
To Rebbetzin Eve, his radiant widow, to his children and grandchildren, to disciples and friends, fans and students and all of us who will miss him so much and be forever in debt to him for teaching our souls to dance and for taking Judaism to the next level:
The Memory of the Righteous One is an Eternal Blessing.
Reb Zalman will truly be forever in my heart.
Rest in peace, holy rebbe, may we meet in dreams.
Thank you for everything.