Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who died July 3 at age 89 at his home in Boulder, Colo., touched my life personally through his writings, his teachings, and his blessings.
As the founder and head rabbi of the Jewish Renewal movement and co-founder of its core institution, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, Reb Zalman was a singularly gifted and visionary leader. He was also a prolific writer, gifted teacher, and to my mind, a true tzadik.
Above all, he was a kind, gentle, welcoming, and accepting rebbe and teacher, a Jewish philosopher who welcomed spiritual seekers from all paths of Judaism and helped them return to their spiritual home in Judaism. I am privileged to have met him, and honored to be one of his students and to have been blessed personally by him several times.
Reb Zalman has touched my soul in the deepest of places. I first met Reb Zalman at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center during Shavuot 2011. There, I had dinner with him and received his personal blessing as one of his talmidim (students) in the ALEPH Rabbinic Program. While at Isabella Freedman, Reb Zalman taught me how to daven the Shaharit (morning) service in its proper order, with all of the appropriate prayers, completely without the siddur (prayer book). This was an experience that has impacted and informed my prayer practice from that day forward.
My next conversation with Reb Zalman, in the winter of 2012, was about my desire to start my own Jewish Renewal community so that I could bring his style of davening, his teachings, and his philosophy of Judaism to New Jersey’s Morris County. I received Reb Zalman’s enthusiastic blessing. Or Ha Lev Jewish Renewal Congregation was started in January 2013.
Finally, and most recently, I received a phone call from Reb Zalman asking me to Skype with him to discuss my “deep ecumenism” work with the Christian and Muslim communities here in New Jersey. Once again, and for the last time, I received the blessing of my rebbe for the continued success of my outreach work into the interfaith world.
Going forward, I will make all efforts to bring Reb Zalman’s teachings and the work of Jewish Renewal to other spiritual seekers in a way that will honor the memory of my beloved rebbe.
As Reb Zalman’s soul ascends to dwell in the realm above, I pray that he continues to spread his Light to all of us here on earth.