RABBI Zalman Schacter shalomi z’l, one of great spiritual teachers of this age,was once asked why Jews were so busy seeking other spiritual traditions. It was noted to him that wherever the questioner looked – zen mediation halls, hindu ashrams, yoga studios, sufi dances, there were Jews. In fact, many of the major teachers of American Buddhism in the United States are Jews.
Reb Zalman commented on the law in the Torah that a Kohen – high priest is not allowed to touch a dead person and attract – tumah – ritual impurity. He explained this by saying:
“When a person in one’s community or family dies, one can be angry with God. It’s
difficult to let in a Divine Presence in the world when there is such pain and loss. The job of a Kohen is to hold and facilitate the ritual space for the community. If he gets too close to the dead, physically or emotionally, he may lose contact with the presence of G-d because of his own pain. When the Holocaust happened, most of the great rabbis and teachers lost contact with G-d, the loss, the tragedy, the injustice was too painful for the transmitters of the tradition. They were angry with G-d and they transmitted a tradition that lacked the love and vitality of true Torah. When G-d saw that the generation after the Holocaust was not able to give over Torah effectively, G-d sent teachers from other religious traditions to teach Jews how to access the goodness, love, and wisdom of the Presence. G-d did this so that Jews would live lives of meaning until the Rabbis and teachers could teach a Torah of illumination.”
There is a hunger and a thirst among our people, both affiliated and unaffiliated to grow spiritually and yet, it is difficult to find teachers that can articulate meaningful pathways that meet our sensibilities as 21st century Orange County Jews. However, these teachers do exist here in Orange County. At Temple Beth El, there is a growing group of congregants who take classes on Kabbalah, chant extended niggunim (wordless melodies), and go away for our annual weekend meditation retreat.
In thinking about how to grow a community of spiritual seekers, some of our members decided that a full Shabbaton experience that would feature one of the leading national teachers of Jewish spirituality and showcase different local teachers could go a long way. The result of this kind of experience would not only expose Orange County Jews to spirituality in their own tradition, but could inspire people to ask for these resources in their local synagogues. One of our planning members Marla Kaufman wanted to help create this weekend as “an incredible opportunity for our larger Jewish community to come together to be uplifted by each other.”
The shabbaton is called “A Festival of Jewish Spirituality” and takes place at Temple Beth El of South Orange County on March 16-17. Our scholar-in-residence is Estelle Frankel, recent finalist for the 2017 National Jewish Book Award for The Wisdom of Not Knowing, a book that brings together Jewish mystical teachings on embracing uncertainty and the unknown. Estelle is a psychotherapist who has taught meditation and Jewish mysticism for over 30 years and is also author of the book Sacred Therapy: Jewish Spiritual Teachings on Emotional Healing and Inner Wholeness.
Estelle will teach during our Friday night Shabbat dinner about Passover under the theme of “how our questions open up the gates of freedom.” Her Saturday lunch topic will focus on courage and the unknown. And, her closing meditation and talk on Saturday afternoon will be about “not knowing and the experience of awe and wonder.”
In addition to Estelle’s teachings for the weekend, participants will have the opportunity to choose two sessions with local teachers on various practices of Jewish spirituality. Our planning member Ellen Prince comments: “Experiencing Judaism through mystical teachings, whether it be Kabbalah, the physicality of Yoga (with a Jewish sensibility), and/or the study of Mussar, allow us meaningful tools to help guide us and help us grow spiritually.” The festival will feature four different session on Saturday afternoon to be introduced to these teachings and practices.
For more information about the full weekend, please visit the website – www.tbesoc.org