Tag Archives: Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi

Aligning and Attuning on the First Yahrzeit of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s Passing


2:22 am, June 23, 2015. Sleep not happening, at least not much, right now. I’m vibrating at a pretty intense frequency. Full of feeling and energy. On this journey from my home and life out to a new solo adventure, I’ve found myself moving backwards across the landscape of my life and across the geology of it as well. I left California on June 14th, nine days ago. I planned for some time here, in Colorado, where I am now. I lived off and on in Boulder from the time I was six months old until I was twenty-two. I’m headed to Paris in thirteen days, where I was born over fifty years ago. Going backwards in time and space and encountering myself in all these places is quite a voyage.

On Sunday evening, June 21st, as the long day of Solstice wound down, I joined with Holy community here in remembering our beloved Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. The fifth of Tammuz, which this year corresponded to the 21st of June, marked the one year anniversary of his death. In the Jewish world, this is called a Yahrzeit. We remember our beloveds on the day they left the earth in various ways, with prayer, with candle-lighting, with stories and gathering together. We say their names out loud in our congregations and stand to say the Mourner’s Kaddish, while the community supports us. We never forget those we love.

When a great teacher dies it is a huge parting and loss for the whole world. A great teacher hopefully leaves behind a legacy of teachings, works, and folks who can carry on the Light and Wisdom that this individual teacher managed to shine on all around them. Our Rebbe, was one of these kinds of teachers. He left behind and empowered huge numbers of people to carry on the work, and still, there was no one like him and he is and always will be missed.

So, we gathered in Boulder at Nevei Kodesh, with Rabbi Tirzah Firestone and Rabbi Mark Soloway for a Zikr in honor of our teacher, Reb Zalman. Zikr/Dhikr is an Arabic word similar to the Hebrew word Zahor, for remember. In a Sufi Zikr practice you chant the name of the Divine and move in simple steps. This practice is a physical way of connecting ecstatically to the Divine. Rabbi Mark shared a teaching about sunflowers and their aligning/turning towards the sun. He spoke about how our teacher was someone whose love-affair with the Divine was so great that it made him shine. This was so true. Rabbi Mark also talked about a Zalman teaching about how all of us are like sunflowers turning towards the light of the Divine in our hearts and souls. Some folks forget this or they do not realize that their purpose is to grow like a sunflower, towards goodness, towards Light, towards nourishing all we encounter.

Rabbi Tirzah, along with a gifted group of musicians, led us so sweetly and beautifully in several hours of chanting and movement to lift up our spirits on this sad day of remembrance, but also to align ourselves with Holy purpose, prayer and connection to the soul of our teacher as he joined and became a luminous link on his ancestral lineal chain. Lineage is something, in the United States and the modern world, we don’t talk about so much. There is a kind of bias here against having a lineage, as if being a free agent without adherence or obligation to our ancestors or the past is some kind of blessing.

Lineage, in a religious realm, is very significant and it isn’t just about your blood or ancestral line. I am now aligned with Reb Zalman’s lineage because he was my teacher, he is my teacher still, even across the territory of death. And, his ancestral and spiritual lineage has merit and meaning. Who he aligned with and learned from, who his parents were and who their parents were back to the beginning is present in him and in his teaching. This is true for all of us and becomes real for us when we remember to engage with lineage and with the meaning of Zahor.

Zachor #44 by Mordechai Rosenstein
Zachor #44 by Mordechai Rosenstein
When I visit and share with child-prisoners in the penal juvenile “justice” system, I often talk to them about the fact that they are the product of thousands of successful heroic ancestral survivors making it across the ravages of time. Most often these children think of themselves as failures and since many of them have been brutalized by their families of origin in one form or another, trying to get them to see or find merit in who they are, at their core, is important. One of the ways I try to do this is to remind them that they are already miracles, just by virtue of being alive.

If you are awake and present on the planet now, no matter where you are, your ancestors survived plagues, wars, ice-ages, volcanoes, tidal waves, epic catastrophes and all kinds of crazy stuff to make it to this moment. It’s extraordinary that any of us are here. If we are here, it’s significant and not something to be wasted or ignored.

We don’t have to reproduce physically to create lineage, we only have to align with goodness and great teaching and embody those things. You can’t help being part of a lineage that you were born from, you can choose which lineage you want to align with as you move through your life. This choosing is a fundamental step in making connection to Holiness. You might be lucky enough to come from an ancestral lineage that is full of great teachers that you know about and have ready connection to.

You might be adopted and not have any idea who your grandparents or great-greats were, but no matter what, you have lineage and you can connect and adhere to the lineage of those you love, those you find home with emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

As we chanted and moved in our Zikr for Reb Zalman, Rabbi Tirzah invited us to concentrate on the world we wished to see and to find a specific prayer to offer up along with our bodies and voices. The merit inherent in this communal practice connected to the Aliyah (rising up) of our teacher’s soul would add ummph and power to our prayers. This was palpable. So, while we all moved and swayed, we also were praying. We were praying for peace on this earth, for healing of the planet, for tikkun olam, for personal well-being or personal familial reconciliations. We were praying with our bodies, breath, hearts, minds and feet. No matter what our individual internal prayers were, we attuned with Heaven in our joining together in honor of our teacher. This practice will help all of us and the world move through our wounding towards healing.

After our movements and singing we said Kaddish for Reb Zalman and then we were invited to visit his gravesite where his headstone was now in place. We were asked to do this after his family had their own smaller private ceremony in the morning. So, throughout the day, various folks gathered at the grave of our teacher. We brought stones and stories, tears and songs, silence and sitting still to listen. There were birds and a bunny that kept hopping by, I saw dragon-flies and so many kinds of birds wheeling about. The fellowship and communion continued for us as we sat on the ground surrounding the body of our beloved teacher. 

 My tears and my prayers continue to flow and I hope align with the millions and billions of others on this spinning orb dedicated to tikkun olam, to mending and working to repair what has been destroyed and what is wounded. I feel so un-alone, so completely held within the lineage of my teacher, the communities I belong to, the family I was born from, the friends I cherish, the people I encounter and all the angels in my life who continue to give me hope and help.

As I move backwards through my life and towards being alone and truly not surrounded by physical community, I am awed, once again, by the Great Mystery of Life, the Ein Sof, who placed me here, in Boulder at this moment of connection so that I could carry this feeling and this reminder with me.

I am not alone, I have never been alone, I will never be alone.

I am and always have been surrounded by the luminous beings whose presence lives in my blood and body and also by all the words and teachings and songs which dance through my heart and mind.

May you find your lineage and connect to it with passion and may if uplift and support you in all the work you do. May you remember how uniquely and magically and wondrously created and beauteous a being you are and may you find a way to know in your bones how truly un-alone you are.


from http://www.newkabbalah.com/images/ein.jpg
from http://www.newkabbalah.com/images/ein.jpg

Remembering Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield, zt”l, of blessed memory, Crying a River of Tears

My sweet and wonderful teacher, Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield. Copyright 2010 The Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield Legacy Trust
My sweet and wonderful teacher, Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield. Copyright 2010 The Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield Legacy Trust

The Source of Beauty

(Story told by Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield as he remembered it from his teacher Reb Zalman Shachter-Shalomi zt”l, of blessed memory, retold by Nicole with permission from Rabbi Aryeh)

Once there was a man. He was one of those loose people that hang around street corners gabbing all day. One day, he was walking in the forest and there was a glen with a pond in it. The princess was just coming out from bathing in the pond. He saw her and she was very beautiful. He fell in love with her and so he hung around the palace waiting for her to come out again. Next time she went for a ride he stopped the wagon and said: “Hey, I love you. When will we be able to be together?” The princess took one look at him and said: “In the cemetery.”

He was a simple man, so he went to the cemetery to wait for her. “It’s not so easy for a princess to get away whenever she wants,” he figured to himself. “I guess whenever the coming is good she’ll be here.” He was waiting there one day, two days, getting along by a little begging, just hanging out in the cemetery. After a while he goes around looking at the gravestones and sees; this man lived to be very old, this lady died young, this one had a family, this one didn’t have a family, this one died in an accident. He started to ponder what things are all about. Every once in a while he would sit down and visualize what the princess looked like, so he wouldn’t forget why he was there.

Days go by. They bring people to the cemetery to bury them and he always watches, hangs around and eats. Nothing else is happening at the cemetery, so he watches the people who come to visit the graves. He sees people crying and hears people saying things like, “She was so pretty when she was young,” or “He was such a handsome man,” and all the other things people would say.

Weeks go by. One day he starts asking himself the question, “What is it that I have fallen in love with in the princess? If it is her physical beauty, that is very nice, but it keeps changing.” He realized that the beauty of outer forms is only one phase of beauty. There was nothing else to do in the cemetery but hang around and think and think. He was thinking about what beauty is all about, and he realized that beauty comes in so many ways that somewhere there must be the source of beauty. What could the source of beauty be? So, he kept on thinking.

Months go by. He realizes that the source of beauty must be The Holy One. Then he starts to think how beautiful The Holy One must be. All the visions of beauty he had ever seen passed before his mind’s eye. He realized how many forms beauty has. Then he started to ponder: “Maybe there is beauty without form.”

People saw this guy hanging around the cemetery sitting and thinking, so they started bringing him food so he wouldn’t have to go begging in the city. Word got out that there was a holy man sitting in the cemetery. He was still waiting for the princess but the people didn’t know that. They thought that if he’s sitting in the cemetery he must be a holy man. What else would he be doing there? People start to come and talk to him saying, “You know, I’ve got such and such troubles. What do you advise?” He would give his opinion or say, “I’ll think about it, come back some other day.” He started giving people blessings and the blessings worked.

Meanwhile the princess had gotten married, but she didn’t have any children. She tried doctors and this and that and nothing worked. One day someone said, “Listen, that holy man in the cemetery is doing great things.” She goes to the cemetery and asks the holy man for his blessing to have children.

One look at her and he recognizes the princess. “I want to thank you,” he says. “It was your beauty and your guidance that sent me to the cemetery in the first place, and since I’ve been here I’ve gotten to know many great things. If there is any merit in anything I’ve done I want that merit to be transformed into a child for you.” That’s how he blessed her.

A little while later, people saw he was sitting in very deep meditation, so they didn’t want to bother him. A few days went by and he didn’t come out of his meditation and all the food they brought was still there. The food started rotting and the flies started eating it, and soon the people saw that the flies were eating the man’s eyes too. He had died while he was contemplating the source of beauty without form.

The Raishit Chochma said that you can see from this story that one can learn from loving a woman or a man to come to the love of The Divine.

“Raising an Awareness of Awe”

“….Given that ‘the beginning of wisdom is the fear of heaven’ (Psalms: 111:10), and fear of heaven results from humility, we might expect the paradigm to begin with humility and end with wisdom. Yet Maharal is adamant that we consider a different paradigm, in which humility, and the dveykut attendant upon it, constitute the ultimate goal. Interpreting ‘Raishit Chochma Yirat Hashem’, he equates raishit with that which is primary,[1] so that fear of heaven is above wisdom both spiritually and ontologically. On the mishnah in Avot discussing the mutual interdependence of these values, Maharal further delineates the supremacy of Yirat Shamayim over Chochmah” ~ Yael Wieselberg from his paper: The Place of Yirat Shamayim in Moral Development: The Pedagogical Approach of the Maharal of Prague By Yael Wieselberg

[1] Netiv Yirat Hashem’, Chapter 1, pages 54-55.

This story was originally published in the Temple Beth El newsletter in April of 2000. It was submitted by me after asking Rabbi Aryeh, of blessed memory, if my version worked for him and was close enough to his telling.

Jubilee Part Two: Quaking for The Divine

Nicole, in her red riding hood cape, age seven in Morocco
Nicole, in her red riding hood cape, age seven in Morocco

This is the second of several installments in the Jubilee Retreat Series, the first one is My True Heart Opens and should be read first.:

Seven cycles of seven equals forty-nine. In the Jewish tradition, this is very significant. Since, every seventh day is the sabbath and every seventh year is a Sabbatical called the shmita. The Jubilee (Hebrew yovel יובל) is the year at the end of seven cycles of shmita, So, my forty-ninth birthday was last September. My birthday is always around the Jewish New Year/Rosh Hashanah. I will turn fifty this coming September, so it is my Jubilee. I have been planning to go away for a long retreat for many years. I have told all my family members and most of my friends about this for at least ten years now. Since my youngest is only seventeen (another number with a seven in it), I cannot actually take my Jubilee retreat when I turn fifty. I am determined though to start on my Jubilee year-off before I turn fifty-one.

Both of my parents are Jewish by birth. Neither of them are Jewishly observant or religious. I wanted some connection to the force moving within and around me, to Holy Presence, and since neither my father nor my mother had any relationship to religious practice, nor any connections to Jewish community, my father chose the Quakers also known as The Friends. My father took me to Quaker meetings as a child. He liked them because they were mostly silent, they were educated, there were lots of intellectuals, and they were pacifists. I was in heaven from the first time I sat in Friends Meeting. Here, finally, were a bunch of folks/Friends all communing with and in relationship with Holiness. They were not discussing it or trying to argue against it, they were simply sitting in stillness and waiting for the voice, the still small voice, within them to make itself known.

I am anything but still, small and quiet. I was a slender young girl, but I was never quiet. The Boulder Friends Meeting was my first spiritual home. I would sit in meeting and, of course, The Divine would start talking to me. I would sit on my hands, try and be calm and as patient as a young girl can be, but eventually I would have to stand up and shaking and with tears streaming down my face, share how much The Holy One loved everybody and how beautiful they were. This was the most common theme that seemed to be coming through me. It is still my most common theme and my forever “good news.”

I was a young girl when this was going on and I felt as if I was the only child doing this kind of thing. Usually, the elders would speak or occasionally someone older would share something. I became a favorite of the elders and also made tremendous friendships with the other children at meeting. These friends were different from any other friends because I was encountering them in a spiritual context. They were truly Friends with a capital letter “F.” I spent years with the Boulder Friends Meeting and going to the Inter Mountain Yearly Meetings in New Mexico during the summers was one of the highlights of my early teen years.

The Boulder Friends Meeting was also home to Elise and Kenneth Boulding. These were two maverick human beings. Married for forty-plus years by the time I encountered them. They were white haired, tall, strong and beautiful. Kenneth was originally from England and a world-renowned and respected economist and Elise was originally from Norway and was a professor at Dartmouth prior to being in Boulder and also a world-renowned Sociologist. Both of them were intellectual giants. They had five children, all grown, by the time I met them as a young girl. Kenneth had written many books and several long love poems/sonnets of love for his wife. These were just the best and most wondrous people. Kenneth would sometimes speak after I did at meeting. When he spoke, you knew the voice of Wisdom, and Holiness was coming through. He was gentle and kind and had a slight stutter sometimes, his hair was like pictures of most mad scientists, white and wiry and going in ten directions at once. He was well over six feet tall. He had a strong accent and an extremely distinct voice, which was forceful and strong, even with the stutter.

He would often speak about my sharing as being a gift and he likened my young tears to tears of baptism. He would affirm that all of us need to experience this love and joy of Holiness, that the tears were a place of cleansing and newness and youth. He made me feel at home. I am crying just thinking of these people and this time in my life, when I was honored, even at the young age of eleven or so, as a person of merit and depth with something to share. In school, I was perpetually taunted and teased. At home there was still pain from my parents divorce and so much confusion. At Meeting, I was heard and seen and honored and not for anything I did, but for the voice of love and hope inside of me that couldn’t help but bubble up as soon as I got still and quiet in communion with other folks sitting still and waiting for inspiration and connection.

The first time I learned of the idea of a year retreat was when I was a young girl. Elise Boulding was a mother and an inspired feminist, professor, peace activist, and she wrote many books. My mother is also a feminist and artist and she collaborated with Elise when she was writing a book called The Underside of History: A View of Women through Time, first published in1976. My mother, Helen Redman, did the illustrations for this book. My mother and Elise worked together and I remember sitting at Elise’s table one summer afternoon with them both. Elise was speaking about her retreat, her year long silent retreat. What was this busy mother, grand-mother, author, professor and extraordinarily busy activist talking about? How could she have taken a year long retreat? But she had. Elise and Kenneth were very deep thinking and deeply feeling folks, their relationship to Holiness was not casual. Elise Boulding planted the seed in my young mind that a mother, wife, maverick thinker and activist, could retreat from all of that to seek stillness and connection with Holiness.

This seed, planted so long ago has been growing since then. It is now a veritable oak tree inside of me. I will always love my first spiritual base, my Friends from Boulder and New Mexico. I still love Quakers and the Friends Meeting and feel at home there. I am no Quaker though, I’m just too damn loud and very definitely practicing and in love with my Judaism now.

Imagine my delight when I uncovered that the Jewish tradition, which any well-versed Christian Quaker (like Elise), knew, has retreat practices related to the Jubilee Year and to daily meditation and stillness. There are instructions in the Talmud that suggest one should take time to get still and calm for an hour or so before beginning prayers and then do the prayers. After the prayers one is also instructed to sit in stillness and communion for another hour or so. If you do this the three proscribed times a day, that’s about seven hours of prayer and meditation. Not really something the average person is doing, but it is still there as the model of what should be done; an ancient instruction to engage in daily meditation and retreat.

There are also teachings about how a man should take a retreat when he is fifty to re-assess his life and prayer practices. I’m not sure a whole year is specified, but again the seed is there. There are lots of fascinating and deep practices related to the Jubilee Year. All debts are supposed to be forgiven, all land is supposed to revert to its original owners, and many other amazing and not easy to do things. To my knowledge, these practices were rarely observed, and alterations and amendments were made. Who wants to forgive all their debts? Who wants to give their land back to the original natives? Who are the original, original natives? How far back does one go, etc..?

I know that I need a retreat year to be by myself with the Divine only and I’d love to have all my debts forgiven, or at least take a break from thinking about them! It is also very hard for me to find my own sense of what is MINE to do and be around others. I am looking forward to the time and space, a luxurious amount of both, to go deep into the great mystery and see what I find and how best to serve Holiness, my family and community on the other side of fifty. Please stay tuned here, before I go away, and follow me to know more abut this adventure as it unfolds. To be continued………….


Nicole writes and remembers, with tears and laughter, from her home in Bayside she dedicates this teaching in honor and memory of her greatest teacher Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, May his Memory be for a Blessing. He came into this world on August 28, 1924 and left it on July 3, 2014. This piece was originally published in The Mad River Union on Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

The territory of loss, Mourning the death of R’ Meshullam Zalman Hiyya ben Chaya Gittel ve Shlomo HaCohen

Reb Zalman z"l in celebratory prayer from the CU Boulder archives, photo by Marcia Prager
Reb Zalman z”l in celebratory prayer from the CU Boulder Archives Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi Collection, used here with permission, original photo by Yehudit Goldfarb


I keep trying to get things done and find myself in a constant loop of looking at all the videos, and obituaries and documentaries and teachings of my great teacher Reb Zalman z”l (may his memory be for a blessing). I am wandering around crying or doing one thing or another for a few moments and then wandering back to my state of mourning. So, I am not getting much done. I am sharing links here to various video of him. This first one is only nine minutes or so of him being interviewed and is a sweet introduction.


To understand the depth of my sadness and that of so many others you may want to look at the thirty or more different obituaries of him done around the world, or check out the various links I’m putting at the end of this post here. Some of you may have studied with this great man, others may have only heard of him.

It is through him and those he empowered to be rabbis and teachers that I came into relationship with Judaism, he is my spiritual father and grandfather as he is and was to so very many people. Our tradition has tremendously beautiful and powerful spiritual technology and process around death. When we write the name of someone who has died we do so by adding two letters at the end: Reb Zalman z”l (zichrono livracha (זיכרונו לברכה). The practice of inserting these two English letters Z’L is in abbreviation for the Hebrew words above, which can be translated to mean “may his or her memory be blessed.”

We mark seven days of mourning after burial and gather in the home of the person who has passed to tell stories, pray and offer support to the family. We light a seven-day candle to hold a space for light and memory in our homes for those we are mourning, mine is burning still.

Photos of my Rebbe, Flowers from my Garden and the Seven Day Candle
Photos of my Rebbe, Flowers from my Garden and the Seven Day Candle


I gathered with some folks at our congregation in California and told stories and said Kaddish for Reb Zalman z”l the day he was buried. I have been reading his books, and watching lots and lots of videos of him offering teachings. This is really all I want to be doing right now. Everything else has no draw or pull to it. I know that I am not alone in mourning right now, even though I sit alone at my home writing these words.

In a few days I will drive to my friend’s home in Oregon and we will tell stories and cry and sing and celebrate and mourn together our great teacher. We will swim in the river near her home and try to hold fast to all that has been given to us from him.

Luckily, he was truly wise and left behind a tremendous legacy. Reb Zalman donated his papers to Norlin Library in Boulder and there is a permanent Zalman M. Shachter- Shalomi Collection there. Additionally, there is a foundation, (the Yesod Foundation) dedicated to sharing his teachings and hundreds if not thousands of his students and their students will continue to make Judaism real, thriving, feminist, earth-friendly and alive.

I feel so grateful to have had the times I did with this maverick of a teacher and guide and I’m so sad I didn’t have more time in this world to study with him, directly. Now, I will have to spend years moving through all the media, papers, books and stories he has left behind. I will need to seek out and spend time with his closest students and  learn from them. This is not a sad thing, but something I long for and delight in.

When a great teacher dies, we are instructed to carry their teachings on and to offer in their name and memory. So, I am dedicating myself anew to studying better and more and devoting myself with greater zeal to pursuing Hebrew fluency, Torah Study, and time to davven (pray/commune) with Holiness in stillness and solitude as well as in communion with others, from all religious traditions.

” Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a master, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every man to the side of merit.” Pirkei Avot, Chapter 1:6

May you be lucky enough to have acquired/assumed a great teacher, like I have. If you haven’t yet found that great master consider this your invitation to dive into a body of teaching and work that will change and improve your life and the lives of all those around you.

These are just some of the links both to obituaries for my beloved teacher and also for you to explore in your own searches for wisdom, guidance and growth. I hope they will inspire you to look deeper and love stronger and bigger than you can imagine doing.


With Big Love and Lots of Tears,