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Pardes Levavot

Pardes Levavot, “Orchard of Hearts,” was formed in the spirit of creating conscious holy community. Our name expresses the spiritual blossoming of each individual heart within an inspiring and nurturing orchard.

For information on our congregation please call (303) 563-2110 and leave a message or send email to To join our congregation, please print a copy of our membership form, fill it out, and send it to our Synagogue.

Pardes Levavot gratefully acknowledges Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado for their support of our Circle of Family Education program. Thank you!

Reprinted from the The Daily Camera, June 11, 2005

Souls, rebellion and TiVo

An interview with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement

By Mary Butler, Camera Staff Writer
June 11, 2005

Less than a year after retiring from his World Wisdom chair at Naropa University, 81-year-old Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi is as busy as ever.

At his south Boulder home, where he lives with his wife, Eve Ilsen, he works in a basement office lined with computers. Wires snake behind desks, books are piled everywhere.

On a recent afternoon, Reb Zalman, as he is affectionately called, hurried to complete invitations to his second to youngest son's late June wedding in Israel. The rabbi has 10 children, ranging in age from 20 to 58.

Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, says his life is full with family, his spiritual life and his work. In particular, he's archiving his teachings for Naropa, he continues counseling and mentoring and is involved in the organizations he founded: The Spiritual Eldering Institute, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and the Yesod Foundation.

He left Thursday for New York for a speaking engagement ? and then he was off to Israel for the wedding.

But first, Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, sat down with the Daily Camera to talk about his new book, "Jewish With Feeling: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Practice," (Riverhead) published in March.

Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, left, signs books for Linda Banashek after a speaking engagement and book signing at the Boulder Book Store in April.

Photo by Marty Caivano.

Q: What was the inspiration behind, "Jewish With Feeling: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Practice," what is its core premise and how does it differ from other books you've written?

A: Other books I've written, some of then have dealt with aging... The other books I've written had something to do with helping people who are engaged in learning about Judaism to be able to do it in a spiritual way. Because in so many religions you can get stuck on the outer frame, on the bourgeois understanding that, "If I behave in this nice way, everybody's going to think I'm fine."

But it doesn't yield anything for the inner life. So that's what I did on that story.

This book was more for people who have one big question, which is: "I belong to universal humanity. Why is it necessary that I should be considered part of this particular religious or ethnic group."

So if I had my way with the publisher, I would have called it, "If You're So Universal, Why Be Jewish?" That was the basic thing.

Q: In the book's introduction, you tell readers that you make no assumptions about their knowledge of Judaism or even whether they believe in God. Rather you're interested in their "soul experience." Could you talk about what that means, and why you approached the book from that perspective.

A: The answer is that too many people, when they hear anything about religion, feel that somebody is telling them how to do it from the outside.

And when that happens (there's a) basic rebellion against authority that we have when people are using us; We have a sense that church, synagogue and mosque... are all using you to get their income and maintain their clergy and do all that kind of stuff.

What was the purpose of it in the first place? It had to do with orienting people toward the cosmos in a way that they feel they belong. You're a child of the universe. You have a right to be here. And if I can begin with where people really are, and then ask what were some of (their) experiences, you find out that they have had God experiences but they didn't necessarily come out under the same umbrella that you would find in a house of worship.

When people can find that, then they can ask themselves the question: "How can I make this wonderful moment of grace live inside of me and guide me in my life with family and work and so on and so forth?"

These questions start coming later on. But if you impose them first on people, then people can't rebel against it and push it off.

Q: It seems you find Judaism to be a deep well. Did you see it as more of a static thing when you were younger?

A: I had the good fortune that a man of faith helped me through debunking because everybody has to go through a debunking period before they can start having real faith.

So I was able to scrape off the childhood religion that I was given and that was when I was about 16. Since that time, I've been on that quest and search for spiritual growth...

I found that I had a lot more in common with fellow people who had been on a similar journey, even if they were not of the same faith group.

So for instance, when these days there are these dialogues with the Dalai Lama in which I participate or when the days when Thomas Merton was still alive. He was Trappist monk. I met with Native American shamans and with people from Islam and other religions, and I found that we had a lot more in common if we were dealing with the experiential part of our religion than if we dealt with the dogmatic one.

Q: What is most important to you in your spiritual life?

A: There's a nice Hasidic tale that goes like this: I ask this man, "Why did you go study with your master? What is it that you came to learn?" He said, "I learned how he ties his shoelaces."

You know, it's like a Zen answer. What it's trying to say is, "Whatever I'm doing, I don't have the sense of not being in the presence of God and serving. What difference does it make in what way I serve?" Sometimes it's in prayer and study. Sometimes it's in contemplation. Sometimes it's in helping people.

Q: Describe how you spend a typical day.

A: I get up and, if the weather permits, the first thing I do is go down to Viele Lake and take my walk. I count the new goslings, you know, look around.

I'm, at this point, hard of hearing... This is where I keep my hearing aid (gesturing to small bag hung around his neck). I didn't put in my hearing aid today. I didn't think I needed it. But when I go out in the morning, I put them in so I can hear all the birds singing. What happens is that the walk becomes prayer. That's my morning worship.

Then I come back here and do some more formal prayer. There's a list of people I pray for. Once a month, I take out this box over here (motioning toward box filled with photographs), you see full of pictures, and these are people whom I ordained and so on.

And so I look at the pictures and pray for them, and if I get something to call them, I make a note and send them an e-mail or call them...

Right now, my mother-in-law, who is ailing, is with us and that also takes time. I'm on the phone. I'm on the Internet, the Web. I'm doing quite a bit of pastoral work still because there are some people who have problems for which they don't find the average clergy available to understand what they're going through.

So this comes to me on the telephone. People make appointments with me and so on and so forth. I usually have some editing to do on old files, so I can bring them up to date and make them available.

And then I have to take a nap sometimes after lunch. I didn't take mine yet today. I couldn't go through the day without one and have energy left in the evening. I sometimes teach long distance through video conferencing.

Q: I read recently that you embrace high-tech tools and have a TiVo, a Palm Pilot and AOL screen names. What do you like and/or dislike about the world's increasing technological connectedness and why?

A: ...There was a Jesuit priest by the name of Teilhard De Chardin, who said the development - he was also a paleontologist, that is to say he worked on digs and ancient things - so he pointed out that at first the planet was a hunk of stone. And then life appeared and became a biosphere, meaning life covering it. The biosphere turned into a noosphere, N-O-O-sphere. And that stands for communication. There's another stage coming.

He predicted in the '50s and before his death that there would be global communication... Look what happened when the tsunami happened? We knew about it right away. There was such a strong sense of feeling that people had. "We need to do something about it. We need to help those people." So you can not have warfare like it used to be with CNN being there... So you start seeing that there is something to this global communication. That is the good part of the technology.

Then we come to the bad part of the technology.

...Every year or two there's going to be a new operating system and new computers and higher integration of things, so what's happening is the landfill grows and a lot of heavy metal stuff is going to seep into the ground... So everything is being - the speed that the technology has ratcheted up. Things are going so fast. If you look at the speed of the computer, it's now gigabytes per second. That's an amazing thing. That's all in the background driving us.

I was in (a small town in) Colorado a little while ago and there was no 60-cycle hum. There was none of that. There was nature. It was something, as if I was going to get a chance to heal. That doesn't happen when the cell phone is at my ear beaming stuff into my brain. Right now we are talking and how many radio stations are going through my body?

Not all of them are public radio, but they may also be the fire and police and ambulances. All of that is going on at the same time. That is the negative side of technology. This is why I keep coming back in my book to the business of the Sabbath. There is no down time for the world anymore. Not only is it not healthy, it just breaks our bodies that way. If you figure in the '30s there were no movies on Sunday. The banks were closed from Friday afternoon on until Monday morning and money wasn't rushing through so fast. So what this means is the speeding up of things, (the 24/7) cycle is a very difficult cycle for us to bear.

In order... to remain sane, (we) need to make a Sabbath in which we don't go to do business, ...don't deal with media and so on.

Q: What quality do you admire most in people and why?

A: Kindness. You know there is so much irritation in the world today and anybody who acts with kindness does something healing in the world. I may disagree with a person about their religion and about their politics and what have you. But if I watch them being kind, that's what I admire most.

Q: What's one piece of advice - spiritual or otherwise - you'd like to give the readers of the Daily Camera?

A: I would want to say for people to do some church hopping. Attend various houses of worship and see what people are doing. See where the energy is and where you feel your soul waking up.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Mary Butler at (303) 473-1390 or
Copyright 2005, Boulder Publishing LLC