Category Archives: Uncategorized

Compassion Behind Prison Bars – Human Kindness Foundation


Please watch this short (4 minute) video:

At the political and societal level, I am very much aligned with those who seek to radically change the prison-industrial complex which involves the mass incarceration of Black, Latino and poor white people. It is an injustice wreaking havoc, especially in communities of color, but truly to our whole society. Yet, while this system is in place, there are those who seek to bring compassion and human contact to those behind bars. At the deepest level of this work, those doing the service experience their work as part of their own journey to be free. 

My good friend, Sita Lozoff, along with her late husband Bo, started the Prison Ashram Project in 1973 and then the Human Kindness Foundation in 1987. Bo’s first book, We’re All Doing Time, now in its 19th printing, is available in several languages. In this book, Bo makes the point that we are all, in or outside prison, “doing time” and ultimately have the freedom to choose our state of mind and how we relate to others. It was hailed by the Village Voice as “one of the ten books everyone in the world should read,” and has been lauded by prison staff and prisoners alike as one of the most helpful books ever written for true self-improvement and rehabilitation. When I worked in a drug treatment clinic and met many who had been in prison, they remembered seeing the book, some having read it, and knowing of it’s great power to change lives. 

A number of years ago, I went with Bo and Sita to several prisons in the Bay Area of California. It was a very moving experience for me, going behind the razor wire, massive concrete walls, gun towers and steel doors to meet with men and women with whom Bo shared the basic wisdom of the great spiritual masters and gave practical advice for applying these principles in extremely difficult situations.

Bo and Sita are two who fit the description of those in my book, Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths. Both were born into Jewish families and through their spiritual seeking met Ram Dass and became disciples of Ram Dass’s guru, Neem Karoli Baba. They chose for their path of service teaching meditation and yoga to prisoners and corresponding with them. Many of these letters make up the most fascinating parts of Bo’s books.

One of the most difficult challenges is when prisoners are released sometimes after many years of incarceration. Here again they receive support and encouragement from HKF. The Human Kindness Foundation does all of its work at no charge. Like all non-profits, it needs support. I’m hoping that some receiving this message will find it worthy of sending a contribution of any amount. It will be of great benefit.

(See short video at

in peace,

Alan Levin

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  (attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 25:40)



Review of Crossing the Boundary and Upcoming Book Signing

I’m happy to say that Crossing the Boundary has received a very positive review in the independent book review journal Forward Reviews. You can see the full review here.

I continue to receive messages from folks reading the book about how much they enjoyed it and also how thought-provoking it is for them on their own spiritual journey. I recently had a wonderful time discussing the book with Alex and Allyson Grey at their Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM) center in Wappinger Falls, NY.  Allyson is featured in the book, and Buddhist teacher, Marty Lowenthal, who also has a chapter, was there for a very illuminating discussion.

My next talk and book signing will be at the Katonah Village Library in Westchester County, NY, for any of you who are in the area. Please see their listing here:












Uncle Bernie Crosses the Israel Boundary

When I was a kid I learned to address my parents’ close friends as “Uncle” or “Aunt,” Uncle Lou,” “Aunt Gertrude,” etc. It was a term of respect. I’ve learned that Native Americans often address their elder teachers as “Uncle” giving them the kind of deference those in the East give their gurus. It’s with that understanding that I give Bernie Sanders the respect he deserves for crossing what is perhaps the toughest boundary of Jewish identity, especially for a politician. It’s not stepping away from organized religion, it’s publicly challenging Israel and its right-wing American supporters. Thank you, Uncle Bernie!

The news today is that he has turned down the invitation to speak at AIPAC, (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee). See Salon and The Jewish Telegraphic Agency. For decades, all American politicians seeking high office in the U.S. have paid tribute to AIPAC to either receive their blessing or at least hope to not to be on their hit list. AIPAC’s lobbying power on behalf of everything Israel does is legendary. Their power is feared by all politicians, especially since having the full supportive weight of the Evangelical Christian Right (which sees the ascendancy of Israel in the “Holy Land” as essential to their agenda of Armageddon).

Unfortunately, in statements released to date, Sanders did not openly criticize the group, and it remains to be seen what he will say in the written statement he is submitting. He offered as a reason for declining the invitation, that he is involved in campaigning. But, as they say, actions speak louder than words, and his refusal to attend, in the world of politics, is about as strong a statement as anything he could say. It is difficult to even measure the political courage it takes to defy AIPAC while running for President of the United States.

While a growing number of Jewish-Americans have increasingly been critical of Israeli policies towards Palestinians and the continued building of settlements, Jewish leaders have continued to stand firm in their commitment to defend all Israeli dictates. The most flagrant example was AIPAC’s lobbying support of Netanyahu’s efforts to undermine President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. AIPAC and its allies continue to attempt to stifle criticisms of Israel in the media and on campuses, equating boycotting Israel with anti-Semitism and proposing legislation to make that a crime. Meanwhile, Jewish Voice for Peace,, mostly made up of young Jews, has been growing exponentially and challenges the long standing narratives concerning the history and current realities of Israel and her neighbors.

In my book, Crossing the Boundary: Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths, I gave considerable focus to the sense of identification with Israel that many, if not most, Jewish people have formed. Israeli flags fly in synagogues. Children are taught to sing the Israeli national anthem. Money is raised for Israeli settlements and even for the Israel Defense Forces, the army of Israel. (The organizations doing this are tax-exempt, so that American taxpayers are currently supporting this funding in addition to the 4 or 5 billion that goes to support Israel’s military occupation of Palestinians). From early childhood, I and other Jewish children were taught to deeply feel our affiliation with Israel and associate that with our Jewishness. One can argue that all this is “understandable” given the abusive and genocidal treatment of Jews in Europe prior to the 1948 birth of Israel as a state. But being understandable doesn’t make it right.

Being Jewish does not make one an Israeli. Israel, despite what Netanyahu might say, is not the state of the Jewish people. It is the state of all the people living there, (75% Jews, 20% Palestinian Arabs and 5 % ‘Other.’)  It is a state that currently controls the lives by military occupation of another 4 million Palestinians. It is a state whose actions anyone, regardless of their religious or ethnic identity, has the right to evaluate critically. Non-Jewish Americans who are concerned about these issues, speak of Israel in whispers, as if they were speaking of their Jewish friends’ mothers. It’s time we broke the trance of the destructive identification of Jewishness with Israel. It’s time that public debate about Israel was not associated with how one feels about Jewish people. The cost is too great.

Jewish tradition teaches that the story of Moses leading the people from slavery should cause us to be involved in freeing ourselves from slavery to oppressive ideas and false identifications. Uncle Bernie crossed this boundary by refusing AIPAC’s invitation to speak at their gala conference. It is a step in leading not only Jews, but all Americans, from the enslavement to Israeli intransigence and chutzpah, across the sea to a sane and just foreign policy. It will be interesting to see the fallout from this move and also whether he will be pressured to backtrack as so many politicians who have dared challenge Israel in the past.

When I was a kid, my parents’ generation taught us to ask of of all politicians and policies, “Is it good for the Jews.” If Bernie holds firm, it will be good for the Jews, and all Americans. As he said when asked about his religion, “I believe we are all connected, when anyone is in pain, I feel that pain.” Anyone!

Bernie Sanders speaks about his religion:

Starhawk and Allyson Grey

The best part of writing my book, Crossing the Boundary, was meeting and learning from the amazing spiritual teachers I interviewed and being able to stay in touch with them. I recently had the opportunity to bring Starhawk to the Stony Point Center near where I live and introduce her to a very adoring crowd of folks. People were eager to hear her talk about a wide range of issues including her new book, City of Refuge, which is a sequel to her best selling The Fifth Sacred Thing. A great many of the people in the audience spoke of being inspired on their spiritual path by Starhawk’s earlier work, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religions of the Goddess, which helped launch the modern feminist spirituality movement.

photo credit: Photo by Myles Aronowitz/LUSH Photography

photo credit: Photo by Myles Aronowitz/LUSH Photography

Starhawk is a true boundary crosser, not only in her choosing to shift from being a practicing Jew to  Pagan witch, but in her consistent activism, challenging our political and social norms and awakening others through her writings, teachings and actions that a different, more loving and cooperative world is possible. She spoke of her current work leading eco-activist and permaculture workshops and answered questions on a very wide range of issues including the dynamics of our current political options in the U.S.

Coming up on March 25th, I’ll have the opportunity to speak with another woman I interviewed for Crossing the Boundary, Allyson Grey. We’ll be doing a panel at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, CoSM, which she and her husband, renowned visionary artist, Alex Grey have developed. If you’ve never been to CoSM, and you live anywhere close enough to Wappinger Falls, NY, along the Hudson River, you are in for a wonderful experience to just see what is happening there. The basic mission of CoSM is “to build an enduring sanctuary of visionary art to inspire a global community.” Please take some time to tour around their website to get a taste of the art and inspiring work that is being done there. I’m looking forward to talking with Allyson about the many themes in Crossing the Boundary.Allyson no text


In attending the event on March 25th, you can come early for a tasty vegan dinner at 6 or just come for the panel and discussion at 7 PM. There’s always a very interesting group of people who come to CoSM events.

CoSM event page:

Facebook event page:

In my own teaching work, I continue to integrate mindfulness meditation, Agni (light-fire) Yoga, and shamanism at Tree of Life Meditations retreats. See: for the next retreat on April 2nd, and the Tree of Life Meditations Facebook page:

Meanwhile folks who have read Crossing the Boundary continue to tell me they are enjoying and finding themselves inspired by what they find in there.

Please share any or all of this message.

With blessings and love,



Crossing the Boundary is now available for sale!!

Exciting news! Crossing the Boundary – Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths is now available through this web/blog and also through Amazon and other major booksellers. You can receive a signed copy when you order directly from this site.

Those of you who contributed to my Kickstarter campaign should be receiving your signed copy of the book very shortly as I am busily signing and mailing them.

Now is the time that you can really help me by passing this information on to your family,  friends and colleagues. Suggesting they go to will allow them to see excerpts from the book and information about the message of the book. Most will appreciate the book’s relevance to the personal and collective challenges we all face as we explore spirituality and its interface with tribal identification. Though of strong interest to Jewish people because that is its primary focus, anyone interested in their own spiritual awakening will enjoy the interviews and reflections in the book.

A Jew at Maundy Thursday

At the boundaries of what defines being a Jew there are gates that don’t swing outward easily. One of these is marked with the Cross.

When I was a kid, my older brother told me about the Catholics that chased and beat up the Jewish kids for no apparent reason. I didn’t know what that was about, but I knew people hated Jews and did stuff like that. It scared me. When I was interviewing spiritual teachers for Crossing the Boundary, several spoke of being beat up by kids who had just come from Sunday school on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday. The kids had just heard for the first time (or the umpteenth time) that “the Jews” killed Jesus and the guilt was upon all Jews for all time. That meant us; we were the “them” in their “us vs. them” world, and they were “them” in ours.

Those days seem to be over in America. There’s been a lot of inter-faith dialogue; Jews have been accepted and assimilated into mainstream culture. The Churches have mellowed their position on the Jews, and Jews have gotten tougher (more are working out at gyms instead of yeshivas). But, in church they still tell the story about “the Jews” who begged for Jesus to be crucified. It’s part of the New Testament and that would have to be rewritten or omitted for it to change. Similarly, the obscene parts of the Torah (e.g.: where “G-d” tells the Israelites to kill every man, woman and child in Canaan) will still be recited by religious Jews every year when that part of the scroll comes around.

So Jesus and the Cross are still viscerally difficult for many Jews. Of course, it goes back much further and the wounds are much deeper than the statements in churches or the individual beatings in America; confiscations of property, pogroms, required conversions or death, expulsions from countries that were home for generations, all leading up to the Holocaust, were a large part of life in Christian Europe for close to two thousand years.

So, while it can be a stretch for a Jew to freely choose a religious path other than Judaism, for that to be a Christian one is especially challenging. Even if the individual has shed their personal and inherited collective fears of Christianity, their family tends to have a much harder time than if their child had become a Buddhist, a Sufi or Hindu (though this is not always a cakewalk either). In Crossing the Boundary you can read the story of Father Paul Mayer whose Jewish parents required him to see a psychiatrist in order to persuade or coerce him not to convert. He tells the story of his evolution towards becoming a radical activist Catholic Priest.

 Nettie Spiwack, the interfaith minister I interviewed for Crossing the Boundary, experienced a profound spiritual revelation in her youth when she went with her Jewish family to tour Israel. “There, overlooking Jerusalem, with monks chanting nearby in the room reputed to be the site of the Last Supper, she quietly experiences a spontaneous spiritual revelation: ‘It all really happened. Jesus lived; His story is real and it is important to my life.’ She feels an overwhelming, awe-inspiring experience of the presence of God.”[1] Nettie went on to become deeply involved in the “Jesus movement” at college, which led to her parents requiring her to get psychiatric help and cut off contacts with her Christian circle. As the depth of her religious study continued, she never abandoned her connection with Jesus, but expanded to include other masters from the spectrum of world religions.

 Jonathan Goldman, a leader in the Church of Santo Daime, tells a powerful story of his own healing and resolving of the Jewish/Christian conflict within himself. As he became more deeply involved in this syncretic religion (which brings together Catholicism and the use of the shamanic plant medicine, Ayahuasca), he had to face the destructive personal and collective forces between these two streams of religious transmission and identification. I have participated in many Santo Daime ceremonies and gradually learned to recite and deeply embrace the “Hail Mary” and Lord’s prayers, the making of the sign of the crucifix, and opening more deeply to the transmission of the prophet, Jesus, and Mother Mary.

I first opened my mind to Jesus and his teachings in the heyday of hippie life in Haight-Ashbury, reading the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, a purportedly channeled Gospel that told the life of Jesus during his absent years, attending esoteric mystery schools in North Africa and then returning to teach a path of enlightenment. As I began to study meditation and spiritual practices, Christ consciousness became another term for enlightenment and Jesus one of the great Masters who embodied the divine and taught the way of the Love that is the essence of God.

So this Easter/Passover season, I attended Maundy Thursday at the little Episcopal church down the road. My wife, Ginny, often plays cello and guitar there (as well as at her pagan women’s moon circle), and we have come to deeply appreciate the wonderful open-minded minister, Father Dearman, and the very friendly community of people who gather there for Sundays and holidays. I had only heard about this strange ritual of Maundy Thursday days before. The name comes from when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and told them to do the same for others. Maundy comes from the Latin word for “commandment,” as Jesus is reputed to have said “I give you a new commandment.” (John 13:34)

At a certain point in the Thursday evening church service, those who choose to participate take off their shoes and socks and walk over to the minister who, on his knees, pours warm water over each one’s feet and washes them. As Ginny’s cello is playing the hymn, “I heard the voice of Jesus say,” I bare my feet and sit to be blessed by the gentle minister’s honoring of the “new commandment.” He then explains that this commandment is simply, “love one another.”

I think back to the time of this teaching when a Jewish prophet and his twelve Jewish students added number eleven to Moses’s ten, and I think about how it happened that love became hate. Wash each other’s hands at the Passover seder, wash each other’s feet on Maundy Thursday, “LOVE ONE ANOTHER”; how hard is that to understand?

– Alan Levin








[1] From Crossing the Boundary, chapter 13.

Crossing the Boundary to be published!

Great news! I have just signed a contract with Regent Press in Berkeley to publish Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths. Modern technology being what it is, the book should be available in a month or so.

Thank you to all those who have supported me along the way in developing this book and to those who contributed to my Kickstarter campaign (who will soon be receiving a signed copy of the book).

I will continue to add to this web/blog, interviewing others who have crossed a boundary and writing on related themes. I am encouraged by feedback to date and I hope you will pass information about this project along to friends and colleagues.

Blessings and peace,