Tag Archives: crossing the boundary

Palestinian Peace Activator – Eva Dalak

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Eva Dalak. You can view the video of our conversation here: https://youtu.be/jmHc-b3oC18?si=jddkFtv0uATJwYUn or just listen to the recording on my podcast here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1827447/15086746.

Eva was born in Israel in a Muslim family and as a child, learned to think of herself as an Arab-Israeli. She moved to France to study and received a double Masters degree in International Relations and International Administration from the Sorbonne. Her skills, and the fact that she speaks five languages fluently, led her to Brussels to work with an NGO and also as a consultant to the European Union. Living there for 10 years, she took on Belgian nationality. Her work included extensive conflict resolution projects in Africa and later New York.

Eventually, she came to the U.S. and began looking more deeply into the psychological and spiritual roots of conflict and realized she needed to do the work within herself before she could help others. She now likes to use the term “peace activator” to describe what she does, rather than peace activist, noting that it is the peace within that needs to be activated and brought out into the world.

Her self exploration and truth seeking led her to embrace her identity as a Palestinian. Especially now, she devotes herself to working with both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. In her work with them as individuals and in groups, people find the common humanity they share with the people they had come to see as “others.” She sees this as getting to the roots of the conflict and a necessary part of finding solutions that will bring about justice and peace.


I found the work she does through PeaceActivation of great interest. As well, her life journey, crossing boundaries of different national or ethnic identities, seems to give her a clear vision of the role identity plays in all of us. I have found that when we recognize and accept our personal and collective identifications, we can more genuinely transcend the separative aspects of those identities and experience ourselves as fundamentally spiritual beings living in a human family. Eva Dalak seems to me to be someone who has done the work and is helping others find the way.

Eva and her partner live in Costa Rica and have a healing retreat center where they have “PeaceActivation” workshops and trainings.

Please see the links below to find out more about her work and ways to take part:

 Eva’s article on Medium – “Are You Ready..”  

Peace Activation – To register for the weekly calls https://peaceactivation.org/weekly-zo…

For individual coaching with Eva – http://www.evadalak.me 

Please feel free to share this and other blog posts from me and subscribe to my YouTube and or podcast series, Crossing the Boundary.

Crossing the ISM Boundary

“The world is new to us every morning –

this is God’s gift: and EVERY man should believe he is reborn each day.”

–the Baal Shem Tov (primary founder of Hasidism)

“You cannot continue to victimize someone else

just because you yourself were a victim once – there has to be a limit.”

–Edward Said (Palestinian author and activist)

Hasidimism, Israelism, and Antisemitism

Disclaimer: These are quite controversial issues. I am writing from my observations and informed opinions. I am not a professional scholar or researcher in any of these fields. I ask only that you see if any of it resonates with your own thoughts and feelings.

Two of the words in the title are invented, one by me. They obviously have to do with two topics, two very thorny discussion topics: the communities of people known as Hasidic, and the nation-state of Israel. I use the term “thorny” because discussing either of them almost always involves fear of being stung by accusations of antisemitism or possibly contributing to already existing antisemitism in the larger community. My intention in writing this is to help those struggling with the issues, who have strong feelings about them, but are afraid and inhibited about communicating, especially with Jewish people. My hope is to contribute to a freer and more helpful dialogue and positive actions.

First a bit about what I mean by “isms.”

Growing up in a religious or a secular-ideological family is growing up immersed in an ism. That is, there’s a set of ideas or myths that define what is heroic or cowardly, what your relation to God or higher ideals entails, and how to answer the basic questions of life: who your people are, who or what you are, and what you are here to do. These myths or belief systems deeply saturate your consciousness affecting all thoughts, feelings and visceral inclinations on subjects that touch on the ism identity. Folks with strong ism identities tend to see the world in us/them ways, “you’re one of us, or not,” “you get it, or you don’t.” Criticism from within the group has to fall within a certain boundary of acceptability, criticism from outside the group tends to be seen as hostile and threatening. People outside the ism group tend to sense the boundary that encloses the group and individuals in it.

Anti-SemitISM

Unfortunately, this is an ism that has captured most of humanity, especially in that part of humanity that has been influenced by Christianism (a subject for another time). Over the past two millennia, generation after generation, so much hatred has poured forth, so much degrading judgement has been heaped on “the Jews,” that it’s difficult for anyone to have escaped feeling or believing that some of it is true. With so much smoke, there must be fire somewhere. So some of what is actually the dark projection of the shadow of humanity – the ego’s essential greediness and selfishness – must be the actual nature of the Jews. “Smart as they may be, they’re only out for themselves.”

Volumes of books and articles have been written by scholars about antisemitism, its roots and complex manifestations. What I’m referring to here is the subjective mindset that demonizes the essential character of Jewish people, and the actions that stem from that mindset. It has fulfilled the need for a scapegoat in many parts of the world over the centuries. This has resulted in separation, ghettoization and pogroms, culminating in the Holocaust. Until recently, the stereotypes of Jews became almost universally accepted even by the intelligentsia throughout Europe and its extensions. In the U.S., Jews were excluded from many predominantly White associations and public accommodations up until the 1950’s when I was a child. I recall going on trips to Miami and my dad telling me certain hotels didn’t allow Jews (or Colored or dogs).

While expressions of anti-Semitic ideas and discrimination against Jewish people have been largely eliminated from public view in the U.S., they are far from gone.

On a website comment discussion that had complaints about a business (that was owned by Jews), someone wrote, ”Anything Jews get into, money, publishing, movie industry, becomes crooked because they are crooked by nature.” Another said, “Time after time, nation after nation, generation after generation, they are stealers.”

In recent times, especially in the Trump era, openly racist and antisemitic language and violence have escalated, coming out of the closet of the subjective experience of individuals and routinely expressed on social media and through acts of harassment and violence. We’ve all heard the haunting chant of the White Supremacists marching in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

I think it’s important to acknowledge that antisemitic tropes are like destructive memes – thoughts that spread like contagious viruses. They exist on a continuum of intensity in just about everyone, Jewish people included. As with racism, patriarchy, classism, etc., even the victims have been subjected to the conditioning. Being free of it starts with being aware of it. Anti-racist activists and teachers are often wrongly criticized for attempting to tell liberal white people that they still have internalized racism. And for educating people of color as to how their internalized racism works against themselves. Isms become invisible prisons of the mind.

The Russian spiritual teacher, Gurdjieff said, “You are in prison. If you wish to get out of prison, the first thing you must do is realize that you are in prison. If you think you are free, you can’t escape.”

All that said, it’s important to acknowledge that dramatic progress has been made, especially in the U.S. and Europe. Most Jews have fully assimilated and been accepted into all areas of society and have leadership roles throughout. Jews have positions of power and influence seemingly at odds with the fact that they are 2.4% of the adult U.S. population and .2% of the world. (Yes, 2.4 and .2 – hard to believe). What’s troubling is that in the two areas of focus in this writing, the communities of the Hasidim and Israel, there are serious concerns about how that power and influence is being abused.

HasidimISM

I am a firm supporter of the freedom of religion. Hasidism is an essentially mystical, Jewish spiritual transmission with a lineage extending back several centuries. It contains some of the most precious and deepest teachings of the Jewish religion. It was a liberating force in the Jewish world, offering Jews that were not steeped in the scholarly study of Jewish law an opportunity to experience a joyful and mystical form of spirituality with a loving embrace of the natural world.

But as with Evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity, the organized institutions that evolved to represent the teachings of the pioneers of this tradition rigidified the practices and created hierarchies of power, and we have what we have today. There is the Hasidim and several offshoots and parallel ultra-Orthodox groups all of which are part of what are known as Haredi Jews. Most outsiders refer to all Haredi people as Hasidic, so I’m using that more familiar term here. An individual in this tradition is a Hasid, the plural is Hasidim. What I’m calling Hasidimism is the adherence to the hierarchical, group-think, fundamentalist, separative ideology within much of the Haredi community that leads those members to be mistrustful and fearful of outsiders and willing to act with wanton disregard for the rights and needs of those they view as outsiders: the Goyim (non-Jews) and secular Jews. To be sure, not all Hasidim adhere to this way. As with all isms, there is a continuum along which people find themselves.

I moved to Rockland County in 2004. It’s less than an hour north of New York City. When I asked people here what the primary issues were in the area, I was told it was relations with the Hasidim: their relations with non-Jews, with people of color and with non-ultra-Orthodox Jews. The Hasidim mostly live in enclaves in one part of the County and had managed to take control of the public school board of one of the towns even though their kids did not attend those schools. The public schools were primarily Black and Brown, the Hasidic kids went to private yeshivas and it was apparent that the public schools were being slowly milked of resources diverted to the yeshivas. Complaints were routinely dismissed as coming from antisemitism.

The damage to the public schools and many other issues were making people outside the Hasidic community view them with hostility, validating the big fear generated by Hasidimism – that everyone hates them. After years of trying to foster dialogues between the Hasidim and other segments of the community, a group of progressives came together to focus attention of the problems. We first needed to address clearly that criticism of the leaders and group behavior of the Hasidic/Haredi community had nothing to do with antisemitism. A six page document was drafted with links to videos and other sources of information. Because of the intense and consistent accusations that critics of the Hasidic community were anti-Semitic, the document stated:

“We speak along with the many liberal and progressive Jews from all the non-ultra-Orthodox communities: Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and secular. We are also aware that there are many within the ultra-Orthodox religious world who genuinely oppose the direction of their leaders but are intimidated into silence.
……It seems clear that these problems would generally be addressed by the liberal and progressive community through community education, government regulation and intervention were it not for the fear of being falsely accused of antisemitism. We cannot overstate this fact: opposition to the illegal and unethical behavior of any ultra-Orthodox leaders or groups is not antisemitism. Liberal and progressive citizens and political representatives need to stand clearly in opposition to such destructive activities as is consistent with their values.”

The document went on to describe in detail a number of areas of concern. A few of the issues are summarized here:

Schools: “Despite their indifference and even contempt for public education, Ultra-Orthodox run for and are elected to the boards of public school districts. Independent monitors have found that they use their public positions to favor the interests of their own private religious schools (yeshivas). The state of New York found that the East Ramapo school district, under control of a majority ultra-Orthodox board, illegally sent millions of dollars to yeshivas. Two public schools in East Ramapo were closed and sold to yeshivas for less than their value, and an appraiser was convicted of filing false instruments in association with one of the sales.”


Education within the Yeshivas: In Rockland County and many of the Hasidic schools in NYC, little or no secular education is provided all the way through high school. This is contrary to state law and creates numerous problems for their own members and the surrounding community.


Politics: With little education in civics, history (other than the Bible), science, and the English language, the leaders of the community essentially dictate who and what to vote for in elections and the community votes as a block. Politicians most often fall in line and support policies inconsistent with the needs of the larger community.


Housing: Hasidic developers have controlled land use boards in towns and routinely violate comprehensive plans, environmental regulations, safety regulations, and build housing that discriminates against non-Haredi individuals. Public funds are used to build what is essentially segregated housing. Because of the extremely high birth rate encouraged by Hasidimism, they seek to expand to surrounding communities. Whole upstate towns have had their school boards and town councils similarly taken over.


While these issues affect those outside the Haredi community, many issues of concern adversely affect members of the community itself which ultimately creates a burden on everyone. Covering up child and domestic abuse, revoking parental rights of dissidents, promotion of prejudice and discrimination, fraud in public programs, slumlord rental ownership, cult-like submission to some of the rabbis.


It is difficult for me to list these things as I know that these behaviors are characteristic of the stereotypes that antisemites hold against Jews. Further, Hasidimism promotes the belief that they are the only true Jews. It’s for this reason and more that much of the vocal opposition to the Hasidic expansion into other communities comes from Jewish people.


To make this last point more clear, I offer an anecdotal story. I was recently in a large department store talking with a sales lady, an immigrant from Ecuador. She was telling me about how “the Jews” were abusing some of her friends, taking advantage of them because they did not have legal status, and cheating them of their money. I knew, of course, what she meant: the men with the long beards and black hats and coats. She was shocked when I told her that I was Jewish. I shared that there are differences amongst Jews as there are with all peoples. The incident reminded me of stories I’ve heard of the Palestinian children who when they speak of the men in full armor with machine guns taking their fathers and brothers away or destroying their homes, they call those men, “the Jews.” Those are the only Jews they know. Which brings me to IsraelISM.

IsraelISM

The following are facts: In much of the land often referred to as Israel/Palestine, one ethnic group (Jewish-Israelis) occupies and increasingly confiscates the land of another ethnic group (Arab-Palestinians), and through a brutal military occupation controls the movement and lives of that people. Despite these facts, here in the U.S., Jewish youth are taught that what is happening is necessary and justified and that they need to support and defend the nation-state of Israel against all critics. More than that, it is their obligation to “love” Israel and consider moving there and/or joining the military that enforces that Occupation. That is Israelism.

The term was coined by the directors, Eric Axelman and Sam Eilertsen, of the film by that name, “Israelism.” As soon as I saw the title I understood. I had seen this ism consistently in almost all Jewish people I’ve met and had to face it in myself. As a young person, I was taught to have an emotional bond with Israel and went door-to-door raising money for a fund that, as it turns out, was discriminating against Palestinian people. The documentary is calling attention to the lifelong conditioning of American Jewish youth to love and support blindly a nation-state even when that nation consistently oppresses other people. This has brought about a Jewish population (of liberals and conservatives) that, with some exceptions, continues to support Israel’s apartheid policies with sophisticated double-think that is only possible when one is immersed in a strong ism.

“When two young American Jews raised to unconditionally love Israel witness the way Israel treats Palestinians, their lives take sharp left turns. Their stories reveal a deepening generational divide over modern Jewish identity.”
From the website of the film “Israelism”

Those captivated by Hasidimism see those outside their world as threatening, especially when any form of criticism is heard. Hasidimism blinds their eyes to the abuses within their community and the abuses their community perpetrates on others. Just so, American Jews have been steeped in Israelism and blinded to what is plain to see if one only looks. Decade after decade of lies and abuse is supported with billions of dollars from the U.S. government, as well as Jewish and evangelical Christian groups (the latter with a whole different ideological rationale). This is aid, that in other circumstances, would be considered supporting terrorism.

I will not attempt here to argue or document the strong positions I’ve stated above. There are so many books and articles and films and eye-witness accounts that make it clear enough. (I am writing for those who already get this, but may not recognize the extent of the problem or that they can indeed speak out about it.) Yet, I’m heartened by the the fact, as documented in the film, a significant portion of today’s Jewish youth – and adults as well – are seeing through the false narrative, and have come to support the Palestinian cause for justice. The film documents this hopeful trend.

But isms don’t die easily. Most people I know who can see the obvious injustice in Israel/Palestine avoid talking about it, especially with Jewish friends. Most Jews who are liberal and progressive on every issue will balk at criticism of Israel, let alone advocating for an end to military aid to Israel even while those weapons are used to kill civilians, women and children. Jews who supported the boycott of South Africa, the boycotts of grapes or lettuce in support of farm-workers, feel the non-violent boycott of Israel is somehow not fair or evil.

As I write this, Israel is in a crisis over preserving the independence of the judiciary and just how far to the right its government will go. Openly racist individuals have been elected and empowered. Yes, many Israelis are demonstrating in the streets, fighting for “democracy.” But it’s democracy for Jews only. As yet, only very small groups among the protestors call attention to the continuing, in fact escalating, violence and subjugation of the Palestinian population under military rule. “Jewish supremacy” ends up being the final outgrowth of of Israelism.

Some hopeful signs

Many Hasidic/Haredi individuals are finding ways to open their minds beyond Hasidimism and still enjoy the community spirit and religious practices they value. Many have found ways to leave the fold entirely, even though this often means rejection by family, losing contact with children and trying to find their way in a world for which they have not been prepared. Organizations such as Footsteps help people deprogram from the cult aspects of Hasidimism and integrate into the modern world. Groups such as Yaffed have battled to get New York State and NYC to enforce the laws demanding that secular education be taught in the yeshivas. This is important so that members of the Hasidic community can be well informed, and question some of the aspects of Hasidimism they’ve been steeped in. It also provides young adults an opportunity to have the skills and knowledge to choose for themselves whether to stay or go. Further, I have learned that there are groups of Hasidic men and women exploring new therapies, meditation, yoga and even psychedelic ceremonies as ways to free their minds, heal trauma, and perhaps dissolve the separative and fearful conditioning of Hasidimism.

As mentioned, “Israelism,” the film, documents the stories of several young Jews who witnessed the abusive treatment of Palestinians and opened their eyes to how they’d been misled. One had even joined and served in the Israeli military. They have joined the growing movement among young Americans, especially young Jews, questioning and actively fighting against the Israelism they were raised in. Groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, Just Vision, Partners for Progressive Israel, and many others are gaining traction as they consistently question the Israelism narrative.

Talking critically about Israel has been taboo for many years, especially for people in public positions such as business leaders and politicians. Politicians know that they can lose not only business relationships and friendships, but financial support and votes. In fact, massive amounts of money are poured into propaganda campaigns against elected officials who dare to speak against Israel’s actions. That is slowly changing as the understandings and feelings in the general population are changing, (quite rapidly among mainstream Democrats). People under thirty in the U.S. are now reported to be equally supportive of the Palestinians as they are of the Israelis, quite different from the older generations. Perhaps indicative of this trend is the fact that the film, “Israelism,” has won best documentary film in film festivals all over the country, and was the audience selection for best documentary at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Isms live not just in the mind, but in the heart and viscerally in our bodies. They are transmitted inter-generationally. They tend to control where and to what we pay attention, providing a lens through which everything: art, politics, even relationships are seen and judged. To emerge from of an ism is often a slow and painful process, especially when personal relationships are based in it. Accounts of White Supremacists who have been liberated from the hateful mental prison of racism and antisemitism shed light on just what it takes. The work of Daryl Davis, the African American musician who helped turn the minds of a number of KKK members is very inspiring. See more about his work here.

In the name of combating antisemitism, laws have been passed that make even advocating the non-violent boycott of Israel illegal. The accusation of antisemitism has brought condemnation, censoring and cancelling of honest discussion and activism aimed at supporting justice in Israel/Palestine. As well, for towns and cities in New York and other areas of the U.S., where people live in proximity to Hasidic enclaves, honest and direct communication needs to happen without fear that such talk is antisemitic.

From a deep perspective, I believe that both Israelism and Hasidimism have their roots in the collective, inter-generational trauma(s) wrought from antisemitism. While this does not justify them, it helps us to understand, empathize, and have constructive dialogue. My hope is that these thoughts will help to open that dialogue and be liberating in the struggle for justice.

Devotee of Justice and Consciousness Change – Joseph Tieger

When I am reminded of the bravery of those who put their lives in danger for the sake of justice, I am moved to find at least a bit more of that courage in myself and take whatever steps I can to continue that struggle for a more just and peaceful world. I recently had a conversation with my good friend, Joseph Tieger, who was among the early white participants in the civil rights struggle in the South. By activist, I don’t mean someone who attended a few civil rights marches or protests, but someone who devoted himself full-time to local and national efforts and was repeatedly threatened, beaten and imprisoned. I recorded our talk for both a podcast and YouTube and hope you can take the time to tune it in.

Joseph recently published a memoir of his activist time in the civil rights struggle from 1962 – 72, and his later attempts to find an even deeper path towards bringing about change. The book, Lately It Occurs To Me: A Memoir of the Civil Rights Movement & The Open Road (1963—1976) offers a deep and detailed look into the movement in North Carolina and beyond. It givers us a glimpse into the overt hatred and violence as well as the only somewhat more subtle actions of the political and legal establishment to stop the movement towards integration and voting rights. It’s an exciting and mind-opening read.

After his years as a civil rights activist and then attorney, Joseph watched as the movement splintered and broke apart. He went on a journey of self-discovery not unlike many of us in the 60’s ending up in California. (Full disclosure: In many respects Joseph’s journey is very parallel to my own, and when we met in the 1980’s we discovered that we were in each other’s FBI files).

It was in the Bay Area of California that I met Joseph. He was then traveling and presenting a video series with his wife Johanna called “How Then Shall We Live.” It featured Ram Dass and Stephen Levine and eventually became a PBS series offering “essential teachings for personal awakening on social action, impermanence and living life fully present.”

After that, Joseph and Johanna produced a magical ten-part series with Ram Dass and dozens of other visionary teachers and celebrities live in Oakland that involved thousands of participants in social justice and diversity training while cultivating self-awareness and an open heart. This series, “Reaching Out” also became a video series.

Interestingly, on the day I had my recorded zoom conversation with Joseph, I received an article from Tikkun Magazine that included the following passage:

“However, in a sense, the saturating effects of the sixties movements were radically incomplete. They have not reached many people, particularly many White people, in our bones. Although the movements have created, and continue to create, institutional and legal and systemic shifts, the system is quite stubborn because most people’s hearts and minds have not been deeply affected. That’s why what’s needed in the United States, and the world over, is a moral, even a spiritual, change, to rise to the level of the demands for political change. ….. It’s actually quite empowering to know that we’re responsible for what we see on the news. Instead of wringing our hands, we can rewrite the script.”
–from “My American Violence” by Robert Birdwell in Tikkun Magazine

It’s well worth asking, ‘Where did all that passionate courage of the movement in the 60’s go?’ As well as, ’Where did all that hateful resistance go?’ Obviously, there are aspects of it in the current scene all around the world. But, perhaps part of the answer is they are both within us, you and me. It’s just a matter of which part we feed.

Love and blessings,

Alan Levin

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You can get Joseph’s book at Amazon here.

The podcast of our conversation is here.

The YouTube is here.

And please check out and subscribe to the series of interesting interviews with fascinating boundary-crossers at YouTube and Buzzsprout podcast.

From the ‘Cult of Che’ to Non-Violent Organizer

My Conversation with Mark Rudd – You Don’t Need a Weatherman

I had a conversation with my friend, Mark Rudd, ex-member of the Weather Underground. You can watch on YouTube or listen as Podcast.

I met Mark in 1968 when we were both part of a group from SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) invited to see for ourselves the Revolution taking place in Cuba. After we returned I followed as Mark became one of the leaders and spokespeople for the students taking over the Columbia University campus and shutting it down in protest of the University’s part in supporting the war in Vietnam.

Shortly after the Cuba trip, I dropped out of ‘the movement’ and my activist/agitator/organizer role at the University of Florida in Gainesville, moved to San Francisco and joined the hippie culture in Haight Ashbury. Mark, on the other hand, became part of the most radical faction of SDS that then morphed into Weatherman and then the notorious Weather Underground. He spent the years of 1970-77 living underground hiding from the FBI. This is the focus of his book, Underground – My Life in SDS and the Weathermen, published in 2009. He is, as far as I know, the only member of the Weather Underground who has publicly apologized and expressed sincere regret for the destructive activities he engaged in.

Much has been written about the violence-embracing Weather people. Two Hollywood films, “The Company You Keep,” starring Robert Redford and Susan Sarandon, and “Running on Empty,” with Judd Hirsch and River Phoenix give a somewhat nuanced but essentially sympathetic look. I also recently listened to the very well produced ten-part podcast series, “Mother Country Radicals.” It’s narrated by Zayd Dohrn who was born underground, the son of two of the leaders of the Weather Underground, Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers. It offers a very interesting look into the minds of the people who chose revolutionary violence within the U.S. as a reaction to the war and militarism, and what they believed was support for the Black movement of the time.

In my conversation with Mark we cover a lot of ground. My primary question was, and is, “Why?” Why did he do it? What was behind the choices he and the others in the group made to break from the growing anti-war movement and try to build a force that would attempt to violently overthrow the United States government. And even before that, what caused him, a Jewish kid from New Jersey, to join the anti-war/civil rights movement in the first place. How did he become part of a cadre that was responsible for hundreds, perhaps thousands of bombings within the U.S..

I do want to make clear that after an incident in which three members of the WU group were killed making a bomb (that was intended to kill a large group of people), the group changed course and sought to destroy only buildings and monuments and made successful efforts to not harm any human beings. Nonetheless, Mark looks on those actions with regret and has embraced the philosophy of non-violence. His view, and I agree, is that the bombings terrorized people, did nothing to turn people against the war, and actually turned people off from involvement with the anti-war/peace movement.

So why? Several thoughts arise from Mark’s own website.

1. He talks about the romantic idealization of Che Guevara, the revolutionary who along with Fidel Castro defeated the corrupt, capitalist government of Cuba and then went on to attempt revolutionary actions in other Latin American countries. Che became a heroic idol to many young people all over the world, a feeling I shared myself for a while in those days. Mark calls it “the cult of Che,” and now looks with disdain on his erstwhile hero as “homicidal and suicidal.”

2. He recognizes there was an element of machismo in it all, an effort to overcome feelings of insecurity by asserting a powerful male image challenging the all-powerful authority of universities, governments and “the power structure.” I recall visiting the office of SDS in Chicago and seeing a large poster of Bonnie and Clyde on wall and feeling confused and a bit sick in my stomach. I thought, “am I missing something here?” Mark says it was the cult of male violence and martyrdom.

3. After Mark watched the documentary film, “Weather Underground” (2002) he found himself doing a lot of soul-searching about his actions for which he’d been carrying a lot of guilt. What finally gave him a sense of understanding and compassion for himself was this realization. The awareness of the massive violence being perpetrated by this country on the people of Vietnam and the overall injustice pervading the world, gave him a profound grief. That grief led to the rage and violence. (From my perspective as a psychotherapist, I would say it was unconscious grief which then surfaced through violence). In any case, it’s a great lesson for us all. How do we process the grief we feel about climate change, immigration issues, racial injustice, mass incarceration. How do we make that conscious so it doesn’t rise up destructively through the shadow.

In any event, all the above explanations stand in contrast to the view expressed by the characters in Phillip Roth’s novel American Pastoral. Roth grew up and writes often about the same very Jewish experience as Mark, his family leaving Newark for the all-White suburbs to get away from the influx of Black people to the city. The insular, us vs. them mindset of Jewish immigrant parents. American Pastoral is a fictional story, but based largely on real events involving the young men and women, (predominantly Jewish) of the Weather Underground. It’s told through the eyes of their parents. (Imagine their suffering). His characters view (and I sense Roth’s) is that the bombers were spoiled kids acting out like sociopaths, devoid of real human connections.

I think that characterization is unfair and incomplete in that it leaves out the genuine idealism that was certainly a big part of the picture. In our talk, Mark reflects on the difficulty, the contradictions he felt viscerally in his youth. How Black people were spoken of by his family and his growing awareness of the civil rights struggle. It was his awareness of these contradictions, even more radically manifested by the U.S. killing machine in Vietnam being justified as fighting communism, that first moved him. From that perspective, the people of the WU were highly motivated, clear-eyed witnesses of a horror with which they had not the skills or emotional maturity to respond to. They could only flail about with rage and destructiveness.

Mark believes, and I agree, that perhaps the best summary of the whole trip was in this letter written in 1987 by author, Peter Marin. I highly recommend it.

I know I’m asking for trouble by saying this, but I will anyway. Even though I do not see by any stretch a moral equivalency, understanding the inside story of WU helps me empathize with the emotional reality of the Jan. 6th insurrectionists, the MAGA reactionaries, and militia members who believe in overthrowing the government by force. No matter how foolishly, they are moved by their frustrated need to express their masculinity – a need never met healthily in a culture addicted to violence, a culture which lacks conscious rites of passage. They are also in a trance or cult-like fascinations of their idealized hero tearing down the system. They also suffer from unconscious grief at the loss of what they’ve been told is theirs and no one else’s. They too are idealists, victims of believing their own thoughts.

Understanding can be a doorway to compassion while still calling people to account for their actions.

I’ll close with this from Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodrom,

“The truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.” 

RESOURCES:

Website of Mark Rudd: MarkRudd,com

Film: Weather Underground

Wikepedia on WU

Mother Country Radicals 10-part podcast

Taoism – Being One and Being With Suffering

Interview with Ken Cohen

Ken Cohen is the author of The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing and also Honoring the Medicine: The Essential Guide to Native American Healing. He is the rare individual who has entered fully into these spiritual traditions, studying and honoring the lineage, language and practices with absolute integrity. It was my honor to have another chance to interview Ken for my podcast and YouTube series having previously spoken with him for my book, Crossing the Boundary: Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths.

In our conversation we cover a lot of ground and I hope you take the time to either listen to the podcast or watch the video. We begin with discussing his identity as a Jewish man as well as his being an adopted member of the Cree people. He recalls his Jewish family history that shaped much of his life’s direction even while choosing to focus his attention on two distinctly different paths: learning the Chinese language, Taoism, Qigong and Tai Chi, and finding himself adopted and trained by Native American elders in their traditional, healing arts.

In response to a wide range of questions, he offers rich teachings from a Taoist perspective as well as his views on learning from nature. In regards to the latter, he emphasizes the importance of cultivating deep knowledge and intuitive relationships with plants for healing body and mind, much of which he learned the elders.

We explore the focus of much of my own work: how the spiritual quest, (Taoist or otherwise) relates to helping relieve suffering and to activism for peace, justice and a sustainable human relationship with the world. I find what he shared to be very powerful teachings for being with our internal process when responding to the painful state of the world. Recognizing his own troubled reactions, he describes going out into nature and praying for guidance. What he received are four guidelines. He emphasizes that this is not a substitute for active work in the world, but for preserving personal, psychological and spiritual well-being in the face of injustice. (I’ve summarized them here, but hope you listen for the full explanation of this very powerful teaching.)

1.Release the injustice you experience up to Creator. Don’t return the fire.
2. Never indulge in negative thinking. That only strengthens what feeds the abuse.
3. Don’t allow even a single shell of bitterness to form around your heart.
4. Do whatever is necessary to keep your heart fully capable of receiving and giving love.

We continue on to discuss the use of psychedelic plant medicines, the use of tea as a spiritual path and the need to focus deeply with a spiritual tradition rather than diluting or mixing them haphazardly, . Ken is quite an amazing individual and I encourage you to listen to our interview and check into his books and websites to find out more about him and his teachings.

The Way of Qigong: https://www.qigonghealing.com/
Honoring the Medicine: https://www.sacredearthcircle.com/

Our conversation can be found at

And https://www.buzzsprout.com/1827447/12089957 and

You can listen to all the Crossing the Boundary interviews here:

https://www.buzzsprout.com/1827447

and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpfneC8HTO0&list=PLBTcFhpF_7838Ckgn-8rf508QrjEqc9GAhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpfneC8HTO0&list=PLBTcFhpF_7838Ckgn-8rf508QrjEqc9GA

With love and blessings,

Alan

Through the Wall of White Supremacy

The United States was founded as a white nationalist country, and that legacy remains today. Things have improved from the radical promotion of white people at the expense of all others, which has persisted for most of our history, yet most of us have not accepted the extent to which white identity guides so much of what we still do. Sometimes it seems that the white nationalists are most honest about the very real foundation of white supremacy upon which our nation was built.”

                                               –R. Derek Black (godson of David Duke)

It is up to each of us to question the worldview of our parents and whatever sense of  tribal identification they pass on to us. We must find within ourselves what truths to hold and what to toss out. Some adopt without question their parents’ ideas or conversely reject them through unconscious rebellion. Others take a more balanced approach, and through a rational process of evaluation or through a process of spiritual discovery, discern for themselves what is valuable from what is destructive, sort the good from the bad, (which can sometimes be very bad).

I am always heartened by the courage of those who find themselves in a world in which they no longer want to live, and choose to step out, cross what often feels like a great psychological boundary. I tend to listen closely to their observations of the minds and hearts contained in the world they left. This is essentially the theme of this blog and my book Crossing the Boundary. A few days ago, I saw a piece in the New York Times that gave me that feeling of deep appreciation and drew my close attention. Among the many articles and opinion pieces on the White Supremacist/Neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, and the remarks by our Madman in Chief, there was one by R. Derek Black, the son of one of the leaders of the White Nationalist movement and a godson of David Duke.

In his piece, “What White Nationalism Gets Right About American History,” he makes clear his rejection of his White Supremacist roots. But he also shares deep insights into the thinking of those in that group and the truth they do hold. The truth is that their core belief in white supremacy has indeed dominated the history of this country until very, very recent time and is still very present throughout our society.

The bold statement above, from a man immersed in White Supremacist culture since childhood, is to me a cautionary message for all of us who feel we are immune to the feelings and thinking of this truly disgusting ideology. It was the explicit and/or implicit view of the culture in which our own consciousness was nurtured and developed. This insidious infection of the mind has almost certainly entered into our hearts and we will only begin to be free of it through acknowledging its present existence.

I am curious to know the process that Mr. Black went through to liberate himself from his racist conditioning, insofar as he has. It would help shed light on how we can all question our most firmly held beliefs. Humanity appears to many observers, to be going through a major shift in consciousness. Certainly, we are liberating ourselves, albeit fitfully, from old notions of tribal, racial and gender superiority, I would suggest we also need to question the notion of human superiority over the rest of nature with whom we share this world. To do this, we need to cultivate awareness of our own mind and sense of identity and learn the methods of transformation that are the gifts of our spiritual ancestors.

I strongly recommend reading R. Derek Black’s piece here:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/19/opinion/sunday/white-nationalism-american-history-statues.html and which I’ve copied below.

                                                                 –Alan Levin


My dad often gave me the advice that white nationalists are not looking to recruit people on the fringes of American culture, but rather the people who start a sentence by saying, “I’m not racist, but …”

The most effective tactics for white nationalists are to associate American history with themselves and to suggest that the collective efforts to turn away from our white supremacist past are the same as abandoning American culture. My father, the founder of the white nationalist website Stormfront, knew this well. It’s a message that erases people of color and their essential role in American life, but one that also appeals to large numbers of white people who would agree with the statement, “I’m not racist, but I don’t want American history dishonored, and this statue of Robert E. Lee shouldn’t be removed.”

I was raised by the leaders of the white nationalist movement with a model of American history that described a vigorous white supremacist past and once again I find myself observing events in which I once might have participated before I rejected the white nationalist cause several years ago. After the dramatic, horrible and rightly unnerving events in Charlottesville, Va., this past weekend, I had to make separate calls: one to make sure no one in my family who might have attended the rally got hurt, and a second to see if any friends at the University of Virginia had been injured in the crowd of counterprotesters.

On Tuesday afternoon the president defended the actions of those at the rally, stating, “You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” His words marked possibly the most important moment in the history of the modern white nationalist movement. These statements described the marchers as they see themselves — nobly driven by a good cause, even if they are plagued by a few bad apples. He said: “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists.”

But this protest, contrary to his defense, was advertised unambiguously as a white nationalist rally. The marchers chanted, “Jews will not replace us”; in the days leading up to the event, its organizers called it “a pro-white demonstration”; my godfather, David Duke, attended and said it was meant to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump”; and many attendees flew swastika flags. Whatever else you might say about the rally, they were not trying to deceive anyone.

Almost by definition, the white nationalist movement over the past 40 years has worked against the political establishment. It was too easy for politicians to condemn the movement — even when there was overlap on policy issues — because it was a liability without enough political force to make the huge cost of associating with it worthwhile. Until Tuesday, I didn’t believe that had changed.

We have all observed the administration’s decisions over the past several months that aligned with the white nationalist agenda, such as limiting or completely cutting off legal and illegal immigration, especially of Hispanics and Muslims; denigrating black communities as criminal and poor, threatening to unleash an even greater police force on them; and going after affirmative action as antiwhite discrimination. But I had never believed Trump’s administration would have trouble distancing itself from the actual white nationalist movement.

Yet President Trump stepped in to salvage the message that the rally organizers had originally hoped to project: “George Washington was a slave owner,” he said, and asked, “So will George Washington now lose his status?” Then: “How about Thomas Jefferson?” he asked. “Because he was a major slave owner. Now are we going to take down his statue?” He added: “You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.”

Until Trump’s comments, few critics seemed to identify the larger relationship the alt-right sees between its beliefs and the ideals of the American founders. Charlottesville is synonymous with Jefferson. The city lies at the foot of Monticello and is the home of the University of Virginia, the school he founded. Over the years I’ve made several pilgrimages to Charlottesville, both when I was a white nationalist and since I renounced the ideology. While we all know that Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, which declared that “all men are created equal,” his writings also offer room for explicitly white nationalist interpretation.

My father observed many times that the quotation from Jefferson’s autobiography embedded on the Jefferson Memorial is deceptive because it reads, “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these [the Negro] people are to be free.” It does not include the second half of the sentence: “Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.”

Jefferson’s writings partly inspired the American colonization movement, which encouraged the return of free black people to Africa — a goal that was pursued even by Abraham Lincoln during the first years of the Civil War.

The most fundamental legislative goal of the white nationalist movement is to limit nonwhite immigration. It is important to remember that such limits were in place during the lifetimes of many current white nationalists; it was the default status until the 1960s. In the 1790s, the first naturalization laws of the United States Congress limited citizenship to a “free white person.”

Legislation in the 1920s created quotas for immigration based on national origin, which placed severe restrictions on the total number of immigrants and favored northern and western European immigration. It was only with the civil rights movement of the 1960s that the national origin quota system was abolished and Congress fully removed the restriction favoring white immigrants.

I’m not offering these historical anecdotes to defame the history of the country. I’m not calling for Jefferson’s statue to be removed along with the Confederate memorials. I do, however, think it is essential that we recognize that the white nationalist history embedded in American culture lends itself to white nationalist rallies like the one in Charlottesville. If you want to preserve Confederate memorials, but you don’t work to build monuments to historical black leaders, you share the same cause as the marchers.

Until Tuesday I believed the organizers of the rally had failed in their goal to make their movement more appealing to average white Americans. The rally superimposed Jefferson’s image on that of a pseudo K.K.K. rally and brought the overlap between Jefferson and white nationalist ideas to mind for anyone looking to find them. But the horrific violence that followed seemed to hurt their cause.

And then President Trump intervened. His comments supporting the rally gave new purpose to the white nationalist movement, unlike any endorsement it has ever received. Among its followers, being at that rally will become something to brag about, and some people who didn’t want to be associated with extremism will now see the cause as more mainstream. When the president doesn’t provide condemnation that he has been pressed to give, what message does that send but encouragement?

The United States was founded as a white nationalist country, and that legacy remains today. Things have improved from the radical promotion of white people at the expense of all others, which has persisted for most of our history, yet most of us have not accepted the extent to which white identity guides so much of what we still do. Sometimes it seems that the white nationalists are most honest about the very real foundation of white supremacy upon which our nation was built.

The president’s words legitimized the worst of our country, and now the white nationalist movement could be poised to grow. To challenge these messages, we need to acknowledge the continuity of white nationalist thought in American history, and the appeal it still holds.

It is a fringe movement not because its ideas are completely alien to our culture, but because we work constantly to argue against it, expose its inconsistencies and persuade our citizens to counter it. We can no longer count on the country’s leader to do this, so it’s now incumbent upon all of us.

Through the Buckskin Curtain – Embracing Indigenous Spirituality

b270cec1dc134cceb98f25795c1da365 The intense struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, led by Native Americans, highlights the original and continuing “sin” of the United States of America, the genocidal treatment of the indigenous inhabitants of this land and the centuries of betrayal of agreements. But it also offers us a possible pathway for the rectification of many of our present dilemmas, moving us to be guided by the wisdom of indigenous spirituality, respecting and honoring the sacredness and intelligence of the natural world.

 

The encampments at Standing Rock alongside the Cannonball River that feeds the Missouri have brought together a multi-cultural movement that recognizes the leadership of Native American tribal elders and activists from over 300 Indian Nations. They have come together in a non-violent and spiritually centered movement for protecting the water and land. They have specifically defined their actions as protective rather than as protest. From their spiritual perspective, the true function of the Warrior is to protect, whether in reference to the body, the community, the nation, or the planet.

 

Stepping back from the particulars of this struggle to protect the land and water sacred to the Lakota Sioux and stop the continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, it is important to recognize the significant inclusion of the indigenous spiritual attitude with social justice and environmental activism. This wider and deeper view of the human relationship with Spirit and Nature, e.g., calling attention to the sacred fire, sacred water, sacred sky, sacred Mother Earth, not just in words, but in the way we feel and the way we move about, is transformative and infectious. It holds keys to the healing power needed to shift humanity from the destructive trajectory we seem locked into.

 

How we as individuals and as groups of social justice and environmental activists learn from these ancient ways that are connected to Mother Earth herself, needs to be made very conscious. It will not be helpful (in fact it is disrespectful) to mimic the practices of Native Americans. But we can learn to re-awaken what is indigenous (innate) in all humans, the mutual and respectful sense of holiness in Creation and Creator, whether we currently experience them as distinct or as One. This sensibility has been covered over by a radical over-emphasis on the rational, logical, thinking-mind devoted to technological control of our environment and ourselves. What is being called forth is a heart-centered and holistic way of being and relating, one of communion-with rather than control-over.

 

Through the centuries of subjugation, native peoples have passed along the practices, stories and songs that sustain this consciousness in each region and on each continent. We immigrants have the opportunity to listen to them and hear the resonant tones of our own indigenous ancestors calling from within, finding our own pathways towards a balance of the elements of the web of life. Along the way, it’s important that we not confuse embracing “indigenous spirituality” with exploiting or coopting the objects, rituals and ceremonies of specific tribes or peoples. Native Americans are understandably very sensitive to this abuse. In “Native American wannabes: Beware the Weasel Spirit,” Lou Bendrick points out that, “Members of the Lakota tribe have declared war on exploiters of their ancient spirituality. Their declaration states that they have ‘suffered the unspeakable indignity of having our most precious Lakota ceremonies and spiritual practices desecrated, mocked and abused by non-Indian ‘wannabes,’ hucksters, cultists, commercial profiteers and self-styled ‘New Age’ retail stores and … pseudo religious corporations have been formed to charge people money for admission into phony ‘sweatlodges’ and ‘vision quest’ programs …’”

 

On the other hand, I personally know a number of White, Black and Latino women and men who have submitted themselves to decades of rigorous, disciplined education under the guidance of Native American elders and have been sanctioned to practice and teach certain aspects of those traditions. In my interview with Tom Pinkson, (see Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths), he describes his initial passing through the buckskin curtain when he began studying and being tested by a Native American teacher which led up to his decade-long apprenticeship with Huichol shamans in Mexico. Ken Cohen, also interviewed in Crossing the Boundary, studied intensively for many years with his teachers, Keetoowah, Rolling Thunder and Grandmother Twylah Nitsch, and was initiated and adopted by a tribal clan. These two, and quite a few other White (in this case, Jewish) men and women, respectfully entered into a relationship with indigenous spiritual teachers and tribes and only practice and teach what they have been given permission to share.

 

Though few will feel called to cross that boundary so deeply, by embracing an indigenous spiritual outlook the environmental and social justice movement is shifting the very mindset in which it has viewed the problems and solutions it addresses. We are finding ourselves gazing up at the sky, sitting by the sacred fire, getting down on our knees and kissing Mother Earth as we face those of our brothers and sisters who have forgotten what they have lost, forgotten what they’ve forgotten.

 

For more information see the Standing Rock Sioux Nation website: http://standwithstandingrock.net/

 

A personal observer’s account of the activity at the encampments: Mark Johnson’s, “Standing Rock #NoDAPL. It’s not so complicated, But it is complex.” http://clbsj.org/news/2016/11/23/standing-rock/

 

A deep mythological/archetypal/political view, “History in the Making at Standing Rock.” By Paul Levy: http://www.awakeninthedream.com/standing-rock/ 

 

A look at the growth of the indigenous spiritual focus in the environmental movement: “The growing indigenous spiritual movement that could save the planet.”https://thinkprogress.org/indigenous-spiritual-movement-8f873348a2f5#.u1q1rzood

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A Good Jewish Boy

A good Jewish boy. It’s an expression I grew up with, sometimes applied to me, often to Jewish men who made it big on the world stage of science, entertainment or sports. It evoked special feelings when we spoke about those who weren’t obviously Jewish, (e.g.: Tony Curtis, Harrison Ford, Peter Coyote). I apply it here, with a taste of Jewish humor, in speaking of the truly good man, Krishna Das. I had the great pleasure to see Krishna Das, (or KD as he likes to be called) just last night as he led a beautiful kirtan, singing Hindu and Buddhist chants at a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Wappinger Falls, NY. And yes, Krishna Das, raised as Jeffrey Kagal, is (or was) Jewish.

 

I say “is or was” referring to a primary question in my book, Crossing the Boundary, for which I interviewed KD. Does a man or woman born to Jewish parents and raised with Jewish identity continue to be Jewish when they embrace and immerse themselves in an alternate spiritual path? Just where and when does Jewish identity cease to be relevant in describing someone (or oneself)? In writing the book I asked around for people who made that journey, crossed that boundary, knowing that I could not easily tell by names or looks. Starhawk, Sat Santokh Singh Khalsa, Krishna Das don’t sound like typical Jewish names. I wanted to know if these folks still considered themselves Jewish, that that identity still described who or what they are.

 

Last night, Krishna Das sat beneath a 50 foot golden Buddha statue with surrounding Buddhas and hundreds of Tibetan Tankhas depicting Buddha in his many forms around the temple. He sang chants, which are mostly repetitions of the names of Gods and Goddesses in

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the Hindu tradition, and told stories of his time with his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, the Indian saint who continues to be the source of divine guidance for him. The room filled with a sacred glow as people participated in the call and response chanting and sat in meditative stillness or danced to the rhythmic beat of the tabla and bells accompanying KD (who played a droning harmonium). At intervals, KD told stories of his time with his guru and offered teachings about awakening to our essential nature, opening our heart to God/Love, and honoring those great beings from many traditions who continue to guide us on our path.

 

KD didn’t mention Torah, Moses, Abraham, at least not last night. From what he shared with me in his interview for Crossing the Boundary, it’s not part of his repertoire and not really a significant aspect of his consciousness. Jewishness is the neighborhood he grew up in. He was turned off by the hypocrisy he saw in his own family and community, went through a difficult and rebellious period, and found grace and freedom in far off India, he found a different neighborhood in which to live; he found home. He told me that he has no animosity with his family or the Jewish people, they are a part of the larger human and spiritual family he embraces. He still loves Jewish humor and the Jewish way of talking or shticking, but it just does not define who he is.

 

As I watched him, I thought of our (his and my) Jewish ancestors. What came to me was the very ancient ones, the mythic wanderers and vision seekers in the wilderness. I felt their presence right there. The Divine One and her/his Angels (Gods and Goddesses) that appeared in fire, sustained the people in the desert, sent messages from the mountain for right conduct in this world, are right in there with Neem Karoli Baba and KD. What more do they ask of us than to wake up and spread the Light and Love of the Divine through the world?

 

Thank you, KD, kirtan wallah, mensch.

 

 

Reb Zalman, The Rabbi Akiva of Our Time

searchRabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi died on July 3rd two years ago. It is a Jewish practice to honor those who have died on the anniversary of their death, their yahrzeit.

The notes below are my own thoughts on the remarkable life of this modern day sage and his intersection with many of the people I interviewed for my book, Crossing the Boundary: Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths.

In an ancient Jewish tale told in the Talmud, four rabbis enter the mystical state of Paradise. One goes insane, one dies, one becomes a heretic and is excommunicated, and one returns in peace. The heretic is the focus of Crossing the Boundary. The fourth, Rabbi Akiva, became one of the most significant founders of the Jewish religion as it is known today. To my mind, Reb Zalman is no less significant and in many ways very similar.

According to most interpretations of the Talmudic tale, the heretic, Elisha ben Abuya, was banished from the Jewish people as he became an “unbeliever.” In my book, I suggest that perhaps after his experience in “paradise” he gravitated towards the Greek mystery schools such as the Eleusinian, in which participants drank plant mixtures that induced altered states of consciousness. I further conjectured that he, Aher, and Akiva remained good friends respecting each others different paths of spirituality. Respect and tolerance would come, I surmised, from their experience and understanding that the true nature of divinity, indeed reality, and how one lives a good life is beyond the trappings of any particular religious form. (There is a chapter in Crossing the Boundary devoted to this story and the nature of heresy).

In our time, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, like Akiva, entered the mystical state and  also brought a new vision of Judaism to his people. He was the primary founder and organizer of the Jewish Renewal movement. For the last fifty years of his life he focused on bringing direct spiritual experience to Jewish individuals and groups with an open-minded cultural mindset. Steeped in his early training in the ultra-orthodox Jewish world, he opened to learn from and integrate teachings from a wide range of other spiritual traditions, including Christianity, Sufism, Buddhism and more.

I had the privilege to attend a number of his retreats and teachings and experience first-hand his generous, joyous and wise spirit. Several of the folks I interviewed for Crossing the Boundary shared stories of their encounters with Reb Zalman and his profound openness to their alternate spiritual paths. Some wondered aloud about whether they would have chosen a Jewish path if they had met him in their formative years. He was an honorary Sufi Sheikh and participated with an open heart in ceremonies and rituals of other faiths. In the article in The Forward, he is pictured laughing with Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), well known as a spiritual teacher who chose Buddhist meditation and the Hindu guru, Neem Karoli Baba, rather than following his family’s Jewish religious path.

Reb Zalman spoke of Jewish identity and what he called Jewish PTSD, the inherited trauma in the Jewish collective psyche from centuries of abuse, pogroms and the Holocaust perpetrated primarily in the Christian world. He reflected that this imprinted trauma and fear was a contributor to the Jewish community’s fear-based relationship to the Israeli conflict with the Palestinian people. But he mostly withdrew from political involvement to focus on his spiritual teachings for healing the psyche and soul and advancing the development of the Jewish Renewal movement. He appears to have sensed his mission to be the transmission of the joy of renewed spirituality that bridged people of all faiths, a recognition that Paradise is not for one chosen people.

Reb Zalman embraced people of other faiths and Jews who chose other faiths even though he was deeply embedded in the practice of his own Jewish traditions. As with my understanding of Akiva and Elisha ben Abuya, the people in Crossing the Boundary, (Sufi, shaman, Buddhist, Hindu, pagan, etc.) walk side by side with him.search-1

For a most eloquent and factual tribute to Reb Zalman recently published in The Forward, please see:

http://forward.com/news/201430/reb-zalman-married-counter-culture-to-hasidic-juda/

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: http://www.katonahlibrary.org/author-alan-levin-presents-crossing-boundary/.

Blessings,

Alan

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