By Shoshana Dembitz
Reb Zalman Calls for Planetary Consciousness
“The only way we can get it together is together,” said Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. “The cosmos is the body of God. We’re all cells in the totality of one body.” While leading a Shabbaton weekend in Ashland, OR, March 18-20 , the 80-year-old founder of Jewish Renewal emphasized guarding and healing the earth. He urged us to reach out to people of other faiths, and all work together to avert the looming planetary crisis. Over twenty Aquarian Minyan members journeyed to Ashland to sing, dance, and pray with Reb Zalman and listen spell-bound to his stories. Congregation Shir Hadash with their Rabbi, David Zaslow, did a magnificent job of planning and carrying out all the details of a long and involved weekend.
First, on a sunny Friday afternoon, we dipped in a sulfur hot springs mikvah just north of town. Waves of naked women were led through a special past / present / future mikvah ritual. After the women’s mikvah, the men had theirs.
After a lengthy and beautiful musical introduction to Shabbat, 250 expectant people filling every chair in the combined sanctuary and social hall, Reb Zalman and Eve arrived. Traditional services don’t contain enough “forepray,” Reb Zalman explained before leading us gently through a joyous and moving kabbalat shabbat and maariv service, with Eve leading a brief but inspired angel meditation, and musical help from Rabbis Yitz Husbands-Hankin, David Zaslow, and Aryeh Hirschfield, who was celebrating his 50th birthday. Zalman surprised us with a few American melodies, notably “Jimmy Crack Corn” for the last part of “Lecha Dodi” and “Shenandoah” for “Adon Olam”. In the course of a line dance that magically found space along the edges of the crowded room, I passed Reb Zalman’s beaming face and felt he was silently blessing us, “These are my children; this is my legacy” Before leading the Aquarian Minyan’s Aleynu, which is included in his Siddur, Reb David asked who had written it. “Burt Jacobson” many of us called out. “Who is here from the Aquarian Minyan?” he asked. About twenty people raised their hands. “And who are former members of the Aquarian Minyan?” he continued. A few more hands went up. “And who wish they were members of the Aquarian Minyan?” We felt really honored.
As Shabbat was ending, Reb Zalman enchanted us with Chasidic tales, and told us that it is time for him to think about his legacy, and all of us should think about ours, too. Sat night an interfaith panel presented prayers, teachings, and exhortations to take care of our planet.
Many Minyan members gathered with former Minyanites Marty Hauser and Yehudit Platt to chat about old times. Marty regaled us with stories about the beginnings of the Minyan, when members would take turns designing and leading a unique service (as happens now as well). As I reflect on how Minyanites take the lead in dancing during services wherever we are, I suspect we must thank Yehudit Goldfarb for this, since, as a dancer, she took the lead in designing dancing shabbats.