Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z"l (1924–2014)— “Reb Zalman” as he preferred to be known — was the most influential Jewish change-maker of his generation. His ideas and work spawned the worldwide Jewish Renewal movement, the Havurah movement, numerous Jewish retreat centers and innovative social-change programs, and the interfaith eldering wisdom movement. Crossing traditional boundaries, Reb Zalman earned an MA in the psychology of religion from Boston University and a doctorate from the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College. His major academic work, Spiritual Intimacy: A Study of Counseling in Hasidism (1991), was based on his doctoral research into the system of spiritual direction practiced in Chabad. As a spiritual counselor himself, he was known for being so fully present to the other that they felt “as if no one else existed to him in that moment.” After turning 60, he also pioneered the practice of "spiritual eldering," working with fellow seniors on coming to spiritual terms with aging and becoming mentors for younger adults, as described in his book From Age-ing to Sage-ing® (written with Ronald Miller, 1995). Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi passed away peacefully in his sleep the morning of 3 July 2014, at his home in Boulder, Colorado, USA.
How Did I Meet Reb Zalman
It was an Indian Summer day in the midst of a Boulder cold December. I came to Boulder for an interview with one of the Jewish Communities for a School Director job. Ruth, a friend of mine, and the transcriber of the book, who moved to Boulder a year earlier, gave Reb Zalman a copy of the God Speaks Here and Now manuscript. It so happened that he had a sleepless night and decided to peek at the manuscript. He ended up reading the whole thing, and told Ruth he wanted to see me. I had no idea who this man was. Ruth said: “He's an important rabbi and a wise man. Go talk to him.” She even dropped me at his door.Timid and not knowing what to expect I knocked on his door. I broad smile and piercing eyes welcomed me. He led me through the house to his study. (it wasn't yet the famous Lehigh basement).
I do not remember how much time we spent together. Reb Zalman asked me many questions like, how is it that the book came into being, what was my experience, and how can he help. Being offered so generously, I asked for help with publishing and an endorsement. The publishing tips didn't work out but when a year later the book was published the endorsement was placed right on the front cover. It said: “God Speaks Here and Now has an authentic feel of the eternal Truth breaking through us to the present. Free from the ballast of the past the book stimulates one's soul to say, AHA, Amen – Yes.” So Reb Zalman!
Later on, when I lived in Boulder I visited him and we met periodically. From time to time, he would talk about the book and say things, “ if it was up to me I would give your Smicha just for this book,” I always waved with a smile. I never knew he was serious.