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Jewish faith sees a renewal

Stewart Oksenhorn

As the world turns and changes, traditional religions have gone through the process of transformation and adaptation. The changes have left traditional observers fearing for the continued sanctity of their beliefs and the survival of their religions.

The changing world has not bothered Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi much. The rabbi, who has seen much change in the world and the Jewish faith since surviving Hitler’s Europe and becoming a rabbi in 1947, believes religions, like all organizations, must adapt to the times. To that end, the rabbi and his wife, psychologist and teacher Eve Ilsen, are pioneers of the Jewish Renewal movement, which embraces the mystical side of Judaism along with other modern and post-modern beliefs.

“It’s like someone who needs a transplant,” said Schachter-Shalomi. “For many people, without the transplant, they can’t live. Some people are critical of the Jewish Renewal movement because they say it’s too mixed. We have female rabbis. We embrace other religions. But that is a necessity now.

“Many of our people will be what are called Jew-Bus (Jewish Buddhists) or Jew-Sus (Jewish Sufis). It’s people who have found ways to have Judaism fit in with their other beliefs.”

Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi and Ilsen will present a workshop, Renewal in Traditions: Jewish Renewal as a Case in Point, this weekend in Aspen. The workshop will be held today from 7 to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon and 4 to 6 p.m. The workshop will be held at the Aspen Community Church. Interested persons may attend the Friday night lecture only.

The workshop is presented by Boulder’s Naropa School of Continuing Education, where Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi has taught for three and a half years. The rabbi was born in Poland and raised in Austria before his family was forced to flee with the rise of Hitler. He went to France in 1938 and moved to the States in 1941, attending a yeshiva in Brooklyn.

In the Jewish Renewal movement, the rabbi has added a far-ranging set of concerns – politics, environmentalism and mysticism – to traditional Jewish beliefs. It is part of the rabbi’s belief that no religion, no belief system should be excluded from acceptance.

“We feel, at this point, we are post-triumphalists,” said Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi. “In the past, all religions have claimed that, when the end of days comes, they will be the one left standing. Our point of view is that every religion is a vital part of the planet.”

Jewish Renewal, said the rabbi, is similar to changes that all religions must go through to remain significant to practitioners.

“Every religion is going through a sort of upheaval because of shifts in cosmology, the reality maps we use in the world,” he said. “If you teach Judaism the way it was taught around the time of World War II, it’s going to fail.

“Jewish Renewal is bringing Judaism up to date, to people with experience in mysticism and meditation. It’s bringing Jewishness into experiential things.

Renewal in Traditions is the first of a series of seminars Naropa will present in Aspen. Breeze of Simplicity: Introduction to Buddhist Meditation will be offered March 5-6; Mindfulness Retreat: A Meditation Weekend will be conducted March 19-20. The series concludes with Meditation and the Shamanic Transformation of Consciousness on March 26-27.

For further information, call 923-4090 or (303) 245-4800.


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