General News

Responding to the Call

“Blessed is the people who know the sound of teru'ah.” – Psalms 89:16

The sound of the shofar is that primal, gut-wrenching, heart-piercing sound that has the power to change us, rouse us into life and action, demand our full and present attention, and command us to respond to a shattered world that is in profound need of healing. The sound of the shofar is a not-so-subtle reminder – a flamboyant awakening call – to choose and decide what it is we must do with our precious lives. It’s as if the voice of Creation is sounding out instructions for us, since we don’t come into the world with a Get Started manual. The sound of the shofar demands a response on the human level – a response in the form of both intention and action. It’s a call to return to our unique “deployment” in this world – the work we were meant to do. 

In Rabbi Daniel Siegel’s blog post below, he shares a process that he initiated over a year ago, a labour of love and respect in which he invited Renewal clergy and others to identify their callings – their “deployments” – some from Reb Zalman, some from other sources. Each person who responded is someone who has responded to the call of the shofar at some point – someone who has carefully considered their calling and who has been able to articulate it. It is remarkable that over 70 people responded to Reb Daniel’s invitation. We are certain there are people who have not yet identified themselves or who wish to stay anonymous, like the thirty-six tzaddikim. And there are others who are just now emerging into their calling, whose calling is not yet fully formed but is in process. Below, Reb Daniel shares the unfolding of the process, and the living document that resulted, a work in progress. Wishing us all a wakeful, vibratory, heart-opening High Holiday season filled with love and generosity and compassion. 

Rabbi Sherril Gilbert, Executive Director, ALEPH Canada


Dear Friends,

In the weeks preceding the OHALAH conference last January and continuing through the conference itself, I explored the idea of developing a list of the spiritual gifts members of our chevre were willing to share with others. I received overwhelming support and encouragement, both from “formal” entities including the boards of ALEPH and OHALAH, as well as from many individuals.

This project originated in the concerns we had as well as our experiences during the first years after Reb Zalman’s passing, which included confusion over this question of where our spiritual leadership is located. In my humble opinion, to the extent that Reb Zalman was our spiritual guide, he performed this function from just outside our formal structure.

While Reb Zalman often told us that it was not his deployment to determine who, if anyone, would be his successor, it turns out that he was interested in influencing the process. He did this mostly in private and so one of my goals was to discover how many people he had deployed and in what capacities. In addition, I wanted to know who else felt a sense of deployment that they wanted us all to know about. Finally, all this is based on the assumption that, however we may view Reb Zalman’s role and leadership, none of us wanted to have only person in that role.

Here, then, is a brief overview of how I understood this process as it became revealed over about a year. Reb Zalman offered to give me semicha as a dayan, which I accepted only after learning the basics of gittin including how to write a get. This happened in public at the OHALAH conference in 2007. Then, in 2008, Reb Zalman gave a “rebbe” semicha to five people in private. Sometime after that, he gave the same semicha to three others who did not know who the other five were nor did the five know about the three, and this he also did in private. In 2012, he sent a private letter to about 40 people, including those who had already received a second semicha, in which he urged them to “hold the center of Aleph and Ohalah together so that the work might continue without being taken off its right Kawanah.” For various reasons, this group did not congeal.

The deployments list which you can access below is the result of this project to uncover other charges which Reb Zalman gave to individuals as well as making public those whose callings come from other sources to which they feel deeply committed and willing to share with others. I am grateful to everyone who replied (and who may still reply). I am amazed that 70 people came forward and even more amazed and grateful that our movement has generated so many spiritual guides in a few decades.

The list is now on my Google site. You are invited to view it and use comments to let me know what changes you might want to make in your own listing as well as letting me know if you want to add your own name and focus to the list. For now, I will maintain the list.

I believe that Reb Zalman was correct in saying that rebbe is a function rather than a person. This list provides a resource for finding colleagues and teachers who can function as rebbes for us when we need them over the coming years. At the bottom, you will see that the list can be sorted both by last name and by category.

May 5779 be a year of healing for us all, for ALEPH, OHALAH, the ordination program, our boards, and for our countries and the human species.

With love and in gratitude for living to see the expansion of our chevre


The List of People and Their Deployments

Mr. T2(squared): Two Elections, One Continuum

There is much talk about continuing the fight following the election of Donald Trump, fighting for what’s right, fighting for minority rights, fighting for health care, fighting climate change. I would like to respectfully suggest that this vocabulary of war feeds the increasingly hostile political discourse in the United States and encroaches on the values and priorities of political systems outside the US.

A year ago, Canadians had the choice of continuing with a Conservative government which, in many ways, mirrored that of the Bush administration or voting for a change. In Canada, the parallel to the electoral college is that a party can find itself with a majority in the House of Commons even though it has received only a minority of the popular vote. This was the case with our previous (and our current) government, which won less than 40% of the popular vote while achieving majority status in parliament. Canadians chose change and did so by strategic voting for the candidate in their riding most likely to defeat the Conservative. Thus, our current Liberal government knows that its majority really stems from the 60% of Canadian voters who voted to change the government with 20% of the vote for change going to other parties.

Shloshim for Reb Zalman

I have felt private since Reb Zalman passed. At first, I couldn’t find words to describe my feelings as I oscillated between simple acceptance and a deep sadness that left me in tears. For the rest of Semicha Week, I felt called to helping our chevra, first by singing a deathbed niggun Reb Zalman had shared with me years ago, by including El Maleh Rachamim in our Mincha that day, and by facilitating an abbreviated funeral service on Friday morning which began just as the funeral in Boulder began, giving us all an opportunity to say kaddish together.

When I walked into Kabbalat Shabbat that evening, I felt that I didn’t belong. A mourner waits outside until L’cha Dodi is over and only then comes into shul. I finally realized that I had lost my spiritual father, my rebbe, who had been in my life in one form or another for 52 years, whose Hassid I have been for 42 of those years. So I left and returned when L’cha Dodi ended. All during the next week of Ruach HaAretz, the combination of teaching, preparing, and being with our amazing granddaughters took up nearly all my time, providing the benefit of remaining private. Finally, being home these past two weeks and using the Kaddish L-Yachid that my students and I created, has allowed me to begin processing my feelings.

The Invisibles: Reflections on Jewish Megatrends

I’ve finished reading Syd Schwarz’s book, Jewish Megatrends, in preparation for his appearance at our upcoming OHALAH conference. There is much in it that I endorse and applaud. I’m especially gratified by the support and funding which the organized Jewish community and private foundations are now willing to provide to new programs and experiments. And, at the same time, there are two things which nag at me. One is a personal feeling of invisibility, which appears over and over again as I read each essay, and the other is the absence of anything focused on how we talk about God.

It is true that there are occasional references to spirituality and the search for deeper meaning, and one reference to our “ancient God.” However, given that for most of our history the search for meaning has taken the form of “What is it that Yah our God wants from us?” would seem to require that this question at least be acknowledged somewhere. What is Jewish about how we eat, how that food is grown and raised, and our concern for social justice if not rooted in the covenant we made with God? It is that which has always been at the core of our world view and, whether we choose to believe in its traditional formulation, a new variant, or not at all, it deserves its place in the discussion of our future.