The Making of Project New Jew:
Meet Rabbi Zalman, Founding Father of The Jewish Renewal Movement
In 2011 the late Rabbi Zalman was referred to me for healing. He loved my miracle massage and appreciated hearing any channeled messages from spirit. He referred to me as his magical witch doctor and sent people my way. I felt very blessed to have Rabbi in my care. He felt like God in a body to me.
In the course of being Rabbi Zalman’s healer we talked about my Jewish history. I was embarrassed that I didn’t have much to say.
I grew up as Sandi Gross from Hewlett, New York. In my culturally Jewish family my grandparents cooked the holiday meals and we gathered around the table. We did not go to temple very often and there wasn’t any talk of God or prayer. What I remember is how emotional I would feel sitting next to my mother in our Reformed temple listening to the Rabbi singing. The melodies so haunting and familiar moved me with their beauty, but I was too embarrassed to let anyone see me cry so I choked back my tears and never mentioned it.
In 1989 at the age of 24, I left New York and moved to Southern California. My connection to Judaism started to fade into the background. My grandparents crossed over and no one else upheld the holiday rituals. For many years Judaism wasn’t on my radar.
Reb Zalman encouraged me to return to my Jewish roots and gave me a copy of his book Jewish With Feeling. I held onto the book for a year without opening it. I felt guilty about that. In 2012 Rabbi casually suggested I re-read his book. Oh boy, he caught me.
I began reading with highlighter in hand. As I read I excitedly drew yellow lines through his text and felt my soul awakening and my heart breaking open with a feeling of coming home to Judaism. I was thrilled by how much I resonated with and understood his book. I had a real Jewish Awakening.
I got the urge to become a rabbi. I started looking into Rabbinical school. I asked Rabbi Zalman to put in a good word for me at Aleph, his own organization. He replied very kindly in a voice mail that 'if he attempted to put in a good word for me at Aleph he would be laughed out of his own organization.' He suggested instead that I start by attending services at our local synagogues.
I asked Rabbi Zalman if he would be my teacher, he said he would, but not in the traditional sense. He explained that he would open himself up to me spiritually and I could learn anything from him that way. He gave me his books and his blessings and encouraged me to learn from others, not just him.
On April 26th, 2012 during one of Rabbi’s healing sessions I jotted down a message from spirit while he was snoozing on my healing table. The message said:
“It is now time to embark upon a specific healing journey to dissolve and release sub-conscious memories associated with events like the Holocaust.
When memories of painful life experiences are not resolved in the body they get passed down from one generation to the next causing illness and disease. This doesn’t have to be the case. We can cherish tradition and memories without experiencing pain and suffering. When trauma is released from the body we live with more joy and good health. Every human is over flowing with healing gifts to be used in order to create a better world. All people can enjoy a journey that brings rejuvenation and golden light to our planet and its people. With conscious devotion to gentle self healing we bring forth a sparkling New Jew.”
The sub-text was clear. The message within the message was: "Hey down there can do a better job of healing yourselves! You are still recapitulating trauma from the Holocaust. You have untapped resources within you to promote incredible healing on planet Earth. It's inefficient to carry the past around. We the divine are here to help you."
I read the message to Rabbi Zalman and I immediately asked “Is it kosher to say New Jew?”
It wasn’t so much discussed as it was understood between us that bringing forth a sparkling New Jew was up to me to initiate. Being in his late eighties at the time Rabbi wasn’t about to start any more global healing movements.
He said to write articles about the New Jew and get them published. He suggested I create a Jewish Healing Treatment that begins with candle lighting and a prayer. He insisted that I work with people at the end of their life. He reminded me to do good by Mother Earth.
Rabbi Zalman with much conscious preparation for the end of his life passed peacefully in his sleep on July 3, 2014 at the age of 89.
Everyday I feel the gentle loving spirit of Rabbi Zalman encouraging me as I share Project New Jew with the world.