The December Project: Facing Mortality with Simplicity, Fearlessness, and Joy

Audio reposted with gracious permission from Terrence McNally; more of his podcasts here:

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, by all measures, has been on a remarkable journey his whole life. Born in Poland in 1924, into a a Jewish world that disappeared just a few years later, he escaped the madness of Europe to land as a refugee in New York as a teenager. He was taken in and embraced the spirituality and yearning for G!D of the Chabad branch of Hasidism. He studied and was ordained a rabbi in the Chabad stream, and then sent out to bring “fallen away” Jews back into the fold. But he found many folds to explore  himself, spending the next 6-7 decades trying and creating  new forms of Jewish  spiritual practice, kindling the worldwide Jewish Renewal movement along the way. He has played and prayed with Sufis, priests, Buddhists, imams, native elders and spiritual prophets and seekers of every stripe in all corners of the globe. But no journey, perhaps, has been so compelling, no landscape so strange and wonderful, as the journey Reb Zalman finds himself in the December of his life.

The December Project
The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life’s Greatest Mystery, by Sara Davidson

With interviewer, coach, friend and fellow traveler Sara Davidson, The December Project documents the confrontation, exploration, pitfalls, pratfalls, and treasures of this final stretch of road that we all inevitably walk. Once again Reb Zalman is scouting the terrain, sending reports from the territory he is discovering, showing us alternative pathways we can travel, and transforming the fears of  facing mortality into  choices we can make as we age and begin to approach  what he calls  our “next deployment”.

Wrestling with questions, like “What if it all ends in nothing?”, Reb Zalman and Sara cover the territory of  dealing with pain and memory loss, breaking through our fears of death and dying, forgiveness and settling our accounts with others and G!D, harvesting the bounty of our lives, and finally letting go into the arms of the Mystery.

The book concludes with meditative exercises developed by Reb Zalman as markers along the way, to let us know where he has passed, what he has learned, and to help us on our journey along the final stretch of road when that time comes for each of us. In mapping for us a way to approach death, the Rebbe is showing us, once again, a profound way to live.

Half of the author’s proceeds from the book go to support the work of Reb Zalman. Purchasers of the book will get a BONUS free mp3 recording of Reb Zalman captured at his finest: singing, teaching, and leading a meditation on letting go. You can find a landing page for the book at

Some other comments on the book:

“The December Project is a biography of a spiritual genius preparing for his last day by helping us prepare for our next day. If you don’t know Reb Zalman, please let Sara introduce you to him. If you do know him, please let Sara introduce you to him more intimately. This is a wonderful book.”
—Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author of Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent

“Sara Davidson brings us the dialogue we dream of having: where we can place our darkest doubts and fears, our most ornery questions, in the loving embrace of a profound elder, who is grooming us patiently for what’s waiting around the inevitable corner of our lives. This is a book you can devour in a sitting and feel like you have just visited the most intimate of spiritual guides.”
—Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, author of With Roots in Heaven and The Woman’s Kabbalah

“Renowned journalist Sara Davidson has drawn out new, previously unrevealed dimensions of Reb Zalman, one of the great teachers of our age. Listening in on their conversations is both mind and soul expanding.”
—Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Jewish Literacy, and Hillel

“Anyone who has had the opportunity to spend private time with Reb Zalman, to be in spiritual intimacy with him, knows it is a life-changing experience. Sara Davidson has had that experience, and now through her writing, you can too.”
—Rodger Kamenetz author of The Jew in the Lotus and The History of Last Night’s Dream

“An exuberant piece of writing I found both moving and instructive. What makes it so relatable is that Davidson owns “a seeker’s heart and a skeptic’s mind.” There’s a great comic aspect to this, as you watch her take what the Rabbi says, worry it, try to adopt it and then find the loop hole. It’s a dual portrait of the journalist and the Rabbi, with just the right balance.
—Will Blythe, former literary editor of Esquire, author of To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever.