When I came on as ALEPH’s Executive Director 3 years ago, I had a conversation with Reb Zalman in my first week of the job. He and I discussed several things, getting to know each other a little bit. While I had followed his teaching since 1994, we had only met panim el panim, face to face, a couple of times. As a result of that conversation, I made him two promises about some things that concerned him. I told him that I would work diligently with ALEPH’s staff and Board to do whatever it took to ensure that ALEPH and Jewish Renewal continued strong and long after his “next deployment”, as he put it. And I promised that I would work inside and outside the organization to ensure that his parnassa, the support ALEPH provided him for his livelihood, lasted a little longer than he did.
In powerful collaboration with ALEPH’s Board and staff, as a community, we have kept both promises to Reb Zalman, fulfilling the second promise much sooner than any of us wanted to. But while Reb Zalman is off to new adventures, the legacy organization he leaves behind is strong, our house in order in all four worlds, and we are well poised to build for the future, for the next generation of Jewish Renewal. We have weathered some storms together and grown stronger for coming through them, the ship aright, sails in good repair, hull strong, with a seasoned crew. We are ready to chart some new voyages into waters we’ve never sailed before, and carry the hope and promise of Jewish Renewal farther still.
I plan to be on the ship and journey that is Jewish Renewal, but not as captain. I will be leaving the post of Executive Director early next year, stepping down at the end of January, shortly after the Ohalah gathering in Boulder. I am going to move on to other professional interests, and simply take my place as an ALEPH rabbinic student at the feet of our wonderful wellspring of teachers.
I am looking forward to helping the ALEPH Board in the search for the next Executive Director, and I will support the transition with enthusiasm. Whoever the next E.D. is, I will make them two promises, just as I did Reb Zalman: I will always have their back, and they will always have my ear.
The morning Reb Zalman passed away, in fact around the time he was passing, I wrote him a letter, thanking him for having created this work and organization that I could honorably serve the past 3 years. I never got the chance to send it, but he saved me the stamp; I know he got it. From bringing him bottles of my homemade hard cider and maple syrup to his home near the beginning of my tenure, to supporting the ALEPH community’s role in bringing him home to Boulder from Hartford, so he could enjoy two more Shabbats in his home and pass on in his own bed, I have been privileged and honored to serve both the rabbi and the work.
Lastly, I want to share with you a dream I had last Shabbos, on Friday night of the memorial event in Boulder. In the dream Reb Zalman appeared to me, pounding his hips with his fists, saying “Shore me up! Shore me up!” I want to promise this community that in my last five months here at ALEPH, I will do everything I can to shore up Reb Zalman’s work, memory, and legacy.
I’ll be around awhile yet, continuing to do my part to foster collaboration among all the spiritual heirs of Reb Zalman’s legacy. I want to remind us all who I think this work belongs to. Not to Reb Zalman, not to any of his teachers or students, not to any of us doing the work. It belongs to that next soul coming through the door, searching, hoping, seeking an answer or just a better question, longing for Divine Presence. I try always to keep that neshama in mind. I pray with all my heart that we who make up the ALEPH Alliance for Jewish Renewal will be there to welcome them with open arms, heart, mind and being.