A friend of a friend had asked if I’d talk with two scholarly Orthodox Jewish Rabbis. I asked why and he said, they had just requested he ask. He wasn’t really sure why but would sincerely appreciate me allowing them to make an appointment.
I said yes because I was curious and had never actually had a conversation with an Orthodox Jew although I saw them all the time in Manhattan. They had a very distinctive look with those ill-fitting black suits and hats, long curls down in front of their ears. Not sure what that was about but I was certain they had a good long history of wearing their hair like that. I’d also seen their wives in every department store, grocery, walking down the streets of Manhattan and all of them wearing the exact same wig: dark brown page-boy hair cut. Easy to spot.
What did they want from me? I had no idea.
They were ushered them into the office, they bowed a bit, strange, and sat. Kept their hats on. I introduced myself, they introduced themselves, and then a quiet time.
Since they seemed nervous, I started: “Why did you want to meet me?”
The older one started: “Our young men and women are leaving the true faith and becoming followers of Buddhism and New Agers. We don’t know how to stop them, or what to do.
The younger one interrupted: “We’ve heard that you have insight into the changing spiritual modes. We were hoping that you might have some answers; give us some tools as to how to stop this exodus.”
As a well known literary agent in New York, I’d thought that they were going to ask me about publishing or something related to books. This line of questions had never occurred to me.
I told them that yes, I knew that many of the young”ish” Jews I was good friends with were very into Buddhism. Also many my friends were devout followers Dr. Richard Alpert-Ram Dass and of a physician from Boston, Dr. Deepak Chropa. It seemed to me that they were searching for a deeper understanding of spirituality, wanted more understanding of soul growth. Felt that we were more, somehow, as human beings locked in a body and searching for understanding in the new research in consciousness studies. Mostly it seemed they were breaking away from old values and what they saw as false foundations.
I explained what this new trend, The New Age, encompassed to my clients and their readers, their devoted followers and sincere searchers.
Times are changing, I told them, and with “information” everywhere and easily available, the world changing fast, these spiritual seekers aren’t satisfied with what their parents believed, and their parents before them. They want firsthand knowledge.
They want to have “experiences” and judge for themselves what is true and what is not. Like most religions and similar to the Catholic Church, Jewish Rabbis are in control of the mystical content of the religion and followers are not allowed to participate in these rituals or studies. They are expected to accept what they are told and do as they say to do.
Most of this New Age has been led by people who were initially deeply embedded into their own religious doctrine and trusted what they were told. In the 60s that all changed. Whether it was the Vietnam War or mushrooms and psychedelics young people were on a search. A deep and far reaching search. It seems they left no stone unturned, but as the decades pass, they have moved towards mainstream researchers, like Harvard’s Dr. Benson’s’ research on meditation and following the teachings of the spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama as well as using methods that were once only for spiritual enlightenment like meditation and chanting. To ease the mind, calm the body and free the spirit.
Buddhism teaches a life of compassion and study-Buddhists freely sharing information about the mystical realm that all are welcomed to use. Meditation is a method of opening consciousness to deeper states of being. It is also a way to calm and center the mind. Dr. Herbert Benson was one of the first to bring this information to the mainstream. He does not seem interested in spiritual growth.
Yoga has taken on similar qualities. Originally a Hindu method for spiritual growth-awaking the chakras (I knew I was speaking Greek to them in many ways, but I thought they should know the origins of the changing needs of their followers) – yoga has been Americanized and totally abandoned its spiritual origins for exercise. But has a devoted following.
Joseph Campbell was a powerful force moving the field, with his in depth interview by Bill Moyers on PBS as he introduced teachings of Ancient Mythology and the Holy Grail. Finding your own path-your own message and practicing rituals that help you stay humble, compassionate and spiritually and mentally healthy.
I know, I told them, that with your long history of the Torah that you must have many methods, often secret methods, deep religious practices that are not known to your general follows – and this is what the young are looking for. Secret knowledge. Sacred knowledge. Symbolic knowledge. What truly matters.
They are interested in how they can learn these methods and practices to better themselves as spiritual beings.
They asked many questions, I tried to answer as best I could, and we talked for more than an hour.
Thanking me profusely they stood to leave and I reached across my desk to shake their hands.
They immediately reacted, “Oh, no, no, we don’t touch women. Sorry.“
And they hurried out.
And that was the beginning of the Jewish scholars releasing information about Jewish mysticism. The Kabbalah became the source of many new images and ideas. The Jewish folk custom of wearing a thin red string on the left wrist, following the Kabbalistic belief that the left side was the receiving side of the body became mainstream.
Even Madonna was spotted wearing a red string.
I never saw or heard from those two Jewish Rabbis again.