A Jewish Book Award Finalist
In the tradition of Tuesdays with Morrie and The Last Lecture, New York Times bestselling author Sara Davidson met every Friday with 89-year-old Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, the iconic founder of the Jewish Renewal movment, to discuss what he calls The December Project. "When you can feel in your cells that you're coming to the end of your tour of duty," he said, "what is the spiritual work of this time, and how do we prepare for the mystery?"
Davidson, who has a seeker's heart and a skeptic's mind, jumped at the chance to spend time with him. She'd long feared that death would be a complete annihilation, while Reb Zalman felt certain that "something continues." He said he didn't want to convince her of anything. "What I want is to loosen your mind." Through their talks, he wanted to help people "not freak out about dying," and enable them to have a more heightened and grateful life.
For two years, they met every week, and this is Davidson's memoir of what they learned and how they changed. Interspersed with their talks are sketches from Reb Zalman's extraordinary life. He barely escaped the Nazis, became an Orthodox rabbi in the US, was married four times and had eleven children, one from a sperm donation to a lesbian rabbi, and formed friendships with leaders of other faiths, such as Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama. Breaking with the Orthodox, he founded the Jewish Renewal Movement to encourage people to have a direct experience of God.
During their time together, Davidson was nearly killed by a suicide bomb, and Reb Zalman struggled with a steep decline in health. Together they created strategies to deal with pain and memory loss, and found tools to cultivate simplicity, fearlessness, and joy—at any age. Davidson includes twelve exercises so that readers may experience what she did—a sea change in facing what we all must face: mortality.
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About the Author
Sara Davidson is the New York Times bestselling author of eight books, including Loose Change: Three Women of the Sixties; Joan: Forty Years of Life, Loss, and Friendship with Joan Didion; and Leap! She has written for the New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Harper's, The Atlantic, Esquire, and Rolling Stone. Davidson lives in Boulder, Colorado.
Half the author's proceeds go to support the Reb Zalman Legacy Project.
Table of Contents
1 I Want to Loosen Your Mind 1
2 What If It Ends in Nothing? 10
3 Planning the Exit 18
4 Get Ready 23
5 Where Could We Run? 27
6 Make Room for Intuition, and Listen 34
7 Fleeing for Our Lives 39
8 Dealing with Pain and Memory Loss 47
9 A Soldier in the Rebbe's Army 54
10 Can We Choose When to Die? 62
11 If You Go to Afghanistan 67
12 "Don't You Trust the Holy Spirit?" 75
13 Breaking Through Fear 81
14 Kicked Out of the Nest 88
15 Forgive, Forgive 95
16 Friday Night Is Lovers' Night 105
17 When Mom Dies 109
18 Review Your Life 118
19 Facing the Steep Decline 126
20 Recalculating 130
24 Let Go, Let Go 141
22 You Can Take Me Now 150
23 The Ultimate Letting Go 158
1 Give Thanks 165
2 Make Friends with Solitude, and Create an Inner Sanctuary 167
3 Meditate Between Contractions 169
4 Disidentify with the Body 171
5 When Your Memory Fails 172
6 Forgive, Forgive 173
7 Kvetch to God 178
8 Make Room for Intuition 179
9 Review Your Life 181
10 Claim Your Unlived Life 183
11 Hang a Bell 184
12 Let Go 185