Enlarging our Jewishness

The University of Colorado Boulder hosts some wonderful oral histories which I’ve been going through and I’m sharing here a transcription excerpt from the interview with Avi Dolgin. You can listen to the whole interview by clicking here, then searching for the “Avi Dolgin Interview” and clicking the Access URL. Here’s what he says:


I remember Zalman saying that he was a Jewish practitioner of the Universal Religion. The thing I came to really value and appreciate in my connection with Zalman was all the other spiritual paths that were around us.

He would bring into a course on Jewish thought, Buddhist teachings. He would talk about how we saw things one way, how Islam saw it in a parallel way, (although maybe Islam had a better take on it than we did). He certainly knew his Christianity well and one of the reasons I think Christians came and studied from him was that he was willing to learn from them. Elsewhere there are statements documenting his relationship with his Black Rebbe with whom he had studied much earlier, [Rev Howard Thurman obm].

So that was such a wonderful thing for me.

I was the guy who went to Hebrew School. I went to Jewish camps. I went to Camp Massad north of Winnipeg for a number of summers. I went to Camp Ramah down in Wisconsin for a number of summers. I was a Chazzan at the Junior Congregation. I had a good Conservative Jewish background, but through it all, … nobody else really looked at Judaism in a broader context of the world’s spiritual paths and religions.

Basically, insofar as Judaism was discussed with any others, it was from a chauvinist perspective of, “We are better!”

Those others! They have these funny beliefs! They have a God who dies. He comes back three days later, (who can believe this kind of nonsense?) You have to bow down and put your head on the ground like you’re submitting. We Jews, we don’t do that. We don’t bow down. (Well, maybe on Yom Kippur; but otherwise we don’t do that.) Yeah, look at those funny practices those people have. We have a logical practice of ethics. One God! It’s good! We’re lucky we’re Jews! Gewalt! Look at what we could have been stuck with!

This was not Zalman’s perspective! Zalman’s perspective was:

We are lucky to be Jews, yes! And we’d be even luckier if we picked up some of the good points that the others have to add to ours and to enlarge our jewishness.

Which is why Zalman’s jewishness was so attractive to me; and to other people.

Because you can be a JewBu and learn from Zalman.

If you were a JewBu and you went to shul, people would go: “What are you doing that nonsense for?”

Zalman was open to that. He encouraged us through it all.

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