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The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Take Aim at Our Greatest Mysteryby Sara Davidson
Synopses & Reviews
In 2009, New York Times bestselling author Sara Davidson was surprised by a call from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, asking her to engage with him in what he called "The December Project." At eighty-five, Reb Zalman wanted to teach people how to navigate the December of life and to help them "not freak out about dying."
Davidson jumped at the chance. She feared that death would be a complete annihilation, while Reb Zalman felt certain that "something continues." For two years, they met every Friday to discuss this and how getting "up close with mortality" quickens our ability to relish every day.
Woven through their talks are sketches from Reb Zalman's life: escaping the Nazis; becoming an orthodox rabbi in the U.S.; landing in San Francisco during the sexual revolution; taking L.S.D. with Timothy Leary; befriending other faith leaders, including Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama; and founding the Jewish Renewal movement.
During their time together, Davidson was nearly killed by a suicide bomb and Reb Zalman faced a steep decline in health. They created strategies to deal with pain and memory loss and found tools to cultivate fearlessness and joy—at any age. Davidson includes twelve exercises so readers can experience what she did, a sea change in facing what we all must face: mortality.
"This work is the fruit of a series of weekly conversations conducted over two years between the 60-something journalist and writer Davidson (Loose Change) and the pioneering 85-year-old neo-Hasidic/Jewish Renewal rabbi, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Besides touching on topics like aging well, facing mortality, and dying, Davidson provides a biographical sketch of Schachter-Shalomi — from his narrow escape from the Holocaust through the influence of the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe on his life and thought to his encounters with such influential non-Jewish figures as the Catholic monk Thomas Merton. In their meetings, Zalman makes insightful observations from his personal struggles and spiritual journey, and poses striking questions to the author. Fortunately, Davidson and Schacter-Shalomi don't elide the most difficult aspects of aging, including physical pain and memory loss (a topic close to Davidson, whose mother suffers from Alzheimer's). Davidson ends with 12 exercises — from taking a 'gratitude walk' to feeling free to 'kvetch to God' — designed to help readers achieve a Zalman-like, hard-earned equanimity in the last stage of their lives. For boomers who wish to devote serious attention to questions of meaning as they experience ineluctable aging, this book of intense, personal conversations leavened with profound insights is an excellent place to begin." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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.
About the Author
Sara Davidson captured America's imagination with her seminal account of life in the sixties, Loose Change. In the nineties, she was co-executive producer of the hit TV series Dr: Quinn, Medicine Woman. She has been called "the liveliest historian of her generation" by Malcolm Cowley. She was one of the first group that developed the craft of literary journalism, drawing on intimate material from her life and shaping it into a narrative that reads like fiction. Her articles have appeared In many magazines, including Mirabella, Harper's, Esquire, The Atlantic, and the New York Times Magazine. She is the author of three other books: Real Property, Friends of the Opposite Sex, and Rock Hudson: His Story. She lives in Santa Monica, California.
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