Despite the heavy rains on November 16, more than 30 local women came out to hear a lecture comparing Eastern spiritual paths to Judaism. The event, “India to Israel: My Bumpy Spiritual Journey,” was cohosted by Sarah’s Place and Congregation Ohr Chadash. Author Sara Rigler shared personal experiences about her spiritual journey from the Ashrams of India to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Rigler introduced herself as an orthodox woman who currently resides in the Old City of Jerusalem, but then explained that she hasn’t always lived such an observant Jewish Life. After college, Sara lived in an ashram for 15 years. She had a guru, studied the Bhagavad-Gita, practiced meditation and eventually became the administrative head of the Ashram. She became disappointed in the lifestyle after years of meditation, when she wasn’t seeing a positive change in herself or other people in the community.
A defining moment in her transition out of the Guru system was in 1984. Baker Roshi, the head of the San Francisco Zen Center, was caught having an affair with a married woman who was married to his best friend. Around that time, an Orthodox Rabbi came to speak at the ashram. Initially, the Rabbi was not comfortable speaking in the ashram because of all the symbols from other religions, but when he realized that Rigler, who was organizing the event, was Jewish, he agreed to come. It was an invitation to that Rabbi’s house for Shabbat dinner in New England that turned her back on to the Jewish religion for good. Rigler found the experience that night to be completely different than the more stagnant Judaism she remembered learning in Hebrew school, which she had attended until going away to college at Brandeis.
She dove into traditional Judaism head first. Her guru had given her $2000 and 2 months time off to go anywhere in the world she wanted. Rigler went to Jerusalem to study at a “yeshiva” for English-speaking women with little background in Judaism (although she thought she had a lot of background!). It was during this trip that Rigler realized that rather than submitting her will to a guru as an objective authority in her life that she would put Torah at the helm for personal decisions. She also found that mitzvahs (commandments of the Torah) led to positive change in her life more than meditation. “What you know doesn’t change who you are. What you do changes who you are.” She explained that after meditation, she didn’t find a change in her character, but she found that practicing mitzvahs transformed her on the deepest level.
The last major contrast between the Eastern and Jewish traditions she discussed involved Connection and Disconnection. The highest spiritual path in the Ashram was to practice celibacy, but she found more meaning in Judaism’s practice of connection in different areas of life including marriage. “In Torah, it tells us don’t chose disconnection. Judaism is a religion of connection. The worst thing you could do is choose estrangement or disconnection.”
After the talk, the crowd gathered around as Rigler signed copies of her latest books, including Holy Woman, Lights From Jerusalem and Battle Plans: How to Fight the Yetzer Hara .
Sarah’s Place is a new Jewish women’s learning initiative in Cincinnati. The goal of Sarah’s Place is to provide Jewish outreach programming and ‘continuing-ed’ to Cincinnati’s Jewish women. Programming includes a variety of inspiring, immersion retreats drawing women from across the continent.
Sarah’s Place next scheduled event is on January 16th. Mrs. Lori Palatnick, Director of the Jewish Woman’s Renaissance Project and author of Remember my Soul, will be speaking at the Mayerson JCC at 7:45 pm. The event is open to the entire community. For more information please visit http://sarahsplacecincy.com/.
Congregation Ohr Chadash is Cincinnati’s newest congregation. It was founded over the summer by a group of young and vibrant members of the community who felt that Cincinnati needed a synagogue where Jews from all walks of life would be comfortable while keeping to traditional Judaism.
Ohr Chadash is located in the Goldsmith Chapel at Congregation Ohav Shalom (8100 Cornell Road). For more information please visit http://ohrchadashcincinnati.com/.
Lisa Phillips graduated from The University of Cincinnati. Since then, Phillips has produced news content for radio, television and newspapers. She completed a biography about a local Holocaust survivor, Ruth Kropveld, named "Nevertheless We Lived" which is available at online bookstores. She is currently working in the Corporate Communications department in Luxottica's Sunglass Hut division.