“Your Outcry is…”

This happened half a lifetime ago to someone who used to be me. I had been enduring a long night of the soul, a night that stretched over two years. During that time, my mother died. My father died. One of my dearest childhood friends died. Even my blameless dog, who never met a soul she didn’t like, died. They didn’t pass over. They weren’t called home. They died, and every comforting belief I’d ever held lay in tatters around me. I filled the void they left behind with grief and rage. I pored through every sacred text I could get my hands on, hoping to find something that would give life meaning again, but emerged a hollow man still.

I was desperate to talk to someone, but who? I didn’t think my family or friends would understand and any self-respecting member of the clergy would find my thoughts blasphemous or worse. Well, perhaps not every clergyman. I had read a wonderful book a few years earlier called The Jew in the Lotus, an account of a deputation of American Jews sent to India to discuss with the Dalai Lama how to keep a culture alive and vibrant and exile. One of the most prominent characters was Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, or as he was almost universally known, Reb Zalman. He was ten leagues larger than life, a scholar with an impish grin and mischief in his eyes, flamboyant, compassionate and a sage for all seasons.

I didn’t know the man, but somehow managed to get his email address and poured my heart out to him. I didn’t expect a reply; it just felt good to get it down on paper. But ten minutes later I received a familiar chirpy announcement: “You’ve got mail!” (I said this was a very long time ago.) His message was brief. Only four words but they changed my life: “Your outcry is holy.” I felt the anger and bitterness draining out of me. Reb Zalman had also asked for my phone number. He called and we began a two-hour conversation which I still can’t discuss to this day except to say it resembled kintsukoroi, the Japanese practice of mending broken objects with gold.

Zalman died a few years ago (not passed over, not called home) and I felt his loss immensely. But this time, largely thanks to him, my belief system held up.

“Your outcry is holy.” Damn…



1 Comment
  1. Lynne Maree says

    Burt, what a gift Reb Zalman was to you in your darkest deepest grief. Beautifully told story! Thank you for sharing <3

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