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Essene Roots in Jewish Renewal


"Today I have continued the moist delicious planting of my glorious garden where G*d's presence is vibrant to my eyes, nose, ears, hands, and muddied feet in happy lively colors, organic shapes, forms, textures and luscious aromas. And I listen to the birds sing with joy and watch the great lizard in its stillness.
May my fountain flow again.

May 5, 2004

Joy Krauthammer
Enchanted Gardener #7 has been a sister in Jewish Renewal for many years.  We were both close to Reb
Shlomo Carlebach.

To Read more
about The Essenes as Gardeners

 To find out more about Joining the Enchanted Garden Club
press the photo link below:

What was B'nai Or like,
before the days of the Jewish Renewal movement?

The following article can be found
What B'nai Or was like in the old days...
a memoir by Yonassan Gershom, who descibes
himself as a Breslover Hasidim, and a man
who early on studied and still honors what he
 learned from Reb Zalman Schacter-Salomi,
grandfather of thr Jewish Renewal movement.

 © Copyright 1997 by Yonassan Gershom

I can answer this from the experience of having been a member of the old B'nai Or (Children of Light) in the 1970's and early 80's, and having been ordained as a B'nai Or rabbi under the old system. My wife Caryl (Rachel) and I lived in B'nai Or House on Emlen Street
 in Philadelphia from 1982-83, during which time I studied and traveled with Rabbi Zalman Schacter, founder and Rebbe of B'nai Or.

Origins and early history of B'nai Or...

The name B'nai Or originally came from the Dead Sea Scrolls (thought by many to be Essene writings), where the Children of Light battle the Children of Darkness in the Last Days. Those Scrolls were discovered in 1948, right after World War II, when the Jews of Europe were destroyed by the Nazis. Reb Zalman was deeply touched by the story of the Essenes in the wilderness. He felt that something similar was needed to preserve the mystical teachings and techniques from Hasidism as it had been before the Holocaust. He originally envisioned B'nai Or as a semi-monastic Jewish community, which he described in a paper entitled Toward an Order of B'nai Or. It was an idea that I eagerly embraced.

For a while, Reb Zalman did indeed attract Jews seeking a contemplative life, and from the mid-1970's to the mid-80's a number of us moved to the Philadelphia area. But the community never really came together, for a number of reasons. Looking back, I think part of it was due to Reb Zalman himself. He admired the contemplative monks he met in the various ashrams of the 60's, but he himself was too restless to be a leader of that kind of community. He was always on the road, so the B'nai Or community lacked continuity on the local level. People came and went, but few stayed for the long haul.

What B'nai Or was like when I was there...

The old B'nai Or was much more orthodox than the Jewish Renewal movement of today (which grew out of B'nai Or.) It was closer to what is now called Traditional Judaism (or Conservadox), except that it had a much more mystical bent to it. It has been called neo-Chassidic and I think the term fits well, although I cringe at the sound of neo-anything. But I do always think of B'nai Or in an Essene-Chassidic context. Reb Zalman once told me that he envisioned it as a repository of Chassidic knowledge that would preserve and renew the Jewish spirituality that was destroyed in the Holocaust -- similar to the way that the Essenes retreated to the wilderness to preserve their knowledge from being lost under persecution of the Romans.

grandfather of the Jewish Renewal movement.

Photo by Leslie
Goldman, 1993

Commentary by Leslie Goldman

Where as Yonassan Gershom draws a line between what he calls the Essene roots of Jewish Renewal
and recent Jewish Renewal activity, I see
from an Essene perspective an evolutionary progression
that sees the Essene roots as part of, rather than pre-Jewish Renewal.  For the evolution of our individual lives as universal Jews, I see within the next 20 years, a conscious infusion of Essene School of Thought activity within Jewish Renewal.  The conscious inclusion has begun.  Thank you for seeing and hearing me. The state of our World, and the state of our individual Lives, mandates
that this journey from Eqypt toward the Enchanted Garden begins again now.  See Edmond Bordeaux Szekely take

Leslie Goldman--
Your Enchanted Gardener