(EXCERPT) Miriam Margles is a Reconstructionist rabbi and leader of Toronto’s Danforth Jewish Circle. Raised in the Conservative movement, from a young age she experienced “a palpable sense of divine presence.” But as she got older, Rabbi Margles found those experiences harder to come by in a traditional, institutional Jewish context.
In university, Rabbi Margles discovered kabbalistic teachings that viewed the Torah, mitzvot and prayer as “pathways to accessible, immediate encounters with the sacred … to growth and self-awareness,” she said.
She later read contemporary works by people such as Rabbi Alan Lew, Rabbi Jonathan P. Slater and Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels, who were “involved in bringing Jewish texts on meditation to life and feeding in experiences of Vipassana and Zen.”
“I was excited to find that so much of what my soul was bursting for could be found in Jewish sources – sources that talked about mysticism and meditation practices,” Rabbi Margles said.
For years, she has both taught at, and studied with, the New York-based Institute for Jewish Spirituality. And at her own synagogue, she leads a weekly Shabbat morning meditation circle.
Participants at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality in New York. INSTITUTE FOR JEWISH SPIRITUALITY PHOTO
While Rabbi Margles sees the mystical aspects of Judaism as offering portals to spirituality, she acknowledges that, for many Jews who feel alienated from Judaism, Buddhism can feel like an antidote to a religion that may feel restrictive.
“It can feel like one must study the entire library of Jewish sources and commentary to maybe have a resonant experience … like there are so many hurdles before you get to the depths of spiritual encounter,” she said.
She also believes that the impact of generations of anti-Semitism on the collective Jewish psyche has created a sense of heaviness.
“A lot of the Jewish community is focused on survival for the sake of survival,” Rabbi Margles said. “For many encountering this, it can feel … grim. And then you walk into a Buddhist sangha and it’s unencumbered by all that historical weight.”
Rabbi Margles is hopeful, however, about the prospect of Jewish healing.
“I think there’s beautiful opportunities in how these practices (of Buddhism and Judaism) can converge and speak to each other,” she said.
For some Jubus, the allure of Buddhism has led to them leaving Judaism altogether. Others have found ways to meld the two – to find, often Buddhist-informed, Jewish practices and a way of life that gives them the direct spiritual access they so crave.