Jewish Learning & Lifecycle with Reb Zisha

Explore Jewish tradition and practice

Who is Reb Zisha?

I am an unlicensed mystic.  I am not an ordained rabbi or cantor.

I earned my B.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, and spent my junior year at in Jerusalem at Hebrew University’s Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora. Pesach that year, I served as a volunteer chaplain in the Israel Defense Forces, leading the seder in an outpost near the Jordanian border.

 Through college, graduate school (Master of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education), and after, I sang with the Zamir Chorale of Boston – America’s leading Jewish chorus. My knowledge of music, Jewish music, and Jewish life was exceptionally enriched by the time spent with the chorus' director, Prof. Joshua Jacobson.

 I was drawn to what I eventually learned was chassidic-style practice by experiencing Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z"l when I was 11 years old. One Sunday morning at Hebrew School (Cong. BSKI, St. Louis), we were told that there was going to be a special assembly featuring: a rabbi who played the guitar!  This seemed very strange.  The Beatles played guitars, not rabbis.  But there in the sanctuary was a roly-poly elf of a guy who energized the entire room with his singing and spirit.  His interpersonal faults notwithstanding, Reb Shlomo broke the mold and set the stage for Jewish renewal in the US and all over the world.

 I led High Holyday services for the first time in 1973; my cantor, David Leon z”l, supplied me with tapes of the services to learn from. Through the 1970s and 1980s, I led High Holyday services in a variety of settings, as an assistant to rabbis and cantors, as co-leader, youth service leader, and as the primary ba'al tefillah (“prayer master”), at Brandeis, Dartmouth College, and synagogues of almost all denominations in the Boston area. In the late 1980s, I learned about Jewish Renewal, and began to attend the B'nai Or of Boston congregation. After getting to know the leader, Lev Friedman, I began to co-lead High Holiday services at B'nai Or. Initially, I was mostly leading in a classical style, as a complement to Lev's more Renewal style.

 Over time, I learned from Lev and from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi how Jewish Renewal seeks to balance and liberate classical Jewish practice with techniques like chanting English texts in traditional musical modes, reviving and encouraging movement and meditation, and opening to the personal and conscious aspects of religious life and practice. I brought these ideas into my own prayer-leading style.

 I have been influenced by so many people, mei-rov melamdai hiskalti/"from the multitude of my teachers have I been enlightened": Reb Zalman z"l, Reb Shlomo z"l, Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank z"l, Lev Friedman, Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, Rabbi Neal Kaunfer, Julie Leavitt, Rabbi Arthur Green, Rav Claudia Kreiman, Rabbi Ebn Leader, Sensei Raymond Martens, Sensei Nagao Matsuyama, Sifu Bow Sim Mark, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson z"l, the modern prophet Bob Marley z"l, and of course, the Maestro, Frank Zappa z"l.

 In my non-Jewish work, I am a technical trainer, training consultant, and creator of innovative educational and personal development programming.  Visit to learn more about that.

 On the personal level, I love spicy food, karaoke, Sons of Anarchy, a good laugh, and my two beautiful talented daughters.