In the 1960’s when people would ask my astrological sign I’d respond “Jackie Robinson with Israel rising.” Born right between when Jackie joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and the U.N. ratified the rebirth of Israel, these two events were a major influence on my life. Born and raised in Sea Gate on Coney Island during the great blizzard of 1947, I moved to Ashland, Oregon in 1970 where I completed a Master’s degree with a focus on creative writing and education.
In the early 1970’s I worked as a full-time poet-in-the-schools, funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. During that period I wrote and edited books of poetry, language arts textbooks, teacher’s guides, and recorded two albums of children’s music for companies like Scott Foresman, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, and Good Apple. In 1977 my friend Steve Sacks and I opened Jazmin’s, a wonderful jazz club in Southern Oregon. We produced concerts featuring legendary greats like Dizzie Gillespie, John Lee Hooker, Charlie Byrd, Elizabeth Cotton, Taj Mahal, Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, Earl Fatha Hines, Mose Allison, Cal Tjader, and Woodie Herman. We changed the Peter Britt Music Festival forever by expanding their musical offerings with concerts by Dave Brubeck in 1979 and Count Basie in 1980. This was the first time Britt had ever hosted non-classical music, and these concerts morphed into the wonderful array of concerts that are part of the Festival today.
Along with poet Lawson Inada and composer Patti Moran McCoy, I was awarded an American Book Award in 1988 for educational materials. We produced Shakin’ Loose with Mother Goose, a double LP featuring Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows rapping classical rhymes to rock, jazz, and blues. But with all the wonders of family, poetry, and jazz in my life something was missing – a deep, personal connection to G-d. I felt the call to study to become a rabbi.
I was ordained in 1995 by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, under the mentorship of Rabbi Marcia Prager and Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfeld z”l. Since 1996, I’ve been honored to be the spiritual leader of Havurah Shir Hadash, a Jewish Renewal congregation in Ashland, Oregon founded by Reb Aryeh. A very special part of my work is to help congregations that are in transition when their rabbi retires or leaves the community. In this capacity I was honored to serve B’nai Or of Boston for two years, and P’nai Or or Portland, Oregon for almost three years, Nevei Kodesh in Boulder, Colorado for two years, and Congregation Beth Israel in Chico, California for one year. Plus, these days I’m traveling around the country leading interfaith workshops in synagogues and churches. I am one of the founding members of OHALAH, the Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal.
To prove that I’m a Brooklyn Dodger fanatic, take a look at my rabbi office. Oregon Public Broadcasting also did a story on my unusual baseball collection. You might also enjoy the article in the NY Times on the Campaign 42 project that I created in conjunction with two of my post-Bar Mitzvah students. I have a dream that someday every little league, high school, and college baseball player can learn about Jackie Robinson, and wear a #42 patch on Major League Baseball’s annual Jackie Robinson Day, April 15th.
Last but not least, I am married to storyteller and author Debra Gordon Zaslow. I have wonderful, grown children, and I’m the proud zayde, grandfather of Amaya Zahar.